Black Panther, the highly hyped Marvel Superhero movie has finally hit the cinemas in Nairobi.  It is a very important movie culturally, being the first superhero movie with a majority black cast.

 

People world over were counting down to its release. So when it was finally out, I rushed to the cinema. Arriving, it was an unsurprising a sea of humanity, to witness this “miracle” in black history. So how did it go?

The movie begins in the past (1992) in Oakland, California where death of a radical black man occurs. It is this death that will shape what happens in present day and future Wakanda. It’s an intriguing connection of the past, present and future. 

Wakanda is a fictional, technologically advanced country in Africa built on vibranium, the strongest metal in the world. It is shrouded in secrecy and isolation from the rest of the world. It has also never been colonised or exposed to war. To the rest of the world, it’s a “third world country.” Only the Wakandans know the treasures they hold. This policy of isolationism is challenged by Nakia played by our very own Lupita Nyong’o when she confronts T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman).

Women are not tokens in this movie, they own it. They are powerful, smart, quirky, feminine, very versatile, they are not restricted to any stereotype.

 

Does Wakanda have a duty to help the rest of the world through its technology and vibranium? This is a dillema the Black Panther, T’Challa, king of Wakanda must face even as he encounters an unlikely rival Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan).

T’Challa is strong, with a bullet-proof suit, almost indestructible and is righteous to a fault. Always wanting to do the right thing. We can understand that as he is a King and has to protect his people but still he is the typical boring superhero. This dehumanizes him a bit but Director Ryan Coogler ensures we can still connect with him through his doubtful moments and the relatable sibling interactions with his younger badass technology savvy sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his interactions with ex-lover Nakia. 

Killmonger, the villain, is charming, seductive and almost relatable. It’s hard to hate him. His reasons for wrecking havoc are nearly justifiable. It’s not uncommon to have memorable villains but Killmonger is a villain who steals the show and almost steals the story from T’Challa. Mad props to Marvel for this intriguing villain.

As a black woman, I have never been prouder of female characters in a movie. Women are not tokens in this movie, they own it. They are powerful, smart, quirky, feminine, very versatile, they are not restricted to any stereotype. And there is no discussion about how strong they are, it’s as if in Wakanda, that’s the norm. Shuri is arguably the smartest person in the world yet she is still that little sister who wants to be taken to Coachella by her brother.

She is also very funny. At one point she addresses the other token white man in the movie as “coloniser” in a very hilarious way. Okoye (Danai Gurira) heads an all-female royal guard honour, Dora Milage and I think she is a superhero in her own right. She is loyal to the core to her country and her better-than James Bond moves are to die for. Ramonda (Angela Bassett), T’Challa’s mother oozes of motherly love and wisdom that undoubtedly has held Wakanda together for a long time. Nakia is not your typical ex-lover and she easily transforms from a spy to a Wakanda warrior to the woman in love with the King. Women play a very vital role and it’s no wonder T’Challa sorrounds himself mostly with women. 

Wakanda is realized in a way we haven’t seen before in similar movies. From the rolling mountains to long endless breathtaking waterfalls to the unique soaring architecture and the people-filled streets of the capital city, Wakanda is undeniably out-of-this world yet feels so real. The cinematographer takes us to a trip with the characters with every shift in location through change in lighting, hue and just stunning additions like calm purple skies and orange sunsets. 

It is an important moment for every black person to walk out of the cinema head high loving who they are.

From the accents to the costumes, the characters shout “Africa!” The characters make good use of African fabrics and beads to give the movie a traditional African feel. During T’Challa’s crowning as King, there is a huge crowd at the waterfall and what makes this scene stand out is the cultural beauty dripping from it. The colourful clothing hanging in endless miles of melanin is a sight to behold. This plus the dance moves and the chants make you so happy you want to cry.

There are a few issues with the movie. For instance some fighting scenes are a little bit boring but I like the fact that the fighters have faces and they are just not some faceless robots. Also, the cast mostly had a South African accent. I would have loved to see some East African accent thrown in the mix given that Wakanda is in East Africa. The movie is also a little too long and restless children might not be able to sit through it all without feeling the need to start jumping around and eating other people’s popcorn. However, these are minor and Marvel can improve on that.  

At the end of the day, Black Panther is a Marvel movie but it is not just that. It is a celebration of the African culture and the power that black people have to change themselves and the world at large using their “vibranium.” It is an important moment for every black person to walk out of the cinema head high loving who they are. A moment for black children to know they too can be superheroes and superheroines. A moment for non-black people  to appreciate black culture. Marvel will make money from this but at least not for depicting black people as slaves, thugs, angry women and other tired stereotypes (and rewarding them with an Oscar). No doubt the most unique and possibly the best movie from Marvel to date! Wakanda forever!!

 

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