Black Panther unapologetically confronts race


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When Captain America was drawn in 1940, he represented what the world needed: strength and courage. Pearl Harbor had not yet happened, but the ravaging war happening across the Atlantic was creeping dangerously close to American soil. 

Amidst the horrors of World War II and the looming peril over the United States, the first issue of Captain America, where he is seen punching Adolf Hitler in the face, sparked a message of hope concealed in the humor and fictional nature of superheroes.

Black Panther, the latest addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), represents what Captain America was nearly a century ago. The film came out two weeks ago, and it has already surpassed any other Marvel movie to date making $700 million in the box office. Black Panther incorporates the widely expected CGI-infested action from Marvel with social commentary that feels particularly true in times where the leader of the free world refers to third world countries as “shitholes.”

For the first time ever, an all-black cast is featured in a superhero movie where the black actor is not a comedic relief nor a minor role to make the main character look good. 

Although T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther, was introduced to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, not much was known about him nor his country, Wakanda, before Black Panther. In this film, the past of Wakanda is presented through King T’Challa’s present and his vision for the future.

Drawing on elements from the comics, Black Panther successfully challenges the ideas the first world has for the third world. Through T’Challa’s journey from orphaned son to king and superhero, Black Panther brings up issues of race in a refreshing, unapologetically black way. 

Much of this change is brought by Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the man who is supposed to be the villain but after the credits roll, feels more like the Marvel version of Malcolm X. Killmonger was a man who went from the streets of Oakland, Calif. to the Wakandan throne; a man who sought the liberation of his people and found the redemption of his soul. To hate on him would be missing the entire history of a country—his country—and the ripples provoked by the pain over which it was built.

From references to colonialism and slavery, to drugs and police brutality, Black Panther tackles racial injustices through humor and serious dialogue. 

Both Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) joking remark to Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) as a colonizer and Killmonger’s reference to his slave ancestors and how he would rather die than live in bondage, make the film uncomfortably real. It is uncomfortable, at least, to those who are willing to listen to those lines and take them as offenses rather than lessons.

The female powerhouses of Wakanda turned a film already heavy on social commentary into something beyond an explosion-filled superhero film. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Danai Gurira) and Shuri dismiss the damsel-in-distress ad nauseam narrative and switch it into one where their gender does not dictate who they are and what they do. 

Nakia, a spy, Okoye, Wakanda’s strongest warrior and general and Shuri, a technological genius, embrace their womanhood as much as T’Challa and Killmonger embrace their blackness. Wakanda and its people represent a light of hope in a society riddled with discrimination and unwillingness to accept it. This film opens up the nation of Wakanda to the world for the first time, the closest to a fair and advanced utopia, in the hope that a fictional universe might encourage us to take a step closer to it in reality.

A lot has happened since Captain America became a staple for both Marvel Comics and the United States, such as the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq and Black Lives Matter. A lot has changed, and a lot has not, Black Panther appears as a response to that which has not changed and as a catalyzer for that which should.

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