20 February 2018

Hey! It's Black Panther!

I haven't talked much about Black Panther (2018), which is strange, I know. I've actually had a pretty busy actual life lately and kind of missed the boat on previewing the biggest film of 2018 so far. Hell, I haven't talked about anything in a few weeks. That leaves us now in a kind of weird position - can I preview something that came out last weekend but I haven't seen yet?

Preview's the wrong word. It always is around here I guess. "Ramble incoherently" is more accurate. So let's ramble a bit about Black Panther.

Get off that hood right meow
First, the obvious - I can't believe this exists. Like, really. There was a time when even a B character like Iron Man seemed a stretch, but Black Panther has always been this tertiary Avenger that Marvel has subtly begun to place more and more in the spotlight over the last few years through its other comic and cartoon media. As you sink into him more he's a good character, even if his surface novelty is his blackness and African-ness.

Therein lies Black Panther's challenge. How does he rise above just being a token black superhero character? Well, first off, he's not. We've had Blade and Spawn and Steel and War Machine and Luke Cage dating back to the 90s. Still...all of those are pretty shitty, right? Falcon? Let's get real. Black Panther for better or worse has become not the only Black Superhero, but the only black character to be able to lead a mainstream superhero movie. All respect to Blade, but that's a niche vampire action movie rather than a major tentpole. And...we probably shouldn't have mentioned Steel (1997). The point is that all black expectation of representation boils down to Black Panther, which is a good and a bad thing. Good because it's happening at all, bad because all other justification aside, it's really all we got.

One amazing move Marvel did was to actually had this over to an all-black cast (plus Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis - the two least black actors ever) and a black director. Far too often we get black stories told by white folk or to stretch it more, women stories told by white males, or well, just about everything told through a white male gaze. Black Panther gains so much authenticity via its genuine perspective. Now, this is also a fallacy, because Ryan Coogler can't speak for all black people, and so becomes another token director. I keep seeing this with the liberal internet's constant love of Ava DuVernay. She's really not great, but as the only major mainstream female black director she ends up as this example of diversity for everyone to follow. And before I sound really racist, that's great, but you and I both know that A Wrinkle in Time (2018) is going to suck asshole.

The point is, we need more. Ryan Coogler can't be the only major male black tentpole director. DuVernay can't be the only major female black tentpole director. Patty Jenkins can't be the only female superhero film director. If they are then it's this feeling of "Well, see, we have Coogler, that's enough. Racism is solved!" That's not quite how it needs to work.

It's also a wonder that this actually hasn't been a major source of conversation around Black Panther. Perhaps its greatest feat is overshadowing the racial conversation by how good it really is. And I haven't seen it yet, but apparently it's a wonder. I feel like I'm the only one in the world who actually wasn't all that impressed by the trailers. It just looked like another superhero movie to me with a villain who's an inverse copy of the protagonist. Apparently Michael B. Jordan as said villain rises above this common Marvel villain problem and I gotta see it.

I will give you that Chadwick Boseman exudes cool effortlessly and Black Panther himself as superhero cat-king of isolated technologically advanced Africa country is a really bizarre concept. I'm curious about the problematic fantasy aspects of installing the wealthiest country in the world in the middle of Africa, but I hear this is also kind of addressed. I need to see this damn thing.

Continuing the trend of former Human Torches now
appearing in much better Marvel movies.
Also, because everyone else has seen this thing. Seriously, this debuted second among Marvel movies only to The Avengers (2012) and is rivaling like, Jurassic World (2015) numbers. How is that possible? Is that the biggest fuck you to Justice League (2017) or what. For Black Panther?! In February? First of all, it's folly to underestimate black audiences who are constantly undeserved (and when they are served, it's usually some Madea movie), in addition to the typical white folk who eat this shit up. And again, Black Panther is pretty cool.

It's actually a perfect movie for white people - they get to appropriate all that cool blackness and watch T'Challa in a full body-covering outfit so they can project themselves into the character without ever getting caught up in his black skin. And black people get to project themselves into his genuine blackness. What crossover appeal! But still...this beat Batman v. Superman (2016). What kind of world is this? Maybe it's just one where good-looking fun movies of high quality are actually rewarded. What an age.

It certainly helps that Wakanda looks to feature heavily in Infinity War (2018). And everyone on earth will be checking that one out. Marvel is rolling even more than they ever have and certainly got something special on their hands with this one. It's mind-blowing to think about. I'll watch it soon and see if any of my fears or hype or halfway rumours are justified. For now, what did you think?

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