On Wakanda: My Black Panther Review
This movie has taken over the world! It’s been probably the biggest pop culture moment in the last decade, and the most highly anticipated film in a long while. It’s finally here, and it has lived up to every piece of hype it has gotten. I’ve seen it twice so far, and will see it again. But I’ve been talking about it nonstop. It was hard to figure out where to start with this review, because left to my own devices, I’d just drop a YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS gif and walk away. There is a lot to discuss about this film, and a lot to unpack, so let’s do it by sections, starting with the facts, and making my way to the feels.
Ok I warned you.
The History-Making Marvel (you see what I did there)
Black Panther has shattered records and made history multiple times over. It’s been one of Marvel’s most expensive films to date, and definitely the most expensive first film in a franchise, and that’s saying a lot!
And the numbers are in. It has made $404 million worldwide, with $235 million of that earned in the United States. It’s made more money than any other Marvel movie in its opening weekend. It’s the highest opening EVER for a film released in February. INSANE. But surprising? No. We been tryna tell folks that films starring Black people, written by Black people and about Black people can be profitable. Black Panther is a giant “fuck you” to anyone who thought otherwise.
The Diasporic Diversity
Directed by Ryan Coogler, and featuring an all-star lineup of Black Hollywood, this movie has given us something to look forward to. This Black ass film even shows diversity within the diaspora. Chadwick Bozeman (T’Challa), Michael B. Jordan (Killmonger), Angela Bassett (Queen Mother) and Forest Whitaker (Zuri) are from the United States. Danai Gurira (Okoye) is from Zimbabwe. Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia) is Kenyan, born in Mexico. Letitia Wright (Shuri) is Guyanese. Daniel Kaluuya (W’Kabi) is English and Ugandan. Florence Kasumba (Ayo) is Ugandan-German. Winston Duke (M’Baku) is from Trinidad and Tobago. COME THRU, DIASPORIC REPRESENTATION!!!
We are not a monolith, and even when we’re all from different places, our melanin unites us. We still look and act and talk like kinfolk. Speaking of melanin…
The Beauty of the Film
I’ve watched a lot of Marvel films, although I am not a deep geek who can cite origin stories. I gotta say that Black Panther, is the most visually beautiful film they’ve had. This isn’t a world that exists in some monochromatic space planet. The world of Wakanda is full of color in every single way and it jumps off the screen and makes your pupils do the wop.
The first scene at Warrior Falls, where all the tribes are standing at the edge of the cliff, singing and swaying, took my breath away for a second.
The colors, the movement, the depth, the vibrancy. I was mesmerized. I got all misty-eyed. My goodness. It was art. It was just a feast for my eyes.
Plus, the way they honor the melanin of the characters. Holy shit. The lighting had me distracted as I lost myself in all the Noir Pixie Dust I was being presented with. You might take it for granted until you watch other films and realize how flat they have us looking sometimes, because cinematographers have only perfected the art of lighting white folks. Black Panther? SHID. They got the real MVPs. I had to tell myself to focus a couple of times when they did closeups of Lupita. MADAME, WHICH KIN’ VOODOO IS THIS YOU’RE DOING WITH THIS FLAWLESS SKIN OF YOURS!!! Chei! Skin just forever unable to flaw, and her melanin magic was on 10. Daniel Kaluuya was up there shining. Danai looking like her undertones are made of gold. I was like “I need everyone’s regimens post-haste!” And can someone please tell Auntie Angela Bassett to stop killing unicorns and bathing in their tears??? It’s not even fair to be almost 60 and look like that.
This whole cast just FAHNER than split frog hair. Gahtdamb. They reflected how beautiful chocolate is, and a little black girl or a little black boy can be like “I look like them and it’s perfectly fine and I’m beautiful just like I am.”
A feast for my eyes, salve for my soul, and balm for my spirit to see.
BRUH!!! The costumes in this film gave me all the life I needed! Well-researched, and showing influences from the entire continent. Ruth Carter and her costume designing team reached across the continent to make these characters’ clothes their own characters.
The blankets worn by W’Kabu’s people are BaSotho blankets from South Africa. The Nigerian in me was GAGGING when I saw Zuri wearing an agbada, which is traditional Yoruba wear. And all those embroidered kaftans that T’Challa had? I was calling my tailor like “sooo I need one in my size.” But the BEST thing he wore? That kente robe towards the end. My Ghanaian folks should be swelling with pride because he did it justice.
