Oh hi, Zannaland readers, readers, readers…hmm, bit of an echo. I’m prefacing this review with a touch of editorial mea culpa. I’ve been embarrassingly absent from my beloved site, focusing mostly on instagram to share my mini-blog posts and thoughts and pretty photos. In addition, I’ve been working full-time, as I’ve mentioned before, but I really shouldn’t use that as an excuse for neglecting this place. Before opening up this “Add New Post” page, I re-read my cathartic 2014 post The State of Zannaland (don’t read it now, it’s really long and we have a movie to discuss. But if you want later, feel free.) and I was shocked at how 4 years later, I could’ve written the same thoughts today. Basically, I get too busy to post, rely on the quick and easy places, then get down on myself and wonder if I should continue writing at all. It’s a vicious circle, which, as I read my own words expressing the same emotions years later, was a bit of a wake-up call. I’ll get into more of that in a future post. For now I’m just acknowledging that yes, I’ve neglected this place, and I’m really going to try my best at more writing and less neglecting. And now, Black Panther!
I am a Marvel fan. I’m not, however, a Marvel nerd, by which I mean, I don’t know all the backstories and original comics and what parts in the movies are canon vs. artistic interpretation – though I will admit to looking many things up in the Marvel Universe to better educate myself before and after movies because, let’s face it, there are some confusing storylines and characters out there. After watching Thor: Ragnarok in theatres, which I loved, I felt the need to re-watch Doctor Strange (and look stuff up online), because hey, Doctor Strange was in there and everything’s connected and wow…so yeah, that’s where I am on the scale of Marvel fangirl.
When I first saw a preview for Black Panther, I was IN. Actually, I was in when he appeared in Captain America: Civil War and as he first appeared and was trying to kill “the good guys” I thought “oh no please let him be a good guy I love him and want him to be a hero not a villain!” Which really, says a lot about heroes and villains because as Civil War pointed out, who’s to say what is on the side of “right” and the side of “wrong?” Sometimes there are various indistinguishable shades, and just as half the internet may see a dress as blue, the other half sees it as gold. And certainly in this real-world of political divisiveness, taking a knee, gun control, healthcare, taxes, and more, we often see people on both sides who believe without a doubt that they are fighting for what’s “right” and “good” even if, in our minds, they are completely wrong. Before I get into that, I will just say again, I was very excited to see trailers for the Black Panther full length film.
Now, dear reader, we come to a bit of a difficult point. I am, as most of you know, a suburban, white, middle-aged (gah that’s the first time I’ve admitted that one), wife and mom. The emotions I felt and the thoughts I have been trying to organize regarding this film, left me saying, “who am I, to have an opinion on this? Who am I to have a say in the themes presented on the screen? How can I rally in support of things I have had pretty much zero experience with in my real life? I don’t want to sound, as is so easy to do, like the person that says, ‘some of my best friends are (insert character descriptor here)!’ ‘Some of my favorite shows are Atlanta and Insecure!’ ‘I love Kendrick Lamar!’ or look like a bad YouTube video of someone trying desperately to be hip and relevant.” It’s awkward. It’s uncomfortable. My thoughts are my thoughts and my opinions and acceptances and loves are my own, but do they matter in a real-world environment of discrimination and brutality and defamation of character that by default I was born into the wrong side of? And then I realized, this is the point. This is the purpose. To feel uncomfortable. To get to that point where all you want to do is shout from the rooftops how amazing something is, even if you look like a fool for doing it, because it’s the right thing to do. To have the thoughts that make you question the way things are. To see the world from a different perspective. With discomfort comes growth. If we are comfortable with the way things always were, we will forever be living with the way things are vs. how they could be. So yes, here I am, a middle-aged (nope, still stings) white lady, discussing the film which is life-changing for many people of color and I’m just going to do it and it’s going to be a good time, I promise.
You may be starting to think, “Is this still a review for a Marvel super hero movie or did I accidentally click on a HuffPo link? It’s *just* a movie. A fun, action flick, not a commentary on the real world.” Yes, and the Princess and the Frog is just another animated cartoon. To many. To many more, it was the first time they got to go to a store and get a costume representing a character that looks like them. A princess that isn’t blonde with blue eyes with fair skin. A super hero that doesn’t look like he is a Viking god (sorry Thor). A friend of mine in the Disney community (I asked her permission to link to her 🙂 ) went with her sister and her nephew to DragonCon this past year, where he proudly dressed up as Black Panther. They took a group photo of all the Black Panthers there at the convention that day, and he was among all the other little guys looking like a mini army of Wakandan princes. And I teared up seeing the photos she shared because I felt just one tiny, miniscule, microscopic fragment of the pride of representation that they were feeling, and a big ol’ chunk of happiness. I don’t think I ever told her that, because, well, I felt dumb and again, like it wasn’t my place to celebrate that victory. That’s the thing with privilege, even if you don’t think you display it, seeing an instance where generations have gone without it, is very eye-opening. A little uncomfortable. And in that discomfort, you grow in understanding. This is not just an action movie.
