By Malusi Kameni (South Africa)

 

Wakanda – the long walk to Wakanda – the long dark read –
Muyang Ren – 22Feb18

Like most movie super-fans my Black Panther tickets were booked way in advance of opening night. Well because I got word that the tickets pre-sales were soaring and I did not want to miss the chance of watching this iconic film on opening night. I mean why not, I was not working that night and I live within walking distance of a cinema. I knew that most of my friends would watch it on the same weekend. I have “horrible” friends who will drop movie spoilers on text, in conversations. So I could not risk it.

This article has spoilers so if you have not seen the film yet please stop reading right now and come back after you have seen the movie, and I highly recommend that you go see it right now, just drop whatever it is you’re doing.

Black Panther kicks off with a voice over of a boy asking his father to tell him a particular story, this is the movie’s way of giving us a back story of what Wakanda is, the “where”, “what” and the “why”. From there, I got a clear sense of what Wakanda is and who the Black Panther is and his powers. The film does not waste time introducing us to the Black Panther in the form of a young T’Chaka, in his early 30’s (played by Athandwa Kani), who’s travelled to Oakland, California in 1992. We last saw T’Chaka in Civil War, he was in his late 50’s and played brilliantly by John Kani. T’Chaka dies in Civil War.

We all knew going in, that Black Panther is a film with almost 100% black cast, the screenplay is penned by black writers and the director, Ryan Coogler is a young black director whom before Black Panther had 2 movie credits to his name. The soundtrack is awesome, K.dot is King. In some publication it’s been dubbed as the modern day Superfly soundtrack.

Now, I don’t blame people who would have thought that this world would be similar to Zamunda. Let’s face it, in Coming to America the black lead is a son of a king from an African kingdom that Americans know nothing about, just like in Black Panther. However, from the beginning of Black Panther, the first speaking Wakandan character, a woman of the Dora Milaje, does not speak English. Unlike the 100% English script in Coming to America, Black Panther characters have a language of their own. Credit has to be given to all the actors who had to speak isiXhosa for their roles, it is not an easy South African language. It is highly expressive with a lot of clicks.

We are introduced to Wakanda from a bird’s eye view from T’Challa’s hover craft. We see an African landscape like you would have seen on National Geographic or perhaps in a lot of movies that are based in Africa. It’s beautiful, it is Africa after all. Within seconds after flying over some men who seem to be racing the hover craft on horseback, we go through some kind of an energy shield that conceals the city of Birnin Zana from the rest of the world. I got chills running up and down my body when this city was revealed. It’s a technologically advanced city with sky scrapers, a train that hovers through the city. It’s a modern African City that has been enjoying technology for quite some time.

Before this movie I had not seen an African sci-fi film that places technological advancement on the hands of black people on a large scale like this. District 9 was based in the real Johannesburg and yes like any white man’s story, the black people were just pawns on a white man’s chess board of technology (I said pawns, not prawns). It rather feels empowering being represented in the manner Black Panther did, even though I don’t know the limits of Vibranium. I was happy that it gave Wakanda a head start in the technological race from the rest of the world.

In Wakanda one surely can’t mention science without saying Shuri. T’Challa’s little sister, played by Letitia Wright, who actually steals every scene she is in. She picked a beat and just went with it, you’d swear she’s based in Africa the way she tackled the accent throughout the whole film. The humour in this film is off the charts, most of the humour is based on internal African jokes, like the sandals, the vegetarian joke, the “can I get a blanket” joke, the weave joke. Some brilliant jokes are directed at the white people and they really got the crowd in stitches.

Okay, back to Shuri.

From what I read about Wakanda, Shuri is a scientist, like her brother T’Challa. She is probably the smartest scientist in this fictional Marvel world, however in Black Panther we see her more as a Q to James Bond type of character. She gives us upgrades of the Black Panther suit, Kimoyo beads, the remote access to vehicles or hover crafts which is totally bad-ass by the way. I really would like to see more of this character in other Marvel films from now on. There’s a whole lot more about her that has to be explored/explained.

The scene in Beijing was the one of two or three scenes with the least number of black characters on screen. In this particular casino the one thing that stood out is the introduction of Okoye’s ass-kicking abilities. Okoye played by Danai Gurira, is the General of the Dora Milaje all female warriors, and a personal protector to the King of Wakanda, in this case T’Challa.

The casino has the ground floor that has all the gambling tables and a funny cameo from Stan Lee himself. A flight of stairs from this floor rises to the above floor which is a where our heroes entered the casino from. Okoye remained on the top floor so that she could have a vantage point of this whole situation. Our point of view is at the bottom part when the fight breaks out, there’s shooting and ducking. All of a sudden you hear this chanting, female voices, I can only explain it as Ululating. (check out the Black Panther sound track – King’s Dead 3:35). With that sound from the ground floor we see the General just doing what she does best, with the chanting still echoing in the background. We are introduced to her spear and how effective she is at using it. She is a warrior without a doubt. This is a huge fight scene that leads into a car chase scene that is also out of this world.

Lupita Nyong’o plays Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and more importantly a spy who is based out of Wakanda. Like most female characters in this film she is not some fluffer who is on screen in a revealing outfit just waiting to be saved. She holds her own and plays a very important role in making sure that her King and her Country are saved. As I had mentioned earlier that the actors had to deal with isiXhosa. There’s a line that she delivers perfectly at the end of the above mentioned car scene, it got me whistling in the cinema mainly because

I know her mother tongue is probably Swahili or Luwo or maybe another indigenous language to Kenya but not isiXhosa. “Hayi Kumnkani, ilizwe lijongile” – (No my King, the world is watching).

