Amidst observations of Black History Month in the United States, cinema giant Marvel Studios released the first-ever superhero film written, directed, produced and starred by African-Americans on Feb. 16. “Black Panther” follows the titular superhero, played by Marvel alum Chadwick Boseman, in his transition to the secret technological utopia of Wakanda. The film underlines strong messages of the slavery, subjugation and systematic mistreatment of African-Americans all around the world, delivering poignant metaphors within a compelling and unique story.
To commemorate the monumental step forward for minority directors in Hollywood, Wittenberg’s own Concerned Black Students (CBS) attended a special preview screening on Feb. 15, and were amongst the first in the country to see “Black Panther” on the silver screen.
From the opening scenes of the film, the audience feels fully immersed in the fictional African nation of Wakanda. The script does little to ease the audience into the new realm, but opts to reveal important information and details through snippets of dialogue and sweeping pans of Wakandan technology. By the end of the film, viewers feel as though they’ve experienced a “crash course” in the history, traditions and interactions of the tribes of Wakanda without having too much exposition jammed down their proverbial throats. For a country never before seen on screen, Wakanda’s rich cultural traditions and history are clear and interesting.
For the majority of its run time, “Black Panther” focuses not on the classic Marvel superhero action, but on the personal development of its major characters. Erik Killmonger, the film’s main antagonist, feels fully justified in his actions and even gives the audience pause in supporting the beliefs of protagonist T’Challa, a rare find in Marvel’s body of work. In fact, for the duration of the film, only three major scenes display the full capacity of the Black Panther in his costume. The rest focus on T’Challa’s struggle against the pushes and pulls of his newfound leadership position.
Each character feels fully realized and integral to the story at every point; that is, every character always has a logical part to play whenever they are on screen. Each is unique, interesting and ready with furious one-liners. Stars Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman all deliver strong performances and dedication to the over-the-top style dominated by Marvel Studios’ films.
The film continues to blaze new paths for Marvel with the costume design. Blending the traditional African fashions of bright colors, beads and jewelry with modern and even futuristic designs, Wakanda’s connection to its past and its driving toward the future is visually evident in each costume.
The only mode in which the film falls short is in the copious usage of Computer Generated Images (CGI). At moments during the film, particularly in battle sequences and in the climactic hand-to-hand combat between King T’Challa and Killmonger, the backgrounds and effects feel unfinished and cheap, pulling sharp-eyed viewers out of the intense scenes and dialogue. At other moments, buildings and landscapes feel overproduced and busy, leading viewers’ eyes nowhere in particular. Despite these flaws, much of the film remains visually stunning, especially in its use of simulated slow-motion during particularly intense fight sequences.
Marvel’s “Black Panther” is a beautifully well-made entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and will undoubtedly pave the way for further introduction of desperately needed minority characters and storylines in the near future. The film, however, has implications beyond just a nod to diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. For decades, Hollywood has been dominated by white actors, directors and producers, managing white dominance over culture and citing a fictitious lack of revenue from movies helmed by African-Americans. “Black Panther” turned that notion on its head. Its opening weekend towered, landing a spot as the fifth largest weekend opening of all time, coming in at $201 million in three days, a mere $4 million behind Marvel’s smash hit, “The Avengers.”
The film has produced a cultural rallying cry for inclusion not only in Hollywood, but in the United States as a whole. The success and visibility of the film is already making waves and shaking up a community of high-ranking artists and elites that has been closed off since its inception. “Black Panther” is every bit the revolutionary piece that many hoped it would, and will bring attention to the cultural heritage of African-American community expressed through film. The film was a wild success in every sense, and the public can look forward to seeing much more of the beloved Wakandan king in the near future.