He's not "Black" enough, and neither is this film.
Film Review © 2018 by Trip Reynolds
Science Fiction, Comic Book Superhero Drama
Directed by Ryan Coogler. Screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. Based on the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Executive produced by Victoria Alonso, Jeffrey Chernov, Louis D'Esposito, Stan Lee, and Nate Moore. Produced by Kevin Feige (P.G.A.). Co-produced by David J. Grant.
Starring:Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther; Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger; Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia; Danai; Danai Gurira as Okoye; Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross; Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi Letitia; Letitia Wright as Shuri; Winston Duke as M'Baku; Sterling K. Brown as N'Jobu; Angela Bassett as Ramonda; Forest Whitaker as Zuri; Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue; Florence Kasumba as Ayo; John Kani as T'Chaka; David S. Lee as Limbani, and a host of others.
The story? The newly crowned king (actor Chadwick Boseman), of Wakanda, the world's most secretive, highly evolved and scientifically advanced society which is composed entirely of Black people, is challenged for his thrown by his expatriated first-cousin (actor Michael B. Jordan). As the story evolved, we see: highly evolved Wakandan technology in direct contrast to wide shots of open-air markets that mirror various third-world markets in stereotypical poor African cites; we see pseudo-traditional African clothing; we see a stereotypical White (British) man, actor Andy Serkis, as the opportunistic villian; we see a stereotypical White man as a controlling CIA agent (actor Martin Freeman); and we see blatant inconsistencies in the script that establish the film more as a fantasy than a realistic projection of a world where Black people truly are highly evolved and scientifically advanced.
Gender issues? In Wakanda society, the aristocracy is handed down from father to son or through ritual battle. At one point in the film we see a wide shot showing all of the previous rulers of Wakanda - they were all male. However, we're to believe Amazon-esque Black women are the best warriors and equally adept as scientists and technical gurus, but despite their physical and intellectual prowess Black women are still "unable" to rule Wakanda. Why is that? And, why doesn't the film address this caste system? Yes, this film proudly showcases smart, attractive, and confident Black women, and contrary to the overwhelming majority of Hollywood films, there is not one big-titty, big butt, morbidly overweight or obese Aunt Jemima-or-Oprah Winfrey-looking Black woman in this film, and that's a welcome change. But, again, the social hierarchy of Black males versus Black females appears as a contradiction to egalitarian principles, and an "enlightened" society should be above such . . . gender-based pettiness, right? Right!
Warrior? We're also supposed to believe the Black Panther is the greatest warrior of Wakanda - with or without his highly advanced suit-of-technology, and with or without the vibranium that functions as the source of his enhanced physical prowess. Unfortunately, he gets his butt kicked much too often to be considered the greatest warrior "of all time." Given that African cultures preceeded all other cultures in the development of martial arts, weaponry, etc., curiously missing from this film is any reference to the tactical superiority that Wakandans should possess over all other cultures on earth.
Technology? Sadly, given its status as a highly evolved and scientifically advanced society most of the Wakandan technology presented in this film is pretty pedestrian, not particularly noteworthy. Even worse, the lack of Wakandan security to protect its "advanced technology" from outsiders is more than just a major fault of the script, it demonstrats a failure of the film to acknowledge and to raise Wakandan technology presented in this film to a much higher standard. Why? The Marvel Universe is filled with extremely intelligent people, people with guru-level genius who would not be challenged by Wakandan technology presented in this film, intellectuals such: as Tony Stark (Iron Man), Bruce Banner (The Incredible Hulk), Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four), Hank Pym (Ant-Man / Goliath / Yellowjacket / Giant-Man), and especially Victor Von Doom (Doctor Doom). The film really dropped the ball in this regard.
