SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
I’ll be discussing Black Panther as a storyteller aspiring to get my own work out in the public. I hope you enjoy it! It was actually hard to sit down and capture my thoughts about Black Panther and how it made me feel. There is no word or phrase that could capture the light that I felt in me. Y’all I wanted to cry when I left the theater…and also run and skip through a sunny meadow. Also, where’s my passport? I’m bouncing to Wakanda!
In the midst of writing my own story, I have been getting discouraged because I am currently in the midst of Act II where I am moving between locations and really trying to make the reader believe in the world that I am building around my characters. Black Panther was particularly refreshing because of that worldbuilding. It’s not like viewers were given the grand tour of Wakanda, but it was believable and extraordinary enough that I’m literally upset that I can’t pack up and move. My hope as a creator is to give a frame for interesting settings, in the same way, meaning that I describe it enough while leaving room for the viewer to fill in nitpicky details. What I mean is Ryan Coogler didn’t go through absolutely everything in Wakanda as if I were getting a traveler’s guide or a history book. The crew decided that they would give viewers a taste that was good enough to encourage the viewers to imagine the rest of the buffet, so to speak.
That is all. Just kidding.
Excuse my language, but I have no better words for how amazing it was to see so many different types of female characters in the film. The fact that each of the women in the film had the agency to be who they wanted to be, rather than be forced into a role that didn’t feel right or genuine for them. I’m all for women who want to be warriors just as much as I’m all for women who want to be traditionally girly. The thing that makes me happy is that fact that the women in the film had the right to choose and you could see how they were satisfied and excelled in the roles in the Wakandan society because of that. The Dora Milaje was fierce.
There’s no question about it and I admire the non-withholding nature of their inner warriors as well as their strong patriotism in defending the nation and the king. Nakia does not necessarily fit into the Dora Milaje’s framework because she is not so much of a traditionalist. She goes off as a spy to do a lone wolf exploration of the world and she even helps T’Challa realize the disparities in the world outside of Wakanda. She has the idea of making a bridge between Wakanda and the rest of the world. Shuri is a kid genius who is not afraid to shine in the lab and Wakanda is not afraid to let her. This freedom and agency could teach the rest of us about how people have to shine in their own way. The only thing we can do is either shun them and silence or nurture them and encourage their true colors. It’s like if you have a seed that you plant and it grows to be an apple tree rather than the orange tree you were expecting it to be. Are you going to preen and chop down the tree until it turns to an orange tree or are you going to cherish it’s unexpected ability to provide you with apples? Wakanda’s telling us to get down with those apples. Or oranges. Or flowers. Whatever is in you.
Who’s the Villain and who’s the Hero? T’Challa and/or Killmonger?
Beyond worldbuilding, the characterization and character development in this movie was very compelling and thought-provoking. I was particularly fascinated with Killmonger because it seems like it is easy to identify him on the surface as a villain, but he makes viewers and even T’challa uncomfortable because there is truth to his suffering and anger. The movie showed the parallels and intersections between T’challa and Killmonger, but their experiences in the Ancestral Plain were very telling. When T’chala goes to the Ancestral Plain, he is a grown man facing his murdered father with no boundaries or barriers. When Killmonger goes to the Ancestral Plain, he is initially a little boy, the same lost little boy who lost his father at the hands of the people from the land that his father spoke so fondly about. Killmonger’s childhood self is also conditioned and this is evident when his father says, “No tears for me?” and Killmonger’s child self-responds, “Everybody dies. That’s just life around here.” Since we imagine Black Panther in a present-day aspect, it is easy to imagine how over policing and loss of life in the African American community made Killmonger face more death than any child should see. Part of Killmonger’s issue is that for all the violence and killing he does as a grown man, he is still that little boy who lost his father and felt disowned by his people.
His solution is to do what was done to him as a black kid from Oakland and as a disowned Wakandan. He really does want better for people of color, but he is so caught up in his rage that he will not let go of his “by whatever means necessary” policy. All those complications make Killmonger interesting because it’s not just a case of “oh, he is the villain and take him down.” He makes you uncomfortable because he has some truths and he is so misguided that you just wish he had some sort of redemption beyond the recognition that you could see in his eyes when T’challa struck him with a spear.
T’challa’s discomfort speaks volumes too. Even during the Black Panther discussion at the Appollo, Chadwick Boseman spoke about how T’Challa is not totally clean as a hero and could even be considered an enemy. He said that T’challa had “a vibranium spoon in his mouth,” meaning that while Wakanda is great and life’s pretty good, they have had their backs turned on people around the world. The isolation policy can be understood for fear of being exploited for the resources and not wanting to drain Wakanda with major conflicts, much like the rest of the countries in Africa. However, T’challa realizes that while Wakanda has protected itself, there is a discomfort that comes upon him when he thinks about the suffering and conflict in the rest of the world. A symbol of that is Killmonger because he had to directly deal with the effects of Western Imperialism, while T’Challa was born into a higher caste so to speak and privilege. This also speaks to a bigger idea of when certain people who reach goals do not take the time to reach back to the people behind them to help bring them along. Rather, they shun the people behind them because they believe in the mentality of “I have my thing. Oh, you don’t? Sorry, not helping you because I got what I want.”
I suppose the thing that saves T’Challa is that Killmonger forces him to connect with the racial and imperialistic suffering that he missed out on. In that way, Killmonger also has some heroic qualities to him. Although Killmonger did not live, T’Challa bears the weight of his ancestors sins so to speak and he decides to open up Wakanda to the world so that he can change the course of life for people outside of Wakanda, which is symbolized by the kid that T’Challa speaks to at the end of the movie in Oakland.
There are so many more things I could talk about with this movie, but these were real standout topics to me as a storyteller. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be waiting on my Okoye Pop Funko. Also, what did you think of the movie? Let me know in the comments below.