Black Panther Review: The wise build bridges, indeed.
Last week, I blasted the identity-politics-mongering cultural Left for driving a wedge between black Americans and white Americans coming together to participate in the cultural milestone that is “Black Panther” this weekend. I particularly rebuked their fanatical, destructive politicization of the film, and how it will only divide people during a time of unity.
Their anti-social worldview became so toxic that The New York Times enlisted a professor to caution white Americans against having their children dress up as “Black Panther” for Halloween. Now, different from Rotten Tomatoes’ sycophantic critics, “Black Panther” is far from a great film. The take takes way too long to get started, it doesn’t lead to an emotionally satisfying climax, and it glosses over story points that needed more fleshing out. Being a piece of sci-fi fantasy, the world-building also lacked the sort of weight and dimension required to give the action more gravitas. However, since that issue has afflicted virtually every Marvel flick since “Spiderman,” that one can pass.
My rating: solid 85%.
Yet, the film boasts a neat collection of film star-caliber leads, a breezy sense of style thanks to director Ryan Coogler’s visual flair and a colorful palette of outfits and set decor. But nobody cares about that superficial stuff. You are here for the politics, and for some reason, two of my fellows are completely convinced that between the movie’s condemnation of Black Lives Matter militants and endorsement of national sovereignty, there was some glaring piece of leftist propaganda gnawing in the shadows. I will address some of their critiques…
At this point, the most throughout criticism of the film I’ve seen is the movie’s notion that the technological kingdom of Wakanda – the utopia where prince T’Challa rules as the Black Panther – is a different reality that “could have been” had European colonizers never arrived at Africa.
Now, I am fully aware that the notion of a pagan country like Wakanda, one of ancestor worship, excelling into a technological utopia without the Judeo-Christian worldview is patently strange. However, the critics have to understand that Wakanda exists in the same universe as the God of Thunder, Thor’s Asgard, another technological kingdom governed by pagan principles; Nordic in that case.
If it’s not wholly apparent to you by now that governing the Marvel universe is a hodge-podge of incoherent philosophical and theological outlooks, then where have you been the past 10 years? In all 18 Marvel flicks, we have seen antics that vary from the ridiculous to the impossible: an Australian blonde dude that draws lightning from the sky with his mystical hammer; a tech-savvy billionaire who makes a rocket-propelled war suit in an Afghanistan terrorist bunker; the Jolly Green Giant’s furious twin smashing half of Manhattan to oblivion.
In all fairness, if you come to a Marvel film hoping for some sort of Tolkien-esque treatise, then I’m afraid you have wasted your precious time. On contrary, “Black Panther” as well as “Thor” deserves to be viewed as nothing more than a piece of mythology, and at that aspect, “Black Panther” scores big.
The film is about the fight between two opposing ideological forces: tribalism and unity. The villain, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is, at core, a black nationalist revolutionary that would stay right at home screaming “death to pigs” at a BLM rally. The hero, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), represents EVERYONE. By the end of Black Panther, T’Challa is neither just a ruler to Wakanda or black folks; he is a king for all, stated by his “we are one tribe” message to the United Nations at the end. We are T’Challa and T’Challa is us.
T’Challa is a full-embracement of Plato’s idea of the philosopher king, a king devoted to truth and goodness, not self-centered notions of race or entitlements. When one challenges him for the crown, he manfully accepts, emphasizing his deference to merit over bloodline. When T’Challa wins the fight, he shows mercy and grace, emphasizinging his value of ideas over brute force.
Killmonger represents everything T’Challa is not. Where T’Challa has ideas, Killmonger has force. Where T’Challa has grace, Killmonger has cruelty. Where T’Challa has merit, Killmonger has entitlement. While Black Panther definitely sympathizes with Killmonger ‘s past of having been taken away from his father and his heritage, being forced to thrive in the slums of Oakland while his relatives lived a life of luxury, in no way does Ryan Coogler or the script endorse Killmonger’s despiteful worldview.
If T’Challa and Killmonger represent two different ideologies that oppose one another, then the nation of Wakanda is the chessboard where they battle for supremacy. Indeed, from the very start, the nation is torn between those two forces, and all throughout, T’Challa always sticks to the truth. It is seen when a white CIA agent (played by Martin Freeman) is badly wounded and T’Challa rejects the xenophobia of his friends by bringing him to Wakanda for healing.
Critics putting up their fists over the line from T’Challa’s giddy little sister, princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) flippantly saying “another white boy to save” fail to realize that the whole point of the sequence is to show that Wakanda is afflicted with a crippling isolationism that it must grow out of or risk its own peril. This is where Killmonger comes in. Killmonger, like a snake, comes to exploit the nation’s hubris, as he actually believes blacks are a master race, hence why he wants to use the Wakanda advanced technology to overthrow Western governments and build a one-world kingdom.
Killmonger dangles this tempting idea before Wakanda’s tribes; some of them even fall into the bait, thus sparking a civil war between the ideologies of Killmonger and the ideologies of Black Panther.
In the film’s conclusion, the side of unity led by the philosopher king T’Challa overpasses the side of tribalism. The truth prevails. Blacks win. Whites win. Humanity wins. And if you didn’t notice it, that “white boy” T’Challa’s sister bemoaned about treating, he saves the day and almost gives his life up.
Isolationism and racial uniformity never pays.
By saving the world, T’Challa becomes everyone’s king, for he is more than a king of a country, but a king of ideas. As such, he knows it would be selfish of him to go back to his old way of life as an isolationist. He goes beyond the borders of his own nation, not to rule or enslave or even lecture, but to protect those in need.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what conservatives are harping on about over the final scene when T’Challa opens up an outreach center to help inner-city youths in Oakland. Instead of having T’Challa throw a bunch of money into the street or preach to children about white wrongdoers, director Ryan Coogler rather shows his hero give the inner-city children exactly what they need: hope; as shown by T’Challa introducing them to a Wakanda ship, enlivening their imagination.
Coogler’s message in Black Panther is clear: inner-city youths need something to aim for, something that refreshes their spirits, something to inspire them. They need fathers; they need society; they need culture; they need connection; they need compassion; they need knowledge; they need a hero. The wise build bridges, indeed.