The fiercest costume had to be the Dora Milaje ones, though. That red leather with gold shields and armor, tailored to the GAWDS and saying “I am unfuckwitable” even before they spoke was what I needed in my life! I’m pretty sure for Halloween I’m going as a Dora Milaje, shaved head and all. It complemented them, was functional, without sexualizing them.
SO GOOD! I wanna go buy tight leather now so I can wear it into meetings. Anywho, that takes me into why I truly loved this film.
The Superpower of the Women
Black Panther did its’ women justice, and that was one of the things I appreciated most in the film. The reverence for women in this film made me cry. It’s such a difference from how women are typically portrayed. We’re the “Princess” who Mario needs to save typically, but in this film the women are the ones doing the saving, coming to the rescue multiple times. Black Panther wasn’t the only one with superpowers, as the women he surrounded himself with had their own.
The smartest person in the film happens is a woman. Princess Shuri’s superpower is her brain, and seeing how confident she was in how much she knows her shit made my geeky heart well.
The most technologically advanced country in the world has a Chief Tech Officer who is a girl. I WANT TO GO TO THERE. She put spines back together in 24 hours, made shoes that gave off no sound, and created a suit that uses any force that has been sent towards it, as energy to fight. IF THAT AIN’T WHAT BLACK FOLKS BEEN DOING SINCE FOREVER!!! That was poetic in itself. Shuri’s a genius, and never was she told to show receipts because she’s a girl. Her intelligence was not just accepted, it but allowed her the authority to be in that position.
My favorite character in the movie might be Okoye, the general of the Dora Milaje warrior women. She’s such a fierce human, who is principled and strong and full of integrity. She commands respect the moment you see her, and she’s an astute strategist who T’Challa listens to and trusts. Her superpower is her brawn, but she’s still tender and warm.
She has a man she loves (W’Kabi). However, she won’t put it over her duty. THAT in itself, makes her a revolutionary character. Women are usually written to be love crazy and will die for that. Nah, she’d die for her country. That is all. My favorite scene is the one where she stands in front of M’Baku as W’Kabi (riding a rhino) charges him. The rhino stops right in front of her and licks her face. BECAUSE HE KNOWS THAT’S HIS MASTER’S BOO. And when she pulls her spear on her W’Kabi, and he asks if she’d kill him, she says “For Wakanda? Without question.” And he drops his weapon and gets on his knee. THAT was the sexiest thing in the whole film. That moment, when the man who loved this woman dropped his weapon for her. Chile, that scene might have gotten me ovulating. I want it as a poster in my office. FALL ON YOUR KNEES FOR MY LOVE SO I KNOW IT’S REAL.
And of course, there’s Nakia. As a spy, she’s supposed to be a real G who moves in silence, but she was so necessary. She can be easily overlooked, but she was really important to Wakanda turning the corner. From the beginning, she was saving people. The first person was the kid who had been kidnapped to fight with Boko Haram in Nigeria. As Black Panther rolled through killing all the soldiers, she unmasked the boy to show he was only a kid. Her superpower is her heart and love for people.
She ends up saving the Queen and Shuri. Her quick thinking in grabbing a heart-shaped herb before they were burned (on N’Jadaka’s command) ultimately saved T’Challa, bringing him back from the ancestral realm. Her main mission from jump was to get Wakanda to use its resources to help Black people all over the world, and she was a spy because she refused to sit down as her country locked its doors. I think Nakia was the conscience of this film, and funny enough, she and Killmonger wanted the same thing. They just had completely different approaches. As people hail him, she deserves the love too.
Throughout this film, T’Challa was surrounded by women and he leans on them constantly and trusts them implicitly. His mother, Ramonda, his sister, Shuri, his love, Nakia, and his protector, Okoye. These women matter to him, and they played a part in his decisions. How these women were responded to by the men gave me feels. They were loved and cherished and respected. And the fact that THAT made them revolutionary is actually pretty sad. It was also heartening to see, because I think they are the reason T’Challa’s bravado is not at toxic masculinity levels. Related…
The Tenderness of the Men
I appreciated how the men in this film were allowed tenderness when it mattered. T’Challa is different from a lot of superheroes I’ve watched on screen. He isn’t just surrounded by one woman, who he only cares about because he wants to bone her. The man has as many women around him as men. On his mission to South Korea, who’d he have? He declined W’Kabi’s request to come, taking Nakia and Okoye instead. And Shuri was at home giving them instructions.
