I saw Black Panther last night and I need to write about it.
At the time of writing, it has only been out in the UK for two days, so I have made this a spoiler-free post.
However, you will probably still get a good idea of the overall themes and feel of the film, so if you want to remain completely unspoilered you may want to skip this until you’ve seen it.
So. One of the first things I’d like to point out is that I went through a lot of hassle to see this film. The details aren’t important, but the end result was that the film started half an hour late – meaning that the audience wouldn’t be out of there until about 11:30PM at night.
Regardless, the cinema was still absolutely packed. Almost nobody was deterred by the difficulties we’d faced to get there. I saw so many other black people dressed up in their African clothes, headwraps and all.
I don’t know how I could begin to explain to someone with white privilege how healing, how warm, how unusually and intensely safe it feels to be in a room full of black people in a majority white country.
I just realised I must be talking about a sense of community. I don’t think I ever felt that before I came to London.
Anyway. One of the things that really made this film for me was the music. The soundtrack felt immediately familiar to me even though I’d never heard it before, because I knew where it was coming from. I know those drums, I know those beats; I’ve danced to them.
The first time I teared up in the film was during some phenomenal wide-shot scenes of Wakanda, with that music welling up. It was like coming home, despite how conflicted I feel in reality about my Gambian heritage and how unwanted and out of place I feel when I actually do ‘go home’.
I think I must have similar feelings to how some African Americans will feel, even though I am privileged and lucky enough to know where I’m from. Most black Americans have no idea where they were stolen from; but this film gives them a place on screen where they can imagine themselves. It’s an African home that, even though rationally we know it’s fictional, feels incredibly real. I feel like my soul grabbed onto it with both hands.
I think this is a reflection of one of the main themes of the film: home and belonging. Black Panther explores the sense that I have – and which I bet a lot of black people all over the world have – of being abandoned in a hostile place and not sure of your welcome in the place everyone says actually belongs to you. It looks at the responses you could have to that and how they could so easily turn into destruction, both internal and external.
On that note, Killmonger is a fantastically written villain; to me, he’s the most sympathetic one we’ve had in the MCU so far. I say this because I absolutely understand his anger and his drive. I may have done the same things in his place. In his introductory scene, the audience cheered for him – specifically when he pointed out the hypocrisy and colonising attitude of a museum keeping African relics ‘safekeeping’ when they’d been stolen in the first place. No British gallery or museum has the right to these things.
Killmonger – isolated, homeless, arrogant and cocksure – is a perfect foil to T’Challa, who has a home full of his family and friends at every level, and yet is still uncertain of whether he can carry the responsibility he’s been given.
In many ways, this film shows its own version of a civil war: the opposition of Killmonger and T’Challa is the opposition of dangerously radical change to traditional cowardly stagnation. I’ll admit that I found myself on both sides at the same time. The film does find a third way that doesn’t adhere to either extreme, but not without great loss.
I also want to talk about the women in this film, if only to say how incredible it was to see them. All of them are fully developed and independent, conflicting with each other and showing their own thoughts and spirit. Shuri in particular felt incredibly real to me, reminding me of one of my cousins.
Look at that. I was able to say that a character in a mainstream superhero movie reminded me of one of my Gambian cousins. This is a big deal.
Shuri is the epitome of #blackgirlmagic. I loved her.
I loved Okoye too – there’s one specific move where she uses a wig for a strategic advantage which I loved – and her commitment to duty in the face of everything else was absolutely believable where it could easily have been a clumsy plot device for contrived drama.
There’s a lot of dialogue in the film that reminded me of Get Out, in that I knew that black people would understand exactly where the sentiment was coming from and white people might not; I could tell that there were places where we were laughing but a white audience might not. There are scenes that intensely remind us of ourselves and our families and how we walk in this world, things which would be alien to a white audience. And yet it was done in such a way that I think those with an open mind will still appreciate it.
I suppose what I mean to say is this only the second* film I’ve seen that I’ve not only felt was made with me and people like me in mind, but KNOWN that it was; someone saw us and gave us a place to see ourselves. Ryan Coogler knew what he was doing, and so did everyone he worked with. I’m going to see it again on Sunday and I can’t wait.
*the first one being Get Out, of course.