Black Panther Boldly Tackles The Flaws Of Black Excellence

It’s already been said many times, but Black Panther is good. Really good. The film lives up to action genre expectations with nail biter fight scenes and fulfills superhero tropes with a science fiction angle and some cool ass costumes. By bringing the thrills, the sexy (seriously, everyone in the film looks like a sweet and savory snack), and the comedic relief, Black Panther has universal appeal, evident by the rave reviews and 98% score in Rotten Tomatoes.
But make no mistake about it: Black Panther is very, very Black. With its technological advances, tribal monarchy, and long-term sustenance, Wakanda and its leaders are archetypes for Black excellence. For all of its mainstream greatness, director Ryan Coogler has successfully made a superhero motion picture that is firmly rooted in Black culture. And spoiler alert: the core message of the film is not a unifying cry against white supremacy, but instead a necessary appeal to Black communities to reconsider our own internal prejudices against one another. The fictional land of Wakanda and the conflicts that threaten to overtake it in Black Panther are made for us, by us.
Wakanda is what romanticized dreams of Africa’s past and future are made of. Bright patterns and bold prints are the uniform. Unsoiled by the brutally grubby hands of colonization, it is the birthplace of all humanity and the keeper of Earth’s most precious secret: Vibranium. This metal, bestowed upon Wakanda by alien forces at the dawn of civilization, has allowed them to thrive on technology yet unknown to the rest of civilization. They’ve used the powers of Vibranium to hide themselves from the rest of the world, allowing Wakanda to be perceived as a sovereign, third world country. Even better than their scientific innovations, however, is a blessing by the Panther god that grants their leaders superhuman strength. Once Wakanda’s supernatural version of a coronation is complete, the ruler becomes the Black Panther. Following the untimely death of his father, it’s T’Challa’s (Chadwick Boseman) turn to assume that mantle. At first it’s business as usual: going after singular threats like a one armed villain who seeks to exploit Wakanda and its Vibranium supply. But the stakes are suddenly higher when a foreigner who looks like them, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), infiltrates their land and challenges T’Challa’s place on the throne — and Wakanda’s practice of avoiding Black people elsewhere in the world.
Variety’s review of the film, written by Peter Debruge, a white man (that’s an important detail, I promise), takes care to note the internal turmoil set up in Wakanda: “Coogler revives the age-old debate between Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X — between passive resistance and the call for militant black activism. Think of it as ‘Black Panther vs. the Black Panthers.’” Half of Debruge’s assessment is dead on. Erik enters Wakanda looking and speaking every bit like Huey P. Newton’s 20-something hip-hop love child, insisting that his people fight anti-Black violence around the world with more violence. As a Black woman, it’s hard not to agree with his cause.

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