Imagine a world, where a country was able to rely only on itself and its people, rich in resources, dependent on no one for trade, or benefits of any kind. Where your land and your people were not a place to be, in their terms: colonized, civilized, converted, saved – in our terms: exploited, suppressed, and oppressed. A place where your land, your people, your culture, your traditions, and your history was preserved, celebrated, venerated, expanded upon, magnified, glorified. This is more than just a list of adjectives, this is Wakanda.
In the Marvel universe, Wakanda is the richest nation in the world. Completely self-sufficient, it has never been colonized, and more than that, because of their great wealth and technological power, they have for the most part hidden themselves from the rest of the world. Why? Because they didn’t need us. To see the downtown city of Wakanda is to imagine our cities, if they weren’t built by people with no cultural traditions, no history to celebrate. I know that I’m painting the developed world with a very broad brush, but it’s true. You can’t celebrate traditions and history and tear it down to build the next biggest high rise full of multi-million dollar condos. You just can’t. We only see this downtown area briefly, but that is the “what if?” that struck me. How the modern was mixed with the traditional. You have a skyscraper with a thatched roof added on to the side or on top, because that is how your traditional buildings were built. The people of the different tribes of the country might wear the traditional attire and markings of their ancestors, or a modern suit paired with a lower lip plate and stretched earlobes. It is literally the best of both worlds, the past and the future living in cultural harmony and peace. I watched in awe and wished I could live in Wakanda. Sadly, this place is fictional, but it certainly makes you wonder, at least it did me, what if. What if centuries of colonization and conquering and oppression and yes, slavery, hadn’t taught the world how “progress” worked.
Now imagine our reality and the world we live in, with the struggles, and persecution, and keeping down of marginalized peoples. And as a marginalized person, you discover that Wakanda exists. Would you want to move there and live out your days? Or would you want to expose the overflowing resources and seemingly endless solutions to the problems the rest of the world faces, in hopes of creating a perfect world everywhere, at any cost? Therein lies the dilemma of Black Panther. Some of these same sentiments are felt by citizens of Wakanda as well. So the new king, T’Challa, must decide how he is going to rule. Will he save the world, or protect Wakanda?
That’s all I’m going to discuss in the way of plot details, I won’t spoil this for anyone because there were some great surprise moments in the film. I will say that Black Pantheris enjoyable from start to finish. From the sweeping Wakandan visuals, to the uber cool Black Panther tech, to the up to date(ish) pop culture references, it’s smart, funny, and everything you’d expect from a Marvel movie. With one token white guy. Martin Freeman is a great foil against the typical “token” character and I love how the movie embraces that, making us white folk squirm just a teensy bit, and doesn’t just pretend that isn’t a reality of the situation in this world.
The performances by all the actors were amazing. I loved the character development and the juxtaposition of the modern outside world against Wakanda’s isolated one. I loved the costumes – so many details. I can only imagine the amount of research that went into each tribe’s backstory, traditional garb and appearance. There is a whole Wakandan language that is spoken and written! The level of realism to create the country of Wakanda and all its history is a standalone success even without the acting, writing, backgrounds, and music too. And I loved the messages throughout the film. They are all important. It was wonderful to see strong (physically and emotionally) women represented on film without a second thought as well. This film on a whole is a great commentary on culture, traditions, rituals, and family; how even the mightiest of men can be flawed and, at the end of the day, we are our choices, so make good ones. And, it’s never too late to make up for the sins of the past and attempt to heal the damage done – and, to be open to new solutions.
So there you have it. My review, peppered with the lightest of social commentaries. I am not 100% sure I have expressed everything I wanted to express about Black Panther, but I am going to see the movie again tomorrow with my 17 year-old daughter, who is also dying to see it, so I may have more to add to this post. I look forward to hearing her perspective on it, as a member of the generation that has been a part of more social change and inclusion since perhaps the 60’s. Things like how the standard of beauty has done a 180 from a generation ago. The standard of human rights and representation is growing exponentially. We still have a long way to go, and I think we have seen recently that what has been the ‘norm’ cannot be the norm anymore. Change is afoot, and movies like Black Panther are the stepping stones to those changes.
Edited to add one more thing: IF I have, in fact, offended anyone, please – let me know. I tried to be completely open, honest, and transparent with some very important real world issues, but I completely understand if I have overstepped any bounds or if my tone did not come across as intended. I come in peace and love, and I hope that’s how it appears. I have had people I know tell me that they actually had no desire to see this movie, and when I asked why, they said (and I’m not making this up – I wish I was), “I’m just not a fan of the urban-ness of it all…” and that, my friends, is a very sad sentiment, which unfortunately is still all too common in 2018. So if anything, I wanted to show whoever did read this, that this IS an important and fun movie and if you can’t handle the “urban-ness” of a country full of peaceful, technologically advanced beyond anyone on the planet, and ridiculously rich citizens, then perhaps it’s time to move to a new galaxy.
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BLACK PANTHER arrives in theatres everywhere on February 16, 2018!