Blackness? Most importantly, the "big elephant in the room" or central "problem" with this film, as with the comic book origin, is we're supposed to believe the world's most highly evolved and scientifically advanced society, a society composed entirely of Black people, did absolutely nothing but to watch or ignore as their Black peers endured 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal, 35+ years of state-sanctioned redlining! Not until May of 1865 were slaves in Texas told of President Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation of September 22, 1862" that freed them nearly three years earlier. But given their knowledge of world affairs, what excuse did Wakandans have to ignore the suffering of their peers through 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal, 35+ years of state-sanctioned redlining? Are Black people really that stupid, or brainwashed, or naive, or selfish? Well, are they??? How does an enlightened Wakandan society ignore a world-wide political imperative to kill, kill, kill and continue to kill or enslave or rape or discriminate or oppress Black people and other people of color - and even White people too?
Spiritual? The Wakandan people appear to be very philosophical but not religious, because the king literally engulfs himself in vibranium to experience ethereal, or otherworldly visions and interaction with his predecessors. Therefore, ignoring human atrocities is essentially a cult-like practice for the Wakandan people, and the enslavement of Black people is an acceptable business-as-usual practice. In this regard, Wakandan aristocracy are just like those "other" political leaders who profess to be Christians, or Jewish, Muslim, etc., but they do absolutely nothing to protect human rights, or they take a piecemeal approach to save a soul here and there, because they have desensitized themselves to ignore the moral imperative of holy scripture, "thou shalt not kill."
Equally important, keep in mind, this film is a White man's idea of what it would be like for a Black man to lead the world's most highly evolved and scientifically advanced society, which again is a major problem for this film. Yes, the film was directed by a Black man, Ryan Coogler, and written by two Black men, Joe Robert Cole and Ryan Coogler. But the "Black Panther" was created in 1966 by two White men, the legendary Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and equally legendary Marvel Comics artist Jack Kirby. The problem is not with Lee and Kirby, because Marvel Comics has always been a White owned and operated company, and accordingly, as White people, they make the rules, they make all exceptions to the rules, and given their control of all aspects of media, business and society White people have always defined the "images" of Black people they want all people throughout the world to see and digest. Arguably, Lee and Kirby created the Black Panther comic book to intentional exploit and profit from the civil rights movement, or whatever, but the creation of "The Black Panther" in 1966 intentionally omitted the following social and political context (CLICK IMAGES BELOW TO ENLARGE):
WHAT WHEN WHO September 15, 1963 A bomb planted by the Ku Klux Klan killed four-(4) pre-teenage Black girls and injured twenty-two others at the 16th Street Baptist Church.
February 21, 1965 Malcolm X was assassinated.
March 7, 1965 Armed police used billy clubs, tear gas, and dogs and attacked unarmed Black people who for marched on "Bloody Sunday" for their Civil Rights on the Edmund Pettus Bridge to the Alabama state capital in Montgomery.
July–August 1966 The "Black Panther" premiered in Fantastic Four #52–53 October 15, 1966
The Black Panther Party or the BPP (originally the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense) was a revolutionary socialist organization founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton.
June 12, 1967 U.S. Supreme Court's "Loving Decision" (Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1) that finally made it legal for people of different races to marry in ALL 50 states. The case was brought by Mildred Loving (née Jeter), a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a White man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other. Their marriage violated the state's anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as "white" and people classified as "colored". Source: Wikipedia
December 1967 The most successful Black owned publication, "Ebony Magazine" finally published a cover story celebrating “Natural Hair” as “The New Symbol of Race Pride!” April 4, 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated June 6, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated August 2, 1968
Former Governor of Alabama George Wallace, nationally known as a racist and pro-segregationalist, ran a campaign supporting law and order and states' rights on racial segregation.
"and I say ... segregation today ... segregation tomorrow ... segregation forever." (Inaugural address of Governor George Wallace 1963)
September 1968 Diahann Carroll (wearing straight/processed hair in a stereotypical role as single Black mother) became the first Black woman cast in a leading role in her own comedy series, "Julia." October 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their gloved fists to protest U.S. racial policies at the Olympics.