Black Panther’s reasons for not waging war also felt like he wanted to make sure he wasn’t taking lives needlessly. He had the chance to kill M’Baku. He had the chance to kill Klaue. Like his father told him, “You are a good man, with a good heart. And it’s hard for a good man to be a king.”
More importantly, we got to see him cry and be vulnerable, and we don’t get to see Black men cry often in film and TV. They’re usually shown as these super aggressive, flat, non-complex beings, and this film had so many complex men. Even Killmonger showed some daint, as he was raging out. At the heart of him is a little boy whose world got taken away and he yearns for what could have been. More on that later. Even he cried, when in the ancestral realm, facing his father.
Even M’Baku, my favorite vagabond. After he did a lot of grunting, he showed some heart when he earnestly promised T’Challa that he will protect his mother and no harm would come to her, as he tried to save the kingdom from Killmonger. I was like “aawwww look at this adorable fool.”
The Portrayal of Africa as Its Own Superpower
From the get go, what people were really excited to see was Wakanda. Part of the reason Black Panther is appealing is because here’s this superhero, who is from a country that is more technologically advanced than any other. And that country is in Africa. The vibranium in Wakanda made it a powerful place, and this story is one we don’t see often. WHATTT?? Africa is more than tin huts and flies? Well shut my mouth wide open!
As an African myself, the irritation about how the continent is portrayed is always at the surface for me. When I came to the United States at 9, I learned that the place I’m from was considered undeveloped and archaic. It was news to me!
This film showed Wakanda as a place of innovation so beyond others’ understanding that it seemed they defied physics with what they were making happen. The guy who is American couldn’t even fathom it, because if was beyond what he thought was possible. You should see how my head swelled. This is no Zamunda.
I think about how this film can change the way little African kids can see themselves. I remember coming to the US and my accent was different and my name was different and the food I ate was different and it “othered” me immediately. I was asked if I’d ever seen electricity, and if wore clothes, and it annoyed me to no end. But I learned how to talk like my classmates by listening to them and mimicking how they were speaking and by high school I had lost most of my accent.
Watching this film, the thing that hit me is that there’s a little nine year old African girl that’s going to come to the United States, and she won’t feel like she has to change the way she talks because it makes her too different. There’s going to be a little seven year old African boy who can be like “Yea I can tell these kids what my name means because it’s no longer so foreign that they’re going to make fun of it.” That’s powerful. That’s the kind of stuff that can change a generation because for a lot of us that came when we were younger, we spent half our time trying to hide who we were. I’m looking forward to the ripple effect that it has in kids and how it makes them change the way they think the world is possible.
On top of all this, Black Panther has the nerve to be funny. The two funniest people in the film? Princess Shuri and M’Baku.
I LOVE me some Princess Shuri, and how she’s basically the epitome of little sister who lives to annoy her older brother. At the same time, she’s this bawse ass techie you can’t ignore. She had the best lines of the film. From her roasting T’Challa’s new shoes “What are THOSE?!?” to letting the white man know he needs to announce himself better. “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer.” Shuri is the Disney Princess we all need. She’s self-assured, super smart and shady AF.
The other person who had me cracking up was M’Baku, leader of the Jabari men. From the first time we saw him, he was full of shenanigans.
But when I truly fell in love with him was when he interrupted a nice, sappy moment by asking them annoyingly “Are you done?” I HOLLERED! I was like “this is a correct pesin.” And then I realized he was clearly a Nigerian. The Jabari Tribe must be Nigerian. Why? “Are you done?” is classic Naija. Also, they’re rude AF, talk mad shit, and like to face their front in conflict. Plus, they can’t be on time for shit. They are not the ones who will show up as an event starts. M’Baku and his squad gon roll in when you start folding chairs, with their takeaway containers. I know my people when I see us.
