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Black Panther, the movie

By Frank Chapman

Black Panther is great entertainment.

Chicago, IL — First of all, this movie took me back to my childhood love of fantastic tales of adventure and romance. So, for me, it was great entertainment made possible by cinematic art at its finest. It was a movie sprung from the pages of a comic book, moving pictures full of enchanting moments of musical chants, poetry flowing through panoramic scenes of spectacular beauty enhanced by the liquid murmurs of water falls. Most importantly, Black Panthe r is a movie endowed with the presence of Black African folk reflecting their social reality as dreams by way of rituals embellished by the contest of battles, dance and song.

Yet Black Panther is more than a fairy tale holding us spellbound, caught in a fantasy free from the controls of reality. It is also an expression of the authors’ confused knowledge of Black people and their struggles for freedom. I am referring here to the notion that we must be freed by someone or something outside of ourselves, for it is a mistaken notion that overlooks the great revolutionary traditions of our people from the slave revolts to the present. What we propose to do here is not to review this movie from the standpoint of its mistaken notions of Black liberation, because then we would miss the message that comes in the unfolding of a great story full of all the drama and excitement of a great adventure.

The movie portrays an advanced Black civilization that hid itself from the world, from a civilization that enslaved Black people and maintained itself with brute force. A world wracked with human suffering, with poverty and wars. Yet in its midst it harbored a utopian society of Black people who managed to evolve into an advanced technological civilization while staying rooted in their ancient tribal traditions and culture. Hence, there is no class oppression, no crimes that spring from poverty, no real social unrest necessitating the need for jails and prisons. No class struggle, but definitely royal intrigue and cloak and dagger treachery. There is, for the most part, non-antagonistic social inequality between the king and his subjects and between men and women. Women are duty bound to defend the kingdom, so they are warriors and guardians of the throne. However, these ennobling roles given to women do not overcome the sexist overtones inherit in a clearly male-dominated culture. Because of these contradictions the leading women characters, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Shuri (Letitia Wright) and Okoye (Danai Gurira) emerge as exceptional sheros in not only defending the kingdom but also in saving it.

The conflict, or basic contradiction, that drives this screenplay is that despite all the cloaking devices for concealing themselves and staying isolated from the rest of the world, the people of Wakanda are forced to interact with this outside world and in doing so they become infected or contaminated by it. The culture and folkways of Wakanda are designed to make the people immune to the outside world, but it’s not 100%, so they have a spy network to make sure their secret power, which is a powerful natural resource peculiar to their homeland, is not revealed. Because, in the hands of the greed-driven “colonizers” of the outside world, the world could be destroyed.

As it turns out this whole notion of isolation is delusional (see the movie if you want to know how and why). Without going into details of the story let us just say the people of Wakanda are as human as the people of the outside world when it comes to passions such as love, hate, jealousy and fear. The storyline of the movie is driven by these same human passions.

The antagonist is on a mission of revenge because his father was murdered. He has been forced to live among Black people in the U.S. as one of them. He hates the bondage he sees his people in and he hates the Black Panther King of Wakanda (Chadwick Boseman) for doing nothing about it, for not using the superior force of their civilization to destroy/conquer the colonizers and set Black people free. To make this happen, the antagonist, Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) sets out to overthrow the Panther King and, when he does, he immediately attempts to unleash war on the outside world with the openly stated objective of freeing all Black people. Kilmonger, the hero as villain, does not steal the show but he does give it substance, meaning and relevance to the plight of Black folk as an oppressed people. I imagined how telling it would have been to have a Kilmonger challenger to Obama while he was in the White House or to the aspiring Black capitalists who see only business opportunities in our misery. Oh well, imagination can be silly.

I hate when people tell me how a movie ends or give me a full account of plot and episodes. I won’t do to you what I wouldn’t want done to me. Suffice it to say that the basic conflict between Wakanda and the outside world is resolved, and the tale ends well.

Like we said starting out this is great entertainment and basically a movie for children. But as a grown up I enjoyed it as well. The movie gave me an opportunity to return to my childhood and in doing so reminded me that as a child I rarely saw Black people filling up the screen with heroic deeds, instilling in me a sense of pride and self-worth. As a child, the feelings I got were from Black folk on the silver screen were too often feelings of shame and self-loathing. However, there were some moments of pride with Black actors and entertainers like Lena Horne, Paul Robeson, Dorothy Danridge, Harry Bellefonte, Bill Robinson and a host of others. Although Black Panther is a great movie, we as a people were not waiting for this movie to give us pride and self-worth, for we have always given these things to ourselves in art, in life and in our persistent struggles for Black liberation.

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