June 1969 Jane Hoffman became the first Black woman (and woman of color) to appear on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine October 1969
Back in the 1960s, Wyoming football had become a relative powerhouse, finishing 10-1 with a win in the Sun Bowl in 1966 and topping that with a No. 6 finish in the final AP Poll in 1967. With an experienced team in 1969, the Cowboys looked to reload, dominate the WAC once again, and set their sights on additional national recognition.
But 14 African-American players sought to wear black armbands when they faced BYU, a school operated by the LDS Church, which prohibited African-Americans from most ecclesiastical positions at the time. Other schools, like San Jose State, had also protested when they’d faced BYU.
Rather than work with the students, Wyoming coach Lloyd Eaton kicked them all off the team. The move was popular with conservative Wyoming fans, but would cripple Wyoming’s ability to recruit African-Americans for years after. Wyoming beat the Cougars that year, but limped to an uninspiring finish that season. Source: sbnation.com
Directed by Darius Clark Monroe and executive produced by Spike Lee, this documentary short tells the story of what happened when a group of college athletes decided to protest a long-standing racial injustice.
December 4, 1969 Fred Hampton was assassinated. Born August 30, 1948, Hampton was a Black activist and revolutionary, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party (BPP), and deputy chairman of the national BPP. Hampton and fellow Black Panther Mark Clark were killed during a raid by a tactical unit of the Cook County, Illinois State's Attorney's Office, in conjunction with the Chicago Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In January 1970, a coroner's jury inquest ruled the deaths of Hampton and Clark to be justifiable homicide. However, a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of the survivors resulted in 1982 for a settlement of $1.85 million with the City of Chicago, Cook County, and the federal government each paying a third to a group of nine plaintiffs.
May 1970 Essence magazine, the first magazine devoted to Black women was launched.
Why is the aforementioned important? Simply put, it makes as much sense for the original 1966 "Black Panther" comic book and this 2018 film to ignore the reality of "Being Black" as it would have been for "Born on the Fourth of July (1989)" to ignore the plight of wounded Vietnam war veterans, or for "Schindler's List (1993)" to ignore the Holocaust. It matters. The Black life experience matters. "The Black Panther" intentionally skipped over the inherent social and political context that defines and confines Blackness throughout the world. Again, it matters, and the Black Panther is not relevant to Black people because he failed to address his "Blackness." Erik Killmonger's father left Wakanda to fight for oppressed Black people in the United States, but T'Challa's father killed him.
This film gives us an Obama-esque pacifist leader for the world's most highly evolved and scientifically advanced society who, like his predecessors did absolutely nothing but watch or ignore as their Black peers endured 250 years of slavery, 90 years of Jim Crow, 60 years of separate but equal, 35+ years of state-sanctioned redlining! Instead, the film should have presented a Malcolm-X-esque leader with the intelligence, courage, and commitment to create and effectively manage an elite nation state. This would have made the film much more thought-provoking, and made the film's climax far more worthy than yet another derivative rip-off of the biblical Cain vs. Abel or the classic Roman folklore of Romulus vs. Remus. Unfortunately, absent marytrcom "Hollywood" has absolutely no interest to showcase a Black man who's politically successful, or to showcase a Black man with the mindset to unite Africa and all African people of color. If guided by the nation of Wakanda, imagine the impact and threat of a United States of Africa to Western (The United States of America) and European (The European Union) imperialism. To showcase a Black man with the gravitas to unite Black people; or to showcase why a Black man has a legitmate right to be an ABM, an Angry Black Man typically results in the death of that Black man (Meager Evers, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, etc.).