Chei! M’Baku is a bombastic goat and I love him so much. When the white man spoke, and he hit him with the “One more word and I will feed you to my children. I’m kidding, we are vegetarians.” I cackled so loudly! That brings me to…
The Fringeness of Whiteness
This film centered Blackness in all ways, and made whiteness the foreigner. There’s Klaue, who is the epitome of white greed. They find out what we have, and they think they’re entitled to it so they steal it without consequence to them. That fuckass stole Vibranium, and then told Killmonger that the “savages” didn’t deserve it. THEY DIDN’T DESERVE WHAT WAS THEIRS? Die painfully and gruesomely. I was mad that he died with just a gunshot wound. I wanted his fingers and toes to be cut off on some Game of Thrones shit.
Agent Ross, the CIA dude who ended up in Wakanda. I love how he was treated like a nuisance the entire time. The only reason he even ended up there was because he did save Nakia’s life. Otherwise, they woulda left him to die. They surely ain’t save no one else in that gun shot. Even so, the Wakandas regarded him as a foreign object in their midst. They barked when he didn’t face his front (shoutout to M’Baku), called him a colonizer (hey Shuri), and locked him in offices so he can stay out their way (I see you, Nakia). Even though he helped prevent the weapons of Wakanda from leaving their borders, he needed strict instructions from Shuri to even do that.
I sho’ll was like “DON’T TRUST WHITEY” the entire time. I kept expecting him to escape to the US and tell all their secrets. He still might in part 2. I still don’t trust him.
It was so refreshing to my spirit to watch this white man be treated like an annoyance. IT IS ABOUT TIME. It was like cold lemonade to my shady soul. This is the treatment WE receive in everything so it’s only right it happened here like this. Even though he shot some planes down, he’s no hero. I think the film is clear about that.
The Killmonger Conversation
This film’s layers were deeper than the Pacific, and a lot of that had to do with the character played by Michael B. Jordan (the B must stand for “bae”). Erik Stevens aka N’Jadaka, son of N’Jobu aka Killmonger. Every story must have an antagonist, and he happens to be one of the best ones I can recall. He was less “villain” and more anti-hero to me.
Killmonger was catalyst for us to have a conversation about the disconnect between Africans and African Americans. He was the tension, in human form, and a symbol for those who have been literally left behind by white supremacy, slavery and all the ills that come from it. Born in Oakland to a Wakandan prince father (N’Jobu), N’Jadaka never knew his ancestral homeland. When his father was then killed by his uncle, King T’Chaka, they left him and didn’t look back to see if he was okay. They left him to fend for himself in a world that didn’t give a shit whether he lived or died. He was of royal blood but lived like a pauper. What good does that blood make then?
So he grew up to be a trained assassin for the US government, becoming an excellent Black Ops who has killed
hoes in many area codes. Kill scars are his trophy, and they litter his body.
THAT BAWDY. Chisos of Nazareth, stepson of Joseph! Anyway.
When he finally makes his way to Wakanda, he is there to avenge the death of his father, and to take the crown, so he can use their unused warpower to help liberate Black people everywhere.
Eric Stevens was cheated. The little boy who had to discover panther claws in his dead daddy’s body was wronged. N’Jadaka, who had to suffer as his kin sat on thrones, was indebted. The Black man who knew he had people who were prospering and protected, as others who looked like him were bound and indentured around the world, was justified. Killmonger’s rage was righteous and noble. The Wakandans, in their duty to protect their country, failed him. And by extension, failed Black people around the globe. What good is it to live in a mansion as your brother is toiling in a hut? When your home rejects you, where do you belong? When T’Challa lost the ritual battle, and ended up in the ancestral realm with his father, he admitted, angrily that N’Jadaka “is a monster of our own making.” Truest facts.
However, I won’t be wearing Team Killmonger tshirts. His motives were on point but his tactics were hard to defend. White violence, is by and by, responsible for Black oppression. That violence isn’t just physical, but also emotional and mental. Can the arming of Black people around the globe free us? Does white supremacy’s work get erased if we just shoot back? What if those arms they send out of Wakanda end up in the wrong hands, once again? Haven’t they already?
More importantly, Killmonger’s rage was all-encompassing. It was “DESTROY EVERYTHING,” even the country of his own people.
Even their natural resources (the heart-shaped herbs). Even their protection. He choked up a woman who was doing HER duty (to mine more herbs) just because she dared to question him. And he was about to kill their biggest intellectual asset, Shuri, without much thought. That blind fury is why I can’t call him a hero. This is why I was TEAM NAKIA. She wanted the same thing, but she decided to do it herself, while petitioning the King.
