You can’t claim to have not heard of it. It’s currently making all the money, including $20 from me and my husband last weekend. Yet there are still people who don’t want to see it, and, I gotta be honest, their excuses are kind of flimsy. Excuses like:
“I don’t like superhero movies.”
Well, I won’t mince words—if you find action to be tedious and superheroes to be silly, you can skip this one. Black Panther has less of those two elements than other Marvel/superhero films, but at the end of the day, a leopard can’t change its spots. Or . . . it can be born with a lot of melanin and be a . . . black panther.* But I digress.
*That’s legit how leopards and jaguars become panthers, not a cheeky joke about melanin in people
“I don’t like Marvel films.”
I will concede that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (henceforth the MCU) is becoming as sprawled as the comics upon which they’re based. Jumping into a Marvel movie now is like trying to wait for a good time to jump onto a moving train. Fortunately, Black Panther stands on its own pretty well. Events from Captain America: Civil War are referenced, and of course there is an End-Credits Scene (registered trademark probably), but you’re brought up to speed quickly on them.
But I gotta wedge this point in: Marvel films aren’t really superhero films. They’re films, with superheroes. The first Iron Man is a modern war film, the second and third are films about illness, physical, then mental. The first Thor is a fantasy film, the second an alien invasion film, the third a prison-break film. The first Captain America is a more classic war film, the second is a spy film, the third an international thriller. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a coming of age film. Ant-Man is a heist film.
This is something Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy got right, and Zack Snyder’s DC films are getting wrong. “Superhero” as its own movie is too well-tread to be interesting, so make the movie about something else, and then work the superhero into that. Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman works because it’s a fish-out-of-water story. Meanwhile, Man of Steel is about how hard it is to be Superman. Okay, and . . . ? We know it’s difficult to be Superman; there were movies in the 70’s and the early aughts about that, there were TV shows, there was a Five for Fighting song about it that makes you feel weirdly sad when you hear it playing overhead in Barnes and Noble . . . you get the gist.
So where does Black Panther fit into that Marvel movie storytelling tradition? Some are saying it’s a mob film. Well, the family dynamics, at least, not the actual dealings with the Mafia. I think it fits more into Shakespearean royal tragedies, and I’ll get more into that later.
“I just don’t really go to the movies.”
Hi, my parents. How are y’all? Sorry I don’t call enough.
“I don’t like going to movies where people talk at the screen.”/ some other cheap hack racist joke
. . . I’m just going to let you sit and stew in what you said.
“I don’t think I’ll really relate.”/”It’s not for me.”
Oh no, you might have to sit through a film with a protagonist who doesn’t look like you to understand the continuity of your favorite film franchise. Must be hard . . . poor baby . . .
Sincerely, a white woman who has had to relate to white men when she watched Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the first six installments of Star Wars, Marvel and DC movies (save for one) and . . .
. . . nearly everything.
Let me put it to you this way: Without spoiling too much, I’ll say that the main emotional plot of Black Panther is T’Challa dealing with the death of his father and the responsibilities of being king. He visits his father in the Ancestral Plane—for purposes of my next point, we’ll say he visits his father’s ghost—and deals with treacherous family members who want his throne.
Fam, T’Challa is Hamlet. Therefore, by the transitive property, Black Panther is The Lion King. (I’m grossly oversimplifying all three stories, but bear with me. Lion with me. Panther with me.) And since The Lion King is one of the most popular and beloved movies of all time, you probably “relate” to the singing cartoon lions . . . so, why no love for the flesh-and-blood African, African-American, and African-English actors who portray what’s basically the same story?
If you saw Ant-Man in theaters but are passing up on Black Panther, I am side-eyeing you hard. If you watched Daredevil but not Luke Cage, I am shifting my eyes to the other side and side-eyeing you hard from there, too. The Black existence is different in some regards from the white existence, just as the female experience is different from the male and the gay from the straight, but like . . . marginalized people fall in love. We disappoint our parents. We are parents and worry about our children. White men don’t have a monopoly on these and other universal human experiences, so why do we tell stories like they do?
I mean, I know why–that coveted and oft-talked about “Chinese market.” Is my hard-earned American cash not enough? Do our stories have to be in debt to China too? . . . Jesus Christ.
“Black Panther’s powers are lame—Ooh, my powers are fingernails, so what?”
And Captain America’s is a metal Frisbee, what’s your point?
Hell, Marvel and DC separately have two white guys whose superpowers consist of a bow and arrows—and they STILL had their film appearances before Black Panther got his, and he’s way more well-established in the comic book world than these male Katnisses.
“I’m afraid I’ll be attacked.”
“I’m afraid an agenda will be shoved down my throat.”
First off, I want to say that Black Panther the superhero and the Black Panther party have stated on multiple occasions that they have nothing to do with each other, so if you’re conflating them in 2018, sorry, but you’re kind of dense.
But it is Black Panther, not “I Don’t See Color, Is He Even a Panther, I Thought He Was A Mountain Lion.” Nonetheless, people said this about Wonder Woman too. There’s a balance both Black Panther and Wonder Woman needed to strike between appealing to a mass audience to gain new fans while not alienating the feminist/Black audiences that have loved them all along. Both movies struck this balance beautifully, partly because of how they treated Everett Ross and Steve Trevor, respectively. Neither white man is treated with scorn by the female and/or Black characters, even though they’re not perfectly “woke” at all times. There is a point where Shuri tells Everett, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer,” but it’s not mean-spirited, just the kind of biting humor that many teenagers attempt.
In the beginning of Black Panther, Everett Ross is firm in his conviction that Wakanda is a “third world” country and is subsequently treated with a benevolent, teasing “whose mans is this” attitude (see above: Shuri’s comment), but this lessens up when he gets over himself. When he and Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman are asked for help, they step up to the plate, without condescension, whining, or wanting praise for how good of allies they are. I would even go so far as to say that Martin Freeman reprises his Hobbit role here, where the Wakandans are the dwarves and Everett Ross is Bilbo, not really understanding the dwarves perfectly but willing and able to step up and help them when needed.
So it’s really a reach to say that Wonder Woman “hates” men or Black Panther “hates” white people. But “hate” to some people, even “progressive” people, sometimes looks like “I’m not front and center.” However, both films touch on misogyny and slavery/colonization, respectively, so if that makes you uncomfortable, then stay home. And off the internet. Just go eat some saltine crackers and read a history book in a windowless room for a while.
And the three excuses I will accept:
“I have to work.”
Well, honey, me too. Next.
“I don’t have any money.”
Yeah, don’t bootleg this one. It needs your money. But better than that, it deserves your money.
In the immortal words Jessica Tandy’s character in Fried Green Tomatoes says when Kathy Bates tells her “I can’t even look at my own vagina”—“Well, I can’t help you on that one, honey.”