Plus, as usual, for films that feature a Black man in a major U.S. or international release, the central character is again "blacastrated" as a celibate, monk-like character with no on-screen intimacy with any female character; simply put, "Black man" + "castrate" = "blacastrate." The only other on-screen "relationship option" of intimacy for a Black man in a major U.S. or international release is to appear physically or mentally abusive to women, a pimp, adulterer/philanderer, or as a homosexual. As represented in nearly all major "Hollywood" films by Denzel Washington, Samual L. Jackson, Eddie Murphy, etc., an on-screen marrige to a Black woman is rare. This is an action film, so Chadwick Boseman's "Black Panther" must keeps his penis in his pants, but White male stars in actions films commonly kiss, touch, caress, show affection to a woman, and make love to a woman. This film supposedly champions the idea of a strong Black woman, but as usual, in Hollywood cinema a strong Black women cannot be with a strong Black man. Again, the Black life experience matters.
In all fairness to Marvel Comics, the Black Panther is NOT the only ruler of the world's most highly evolved and scientifically advanced society. That's right, other people in the Marvel Universe, even White people, intentionally excluded themselves from the whole of humanity, such as:
Atlantians - "Atlantis," is ruled by Prince Namor, the mutant son of a human sea captain and a princess of the mythical undersea kingdom of Atlantis. Namor possesses super-strength and aquatic abilities of the Homo mermanus race, as well as the mutant ability of flight, along with other superhuman powers. The Homo mermanus race hate or greatly distrust human (homo sapiens) due to their overt willingness to engage in war and to distroy the environment.
Inhumans - Millions of years ago, the alien Kree established a station on the planet Uranus, a strategic position between the Kree and Skrull empires. They eventually discovered sentient life on nearby Earth and began to experiment on Earth's then-primitive Homo sapiens to produce the genetically advanced Inhuman race. Their experiments were successful in creating a strain of humanity with extraordinary abilities, Their test subjects, the Inhumans, went on to form a society of their own, which thrived in seclusion from the rest of humanity and developed advanced technology.
Latverians - The son of a Romani witch, Dr. Victor Von Doom has been depicted as a supervillain, the archenemy of the Fantastic Four, and the leader of the nation, Latveria. He is both a genius inventor and a sorcerer. Latveria is generally depicted as a rural nation with a primitive economy and a population living an almost medieval lifestyle, likely enforced by Doom. Nonetheless, the state itself is consistently depicted as a global superpower on-par with or even surpassing any nation on Earth, including the United States, and rivalled only by the likes of Wakanda.
But unlike the aforementioned fictional leaders, the Black Panther is based on the reality of human oppression against people who actually do exist and who continue to be oppressed - Black people. As acted by Chadwick Boseman, T'Challa lacked the intellectual prowess and mental acuity to effectively lead Wakandan society, and he lacked the tactical facility to lead the Wakandan military as Black Panther. As Boseman did previously in his uninspiring role as legendary entertainer James Brown in "Get On Up (2014)," and as Jackie Robinson in "42 (2013)," at best Boseman can only do pale immitations, because he lacks the acting proficiency to go beyond being a mimic.
Some media outlets are hyping the "Black Panther" as the greatest "Black" movie ever made, which is ridiculous. Don't believe the hype. What is true is that the "Black Panther" is the most marketed, the most publicized, the most heavily promoted "Black" movie of all time! When calculating a marketing budget, the rule of thumb is to spend 50 percent of the rest of the production costs (pre-production, filming and post-production). So if a movie costs $100 million to make, you'll need an additional $50 million to sell it. To recap the budgeted $200 million dollars spent to produce the "Black Panther," and consistent with the promotion of other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Disney, which owns Marvel Studios, mounted a prolonged and very robust social media, print, and broadcast media campaign, and no other "Black" film in history ever received such promotion! Why would Disney spend so much money to promote this film. Nearly 50% to 60% of total film revenue comes for foreign markets, and featuring Black people in leading roles for "major" theatrically released films comes at great financial risk for Hollywood film studies.