Yet and still, I looked at Killmonger’s character as an indictment. A necessary one. As someone who is African, I saw that character pointing the finger at people like me. Have we done enough to build a bridge between those of us who know our direct lineage and were born there, and those who got cut off from their lineage over those rocky seas? Have we, in our pride in being who we are, othered people who yearn for their connection to the motherland? Have WE left behind others, not looking back?
He (and Nakia) are reminders that there is no “us and them” if we wanna get free. When one of us is on fire, ALL OF US are on fire, because Blackness, around the world, is constantly under attack from white supremacy, and colonization. Attacking each other only diminishes us. That is why watching Killmonger and T’Challa go at it was not a fight that was going to end well. Either one of them dying is heartbreaking. I didn’t even want Killmonger to die. I hoped he lived to see another day and he was all “Aight lemme not burn the place down. Let’s free Black people together and have Cousin Sundays at the Cliff.” But when he looked at T’Challa, and said “Bury me in the ocean like my ancestors who jumped in. Because they knew that death was better than bondage.” I almost gasped. That line was stunning.
I’m still hoping he isn’t really dead, since this is the comicverse, where people have more lives than cats.
That character was written so well, because he has stayed with me. I keep thinking about him, and his words, and his rage. And I realize that although he was that monster, he played a role in ensuring that Wakanda WAS using its power to help others. On a super simple level, he’s the Malcolm to Nakia’s Martin (you know I had to do it. Marvel is full of this dichotomy, like Magneto and Professor X).
The relationship between Africans and African Americans is something I’ve talked about before, and we need to heal. Wakanda, unlike most of Africa, escaped colonization, which is why it’s the utopia we all want to live in. But most of Africa, unlike Wakanda, has been pilfered of its natural resources by the colonizers, and doesn’t have the capacity to help. So when Africans come to the United States and excel, we gotta know it’s not just from our own doing. We didn’t pull ourselves up by bootstraps. Who do we think made those boots? The African Americans who have been here for 400 years, beaten, chained up and denigrated. Their legacy allows us to then cross the ocean, on our own volition, and do well. We are standing on their shoulders and we must not forget that.
I keep thinking about what T’Challa said when he went to the United Nations. “Fools build barriers, the wise build bridges.” I don’t care where you’re born. This melanin means we’re kinfolk, even if it’s farrrrr down the line. But we’ve let the world tell us who we are. We’ve called each other names. We’ve let the world tell us that we’re on different teams. And we’ve let each other down by not fighting for each other.
For the conversation to be productive and for healing to happen, both sides have to be willing to get uncomfortable, own our roles, apologize for them and make amends to each other. We need to learn each others’ histories, because life ain’t been no crystal stair for either side. THAT is how we can build bridges. We’re victims of White supremacy, and that is what we need to defeat. We need to love up on each other and make white folks uncomfortable because they know how unstoppable we will be when we know we go together.
Whew. We got work to do.
I’m really excited for little Black kids to see this. The kids from Oakland and Chicago and New York get to see this and see themselves reflected back. I’m encouraged that this generation gets to see themselves on a big screen in such a significant way and they get to see what is possible. They might not be Black Panther, but they can be scientists like Shuri. They can be filmmakers, and artists who get paid for their work. They can become somebody who changes the world through whatever power that they have, whatever that power is.
My heart is full by the fact that this film feels like life-affirming in the way that cannot be taken back and it’s long overdue. And the success of Black Panther should mean that more of these stories will be written and produced and distributed on a grand scale. I say SHOULD, because, well. Shit happens and whiteness loves to do dumb shit like ignore logic, all in the name of racism. More of these stories of Blackness, in all its forms, need to be shared to the world and the possibilities are endless. If nothing else Black Panther should show that our stories are profitable, amazing and necessary. We need more of them all the time in all forms. They won’t all look like Black Panther, which is good. They need to be different but they need to exist.
So shoutout to Ryan Coogler and the cast who KILLED IT. And allowed us to come together in joy. I’m officially claiming citizenship of Wakanda.
Have you bought my NYTimes-bestselling debut book I’M JUDGING YOU: The Do-Better Manual? Haven’t ordered it yet? Now’s your chance. You’ll love it. Amazon. Barnes & Nobles. iBooks. Audible (I narrated the audiobook myself). Kobo. Books-A-Million.