King of my city, king of my country, king of my homeland
King of the filthy, king of the fallen, we living again
King of the shooters, looters, boosters, and ghettos poppin'
King of the past, present, future, my ancestors watchin’
--Kendrick Lamar, "Black Panther" from Black Panther The Album
Black Panther is a poem. not a normal poem-- it is not written on paper, it does not have a typical format or structure. It is a philosophical poem. A fight for attention, a break from oppression. An internal dialogue to understand what identity means, and why identity must be self-defined.
In essence, Black Panther is a revolution. Marvel’s latest superhero film tells the story of King T’Challa, alter-ego Black Panther, the fictional African nation Wakanda that he rules, and his fight to save the world. But not just the world that is usually portrayed in films—his fight is to save a diverse world, including his African nation and the culture and heritage attached to it. Ultimately, this film, directed by Ryan Coogler, who’s previous works include Creed and Fruitvale Station, is not just about good vs. evil, bad guy vs. good guy, alien vs. human. It is a fight for identity, for representation, for expression, for diversity, which makes it revolutionary.
The film traces T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), as he becomes King of Wakanda after the death of his father. Wakanda, which has the only supply of the incredibly valuable Vibranium mineral, is the richest and most advanced nation in the world, but no one knows it. Due to extreme isolation policies set in place to protect the people, Wakanda’s resources and technology are hidden from the world. When an outsider (Andy Serkis) infiltrates the border, however, sees their advancement, and attempts to exploit their resources, and an unexpected family member (Michael B. Jordan) comes home and tries to take over the throne, T’Challa must decide how to move forward. The question is this: is it immoral to keep their high technology and resources from those who need it, or necessary to stay isolated from countries who have oppressed and silenced their race, heritage, and identity in the name of safety?
Black Panther is a beautiful movie. Visually dynamic, with action sequences that come together like a sleek, powerful dance and technology to dream of juxtaposed to lush, colourful nature, the visual experience alone is entertaining.
But more than as a technical film, Black Panther offers something unique to the world: racial and cultural representation. In its core, this film didn’t just tell the story of a black super hero: it tells the story of the complexities of being black in the world. It tells a story through black perspectives, and as such, doesn’t hold back-- the characters make sure to make continuous remarks about colonialism, racism, privilege, slavery, and oppression, despite this being a film marketed to the main-stream media. By having the platform to discuss their experiences, the predominantly black cast and crew are able to empower their heritage to the world, freely.
Trapped in the system, traffickin’ drugs
modern-day slavery, African thugs
we go to war for this African blood
We go to war for this African blood
When I put niggas on, it was all out of love
You was disloyal, can’t call it no love
--Mozzy, "Seasons" from Black Panther The Album
We supposedly live in a post-colonial world. But how much of our world is actually free of colonization, how much of our world is actually free of oppression, privilege, and a sense of racial superiority? It is out job as artists, as filmmakers, as agencies of power to use our influence to help those who have been oppressed reclaim their identity and worth. Which is why this movie matters not just black people but all that have been oppressed, including India.
Black Panther proves to the world that a movie on marginalized people can be powerful and high quality and economically successful. how wonderful would it be if India could be represented as more than Slumdog Millionaire? If India, one of the most diverse, historically and culturally rich and ancient civilizations of the world, could be seen for that? how wonderful would it be if India, and its inhabitants in and outside of the country, could be represented as more than a stereotype?
What Black Panther offers to the world is a success story on how art can be used not just to entertain the world, but also to transform how we think: how we think about identity, how we think about power, how we think about race, how we think about globalization and privilege, and success. Art is the most powerful tool we possess in the world, we need to be using it to transform aging systems, to create a better world for everyone.