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Black Panther: A Box Office Triumph

John Orzechowski

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Movies based on Marvel Comics have been pretty consistently successful. Apart from a few here and there (X Men Origins), everything since Iron Man has been pretty solid. The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Black Panther, which was released February 16th. This is no different than the rest. It’s another win for Marvel.

It’s set in the fictional country of Wakanda. According to the film, it’s about where Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo meet. Wakanda is made up of five different tribes who live in relative harmony, spending their time mining Vibranium from the earth. Vibranium is the strongest metal in the universe, and it’s what Captain America’s shield and Wolverine’s skeleton/claws are made of. It’s also used to power a whole bunch of technology. Vibranium is so helpful to the Wakandans, and would be so dangerous to the rest of the world, that Wakanda closes its borders and poses as a third world country to hide their resources. They had their borders shut for thousands of years before the film.

Black Panther’s all star cast shines on screen. Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the Black Panther and new king of Wakanda who attempts to hold his country’s traditional ways while the dangers of progress infiltrate his gates. Representing that danger is N’Jadaka or Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan represents the film more than any other cast member, blending the contrasting ideals of Wakanda and the rest of the world. Danai Gurira, who also plays Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead, acts as Okoye, the leader of the king’s army. She is torn between her loyalty to T’Challa as a friend and her loyalty to N’Jadaka as her king. Lupita Nyong’o plays T’Challa’s former lover Nakia. Martin Freeman plays CIA agent Everett Ross, and the ever talented Andy Serkis plays Ulysses Klaue, who represents the evil that would come to Wakanda if they ever opened their borders. Along with these, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett play in minor roles.

Kendrick Lamar’s incredible soundtrack for Black Panther was released a week prior to the movie, and it was a perfect fit. While only a couple songs were used during the actual film, and they probably could have used more, the ones they did use worked perfectly. The ones they didn’t use still made sense after the movie was done. For example, the song “King’s Dead” with Jay Rock and Future seemed like a fire single that could be played during an action scene or something relatively fast paced. However after seeing the movie, it’s clear that the song, at least Kendrick’s part, is about Killmonger. Music is an important part of any film, and both Kendrick’s hip hop themed original soundtrack and the traditional African sounding beats that provided background music helped Wakanda and it’s people seem real, a country with roots deep in tradition but progressing forward at the same time.

Finally: why everyone thought it was such a revolution. It’s a black superhero in Africa with traditional African dress and culture, fighting for his black people. I went in fully aware of this, and was fully expecting a bunch of subtle (or not) prods at the current state of affairs in the country. To my pleasant surprise, Marvel pretty much steered clear of any huge political statements. Sure, there were a few references. Killmonger would rather drown in the ocean than be enslaved like his ancestors. There are references to Police violence in Oakland where he grew up. The loudest message is in a post credit scene, when T’Challa tells the UN that, “The wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.” But the thing is, the good people in the film are not the revolutionaries who would see governments fall. The good people are the traditional government. The radical and evil Killmonger represents the groups that are fighting against the oppression of white people. But Marvel doesn’t support either side, because by the time the film is done the viewer questions both sides. Is the violent radical who wants progress and globalization for Wakanda the villain, or is the true problem the government that refuses to help their own people across the world?

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Black Panther: A Box Office Triumph