Staff Reviewer, Arts Section
“Now more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, we build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were a single tribe.”
No, these aren’t words penned by Dr. Martin Luther King. They were not spoken by former President Obama, and they were not written in Plato’s Republic.
These are the final words spoken by King T’Challa in the latest Marvel installment, “The Black Panther.”
These are powerful words spoken by a fictional character, but they resonate—they are relevant and timeless. And they represent the film’s philosophy well: they are complicated and simple, nuanced and probing.
Since viewing this film, I have told several people how wonderful it is—as an action movie (or any movie for that matter) and as a message for a modern world.
You see, two weeks ago, as I was raving about the quality, someone asked me “why? Why do you like the movie so much? Can you really offer specific cinematic reasons for your admiration?” The answer is yes.
There has been so much written about the depth of this movie, and hopefully we will unpack some of those ideas here.
Let’s start with the concept of the movie in general—how it is constructed.
In general, the movie is solid because it fulfills every plot/character/anecdotal reference.
Take the rhinos, for example. When the camera first offers a pastoral image of grazing rhinos, you may discount that as a mere prop or visual bonus. But that comes back later in a telling battle scene. It is resolved. . . and that doesn’t happen in every movie.
Even the notion that T’Challa’s suit can absorb kinetic energy provides another opportunity to reveal the character of the man wearing it.
At one point, T’Challa throws himself on a grenade; he couldn’t be completely certain the material would absorb all of the explosion, but he risked his own safety anyway. Even brief plot points are brought to some form of closure, and that creates a satisfying viewing experience.
The cinematography and costuming are also brilliant; the bright colors represent a rich history—one that is reflected in the landscape and the clothing.
There was one costuming/make up decision that I thought was particularly poignant. Throughout the film, we see Queen Ramonda in splendid royal headgear.
From the first moment of the film, she is represented as a strong, ageless woman who embodies ideas like family and loyalty.
Angela Bassett was THE perfect choice for this character as she never seems to age—she embodies strength and determination itself.
When we see Ramonda fleeing the city after watching her son dethroned, we see her without her headgear. In those scenes, her gray hair is evident, and it ages her.
Simply by removing one item of costuming, director Ryan Coogler conveys her sudden shift in power and her physical and political vulnerability.
Another reason this film resonates with so many is that it has historical roots.
For example, the language is often overlooked in reviews.
All of these actors are speaking in English for the benefit of an English-speak-ing audience. . . most of the time that is.
Sometimes, however, sub-titles are seen on the screen to translate a language unknown to most audience members: Xhosa. Xhosa is not a creation of Marvel Universe, Disney or the director – it is one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe.
It is known as the “click click” language, and over eight million people speak it fluently, including the late Nelson Mandela.
By weaving together traditional and accurate facets with fictional ones, Coogler creates a greater sense of realism and weight to the movie as a whole. (For more info about the languages, see (http://abcnews.go.com/International/black-pan-ther-puts-spotlight-xhosa-re-al-african-language/sto-ry?id=53142351).
The location also has a touch of factuality; while you cannot buy a ticket to the imaginary land of Wakanda anytime soon, not everything about the country is fictional.
Wakanda is based off of the cultures and geographic locations of multiple African countries including Nige-ria, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, and the Congo. (See https://www.inverse.com/article/40961-black-pan-ther-wakanda-real-life-inspi-rations-africa for more info).
Then, of course, the score is powerful. Coogler pushed Ludwig Goransson to use as many African sounds as possible, which led him to a South African library and its “collection of about 500 different instruments that don’t really exist anymore.”
In an article in the “Hollywood Reporter,” Goransson said, “I also felt incredible pressure to pay homage to African culture and its traditional music. It’s not lost on me that I’m a Swedish guy from one of the coldest countries in the world.”
In terms of philosophical symbolism the movie is successful because it offers a sign that we are ready to move into a new era: Obviously, this is a film about reflection and change.
Obviously, it depicts the power of social inclusion and development. How it does that is multi-faceted. There are two moments in the movie which brought me to tears.
The first one happened as T’Chaka, the former king and father to T’Challa, meets his son in a spiritual vision. The prince tells his father he is not ready—to which he responds, “a man who does not prepare his children for his own death is not a good father.”
T’Challa clarifies he is “not ready to be without you.” This is powerful because it does touch on the universal idea of parenthood and living legacies