For example, George Lucas (creator of the "Star Wars" film franchise) spent 23 years trying to get "Hollywood" to finance and produce "Red Tails," finally released in 2012, a World War II movie about the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, but unfortunately, it featured an all-Black cast. "Hollywood" refused to finance the film, so Lucas used his own money ($58 million) to finance the film. Given the lack of support from the "Hollywood" industrial complex (writing, production, distribution, exhibition, and promotion) "Red Tails" lost money. Keep in mind, the rest of the world is keenly aware the United States openly engaged in genocide, slavery, oppression, discrimination, and the continuing skewed incarceration of Black people; plus, propaganda from the U.S. continues to fuel the flame that Black people have no value in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. Black people are primarily marketed as clowns, buffoons, or minstrels, and that's how "Hollywood" markets "those people" to the world. What, you don't agree? Take a look at the following list of the largest grossing films with Black people in leading roles with a predominately Black cast.
TOP 10 FILM YEAR LEAD ACTOR TOTAL REVENUE REVENUE - U.S. DOMESTIC REVENUE - INTERNATIONAL
1. Coming To America 1988 Eddie Murphy $288,752,301 $128,152,301 (44.4%) $160,600,000 (55.6%) Comedy 2. Bad Boys II 2003 Will Smith & Martin Lawrence $273,339,556 $138,608,444 (50.7%) $134,731,112 (49.3%) Comedy/Action 3. Big Momma's House 2000 Martin Lawrence $173,959,438 $117,559,438 (67.6%) $56,400,000 (32.4%) Comedy 4. Dreamgirls 2006 Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx, & Eddie Murphy $154,937,680 $103,365,956 (66.7%) $51,571,724 (33.3%) Musical/Drama 5. Bad Boys 1995 Will Smith & Martin Lawrence $141,407,024 $65,807,024 (46.5%) $75,600,000 (53.5%) Comedy/Action 6. Big Momma's House 2 2006 Martin Lawrence $138,259,062 $70,165,972 (50.7%) $68,093,090 (49.3%) Comedy 7. Boomerang 1992 Eddie Murphy $131,052,444 $70,052,444 (53.5%) $61,000,000 (46.5%) Comedy 8. Ray 2004 Jamie Fox $124,731,534 $75,331,600 (60.4%) $49,399,934 (39.6%) Musical/Drama 9. Little Man 2006 Shawn Wayans & Marlon Wayans $101,595,121 $58,645,052 (57.7%) $42,950,069 (42.3%) Comedy 10. Are We There Yet 2005 Ice Cube & Mia Long $97,918,663 $82,674,398 (84.4%) $15,244,265 (15.6%) Comedy
Sources: Box Offie Mojo
Now, you might think (erroneously) that surely Denzel Washington and/or Samuel L. Jackson have starred in a "Black film" that's made a bunch of money, right? Wrong. Washington's highest grossing starring role in a theatrically released film, that kinda had a predominately Black cast, is "American Gangster (2007)," which generated $130,164,645. Keep in mind, to attract "White audiences," Washington's co-star in "American Gangster" was Academy Award® winning White actor, Russell Crowe. So, count "American Gangster" as a buddy film. Jackson's highest grossing starring role in a theatrically released film, with a predominately Black cast, is . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . "Coming to America." Yep, that's right. Given the list above, it makes since for 6'5" producer/director/actor Tyler Perry to dress-up as a woman, after all, making the Black male image effeminate has worked pretty well for 5'8" Martin Lawrence and 5'9" Eddie Murphy.
