10 April 2018 11.59pm
Black Panther 2018
“The wise build bridges, the foolish build barriers”
Finally saw it tonight. I waited so long to see Black Panther, I almost missed it altogether because in thirty-six hours it drops to one session a day: 9.30am.
As far back as the Oscars I heard them talking about this superhero movie smashing box-office records and providing African American audiences, just like Wonder Woman (2017) did for women, providing a superhero they could identify with. Like Wonder Woman it provides an origin story which sets up how Black Panther was introduced to the rest of the human race.
It’s particularly interesting from one very deliberate and pointed attitude, it does what Hollywood films have done for decades, in reverse: it’s given the film a token white-guy. It’s more than humorous, it’s a brilliant and hilarious idea. Things have finally come full circle; and those with dark skin around the world finally have a hero who is interested in justice and fairness. The end of the film has the King of Kawanda address the United Nations, offering to share this third world country’s advanced technology with the world. The King is there to build bridges with the world. Being a wise man, he notes that fools build barriers. It obvious from the reaction that the world has, as presented through the eyes of people who represent the countries comprising the United Nations, that this will not be an easy process. And why would it be easy? Whether you’re an alien from outer-space, or a white man in a black man’s world, or a genius in a world of idiots, acceptance of an African man – powerful in mind, body an spirit – and his culture will be for them the equivalent of pushing a snowball up a mountain. They have the desire to present their gifts to mankind gently, fairly and with humility.
Another particularly interesting aspect of the plot is that the villain is a black person in what is still essentially a white man’s world, who is half Kawandan and half American. He has fought for America in all of its recent wars, including Afghanistan and Iraq, and has killed for America, his country, for his fellow-Americans. Along the way he has become blinded by hatred. This makes it impossible for him to see clearly as he wants revenge first, and then power, and then to give power to black people over white people.
It is a remarkable film in several ways, but when everything is stripped away from the film’s basic storyline, it’s simultaneously as simple-minded as Batman or Spiderman‘s motive for doing what he does – they want to do good, rescuing the innocent and punishing the guilty – and as rich and complex as suggesting that the motives for the behaviour of people shouldn’t be black and white. It still reduces everything to black and white, in both senses – simplistic and racially – but when the King of Kawanda addresses the United Nations it’s important to note that he does it as a human being who is head of a country, to people of all colours. At that point, no matter how anyone else listening to his speech hears his words, he’s not saying them with the thought that he is a black man, with black family members, and black bodyguards and king of a race who are all black. Like Wonder Woman, who isn’t thinking of herself as a woman fighting crime, these two superheroes are fighting anyone who is unfairly oppressed by others.
It’s a good film, definitely an important film, and has far more to say about society and justice and the use of power than any Iron Man, Batman, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, Ant-man or Spiderman film.
However, I didn’t love the film as entertainment and I think a lot of other comic-book adaptations have been more brilliantly written and executed.