Believe it or not, it’s an actual ‘step forward’ that Black Panther, with a largely black cast, a black director and black screenwriter, has been a proper financial success at the box office (it’s made all its money back in its first weekend on release). If only Halle Berry in 2004’s Catwoman could have achieved something like that! Okay, there’s a disconcerting moment in Black Panther when the white creator (Stan Lee) has a cameo and says something like ‘I’ll take the money and keep it over here’, but this movie is an overdue Hollywood celebration of black talent in popularist, superhero, big-budget movies. It has to be Marvel’s most ‘woke’ movie to date.
Other than Stan’s cameo, there are only really two white supporting actors in the film – the wonderful Andy Serkis as the baddie and the inevitable Martin Freeman as the goodie CIA guy. In truth, we don’t really need Freeman at all, but I guess we need to show that white people aren’t always that bad, don’t we? There are numerous female roles with well-rounded characters and plenty of attitude and dialogue (the film nearly passes the Bechdel test, of all things!), albeit that they ultimately serve kings and male tribal leaders. The ‘vision’ of the advanced society of Wakanda is an impressive and sometimes persuasive one (thanks to stunning visuals), prompting us to wonder how different the world might be today if African nations had not been plundered of their wealth by colonialist powers. There are provocative and compelling statements about the power politics of our world today (the film’s final line from the Austrian Prime Minister is a killer) and there is entertaining humour in abundance.
In fact, Black Panther’s positive, self-aware, smart and generous tone throughout means that it’s almost impossible to dislike it as a movie. It also means we tend to forgive it for its shortcomings. No movie is perfect, of course, but with Black Panther it feels wrong or mean-spirited to dwell overly long on the plot being a bit incidental (repetitive and symbolically inconsistent too), on the surprisingly thin characterisation of the Panther himself (meaning it’s hard to care about him too much in his fight scenes), on the fairly routine fight scenes or on some pretty clumsy/cliched depictions of ‘Africa’. At the end of the day, a movie that gives me armoured rhinos, car surfing, kickass female warriors and laugh-out-loud jokes aplenty is always going to be recommended by this movie-goer.
Black Panther is definitely recommended. It’s some sort of cultural moment that it isn’t easy to quantify. Certainly, it has a particular resonance in this Trumpian era. Go see it. Be a part of it.