Queen Ramonda is played by Angela Basset, she is so graceful, there’s a scene where she’s hiding in the woods with Shuri, she’s not wearing her royal head gear and her silver dread locks are just glowing in the moon light. You can tell that she has been a good mother to T’Challa in his childhood, even as a step-mother, she’s a nurturer and she provides great counsel. “Show him who you are!!!!!”. I’ll just leave that line in there unexplained.

There’s a part where T’Challa is being crowned King in the first act of the film, there’s a huge ceremony taking place on a cliff with waterfalls. There’s dancing, a number of people in colourful wardrobe are standing and singing right at the edges of the cliff. If you did not get chills up and down your spine from seeing this, then your blood is made of pure Vibranium. African ceremonies on film, especially Royal African ceremonies should look nothing short of that grand scale.

The Dora Milaje in the above scene are standing guard in attention, their long spears in hand (spears as long as Sparta spears). Now these warriors are awesome, these Strong Black Women make the Amazon half naked women look like a circus act. We really did not see much of their fighting skills but what was shown was enough to give them the crown of bad- ass. I personally am holding a grudge against the editors or Ryan Coogler for not showing enough of Ayo played by Florence Kasumba. In Civil War she was ready to go head to head with Black Widow. Now I know who would have won that fight. If you do not set Vibranium induced Rhinos on these women, be warned they could take over your country in a day.

South Africa’s Connie Chiume plays a character with no name as far as I know, she’s rocks mushroom tips dreadlocks and it is later revealed that she is an aunt to Erik Killmonger. I am proud of this casting because I used to watch her on TV after school all the time.

Zuri played by Forest Whitaker is the spiritual advisor and an uncle to Black Panther. Forest has played many characters here in Africa, he’s the go to guy when an American has to play an African I guess. His role was small but very important to the events that changed this film around.

W’Kabi played by Daniel Kaluuya holds the fort down at the border between the hidden city and the Wakanda that the outside world knows of. He has a close relationship with T’Challa and a love interest to Okoye. This man has the title of raising Rhinos, that is quite an awesome title if you ask me.

There’s a rogue tribe called the Jabari’s who live on the snow mountains of Wakanda. Yes, Africans living on a snow mountain. They are led by a charismatic character called M’Baku played by Winston Duke. M’Baku is the bad guy at the beginning of the film and when things change we see him again when Queen Ramonda, Nakia and Shuri seek help from him. His throne reminded me of Game of Thrones somehow. I can’t wait to see how he’s used in the following Marvel films. He’s indeed a good man, a warrior who just does not agree with the ways of the Wakandans.

The painful issues that black people are dealing with around the world come to light when Erik Killmonger played by Michael Bakari Jordan comes on screen. From the African artefacts stolen from tribes in Africa now sitting in European museums, the US government flooding cheap drugs into the ghettos of America to control the ghettos with drug addiction, the revolutionaries who fought the system with pacifism but were assassinated, the slaves who had to jump to their deaths in the deep of the ocean to escape the chains of slave masters. Killmonger is not just angry at the system that has been crippling black people for decades upon decades, he’s angry at T’Challa and the nation of Wakanda for not helping when they could change things around and give the black nations an upper hand.

He is an eye for an eye kind of man who was trained by the US government to become a weapon they can use whenever they please, a Ghost. He has realized that Wakanda has vibranium that can make weapons, weapons that can free black people from their proverbial bondage. This is one villain who is hard not to root for because his cause is every other black person’s cause. Even though his methods are super evil. Marvel has done that with its bad guys, they are people who are fighting a system that is seen as a good system by the rest of the world.

The conflicts in other Marvel Cinematic Universe films that follow the mythical angle, is between family members fighting for power, just like in Black Panther. However, the issues in the other MCU films are fictional issues. Black Panther issues, particularly Killmonger’s troubles are based on racial inequalities. If you took a look at the black people in the cinema you were watching Black Panther with, it meant that they had to deal with the same issues at some part of their lives or still dealing with them.

Michael B Jordan’s played Killmonger as a true baddie, and I could not really fully root for him because of his blood thirsty nature and his lust for power. I think this was brilliant directing because the scales here could have easily been tipped the other way.

Last but not least, the other factor that gave me the courage not to support Killmonger’s cause was T’Challa himself, played by Chadwick Boseman. He’s a young noble king who tries to do good but is dealing with the sins of his father.

You have to give it to T’Challa, he’s just a likeable character, from Civil War when he was angry and kicking all kinds of non-African ass. We just could not wait for him to show us what his world and people are about. He is surrounded by very strong characters, especially the women around him.

You can see from his first trial by combat without the super powers, given by the heart- shaped herb that he has not reached “master level” in his fighting skills. This was actually a brilliant setup because in both the trial by combat fights, as a viewer you are not confident that T’Challa has the upper hand. Thomas Anderson in The Matrix had to die before he became Neo. Jesus had to die and come back after 3 days before he was named the saviour. So did T’Challa.

The one quality that was extremely highlighted about Black Panther is that he’s a leader who is compassionate and cares, not just about his people in Wakanda but the rest of the world or even beyond. He is the Black Superhero King and the World is waiting to see where he goes from where we left him in Black Panther.

Wakanda Forever.

Rating: 5/5

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