Given the aforementioned, "Black" films are not produced and released for major domestic and international distribution unless:
(a) the film prominently features major White stars in co-starring "buddy" roles ("Men in Black" with Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith; "Rush Hour" with Jackie Chan (to capture the Asian markets) and Chris Tucker; "48 Hours" with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy; "Silver Streak" with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor; and on and on. Here, take a look at just a few examples:
White Actor Black Actor Film Title Beau Bridges Bubba Smith The Wild Pair Jackie Chan Chris Tucker Rush Hour Jackie Chan Chris Tucker Rush Hour 2 Jackie Chan Chris Tucker Rush Hour 3 Nick Nolte Eddie Murphy 48 Hours Nick Nolte Eddie Murphy Another 48 Hours Owen Wilson Eddie Murphy I Spy Willem Dafoe Gregory Hines Off Limits James Belushi Gregory Hines Who Killed Atlanta's Children? Billy Crystal Gregory Hines Running Scared Vincent D'Onofrio Gregory Hines Good Luck Mikhail Baryshnikov Gregory Hines White Nights Owen Wilson Jackie Chan Shanghai Noon Steven Seagal Keenen Ivory Wayans The Glimmer Man Gene Wilder Richard Pryor See No Evil, Hear No Evil Gene Wilder Richard Pryor Another You Gene Wilder Richard Pryor Silver Streak Gene Wilder Richard Pryor Stir Crazy Tommy Lee Jones Will Smith Men In Black Tommy Lee Jones Will Smith Men In Black 2 Tommy Lee Jones Will Smith Men In Black 3 Kevin Klein Will Smith Wild, Wild West Will Ferrell Kevin Hart Get Hard
(b) it's a "period" film that showcases how White people successfully enslaved and continue to oppress and discriminate against Black people as with the recent slate of blatantly pretentious "never-forget-they-were-slaves-and-successfully-oppressed-flims" like Steven Spielberg's 2012 "Lincoln," or Quentin Tarantino's 2012 "Django Unchained," or Steve McQueen's 2013 "12 Years A Slave," or Ava DuVernay's "Selma (2014)," or "42 (2013)," or "Hidden Figures (2016)," etc.
So, the "Black Panther" is unique because it's being treated (produced, marketed, and distributed) like any other major film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and frankly, that's the only significant accomplishment this film truly merits. And the marketing has paid off, because as of February 19, 2018 the "Black Panther" generated $235,000,000 domestically (58.2%) and $169,000,000 internationally (41.8%) for a worldwide total of $404,000,000 for its opening weekend, and the fifth largest opening of all-time!
As with the script, all acting performances were color-by-number, with perfunctory special effects, and predictable pseudo-epic battles. In addition to a script re-write, film would have greatly benefited by casting Wesley Snipes as T'Challa / Black Panther; and although Michael B. Jordan's performance as Killmonger was better than his performance as Adonis "Donnie" Johnson Creed in "Creed (2015)," Michael Jai White would have been much better as Erik Killmonger (and as "Creed"), because Snipes and White are actually skilled martial artists, and as "seasoned" actors they would have brought much more depth to their characters making them much more believeable. Plus, the pairing of Snipes versus White would have much greater marque value than Boseman versus Jordan. Film direction by Ryan Coogler was also perfunctory. Film editing by Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver is sharp, but pace was not brisk; film should have been trimmed from 134 minutes to 120 minutes or less.
Oh, one more thing. There's been considerable buzz about "Black Panther" being the first or the most influential "Black" film to establish and promote "positive role models" for Black people. That's a bunch of crap, and clearly demonstrates the blatant ignorance of those who promote such idiocy, or even worse, the intentional disregard for the extremely rare occassion of Black actors and actresses appearing in "leading roles," as created and produced by Black writers, White writers, and Black and White directors who actually lead the way by showcasing positive Black images in films with predominately Black casts. For many, if not for most Black people, these Black men and women who did not cower to "the man" were heroes! Oh, how soon we forget:
When Writer Black Film Actor Director 1971 Melvin
1971 Ernest Tidyman
1972 Phillip Fenty
Ron O'Neal Gordon
1993 Robert Townsend
Notably, Robert Townsend's "Hollywood Shuffle," showcases predominately
Black cast dealing with racial stereotypes of
Black people in film and television.
Recommendation: As with the comic book original, this film is a fantasy, and although worthy to be seen as a component within the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe, "The Black Panther" should not and must not be confused with or associated with Black culture, Black history, or "Blackness." Yes, this film put a lot of Black people to work, but so does the U.S. federal government, and as represented below, the overall social and economic status of Black people has not changed one damn bit.