“The foolish build barriers,
while the wise build bridges.”
The Once and Future King lets love rule.
Powerful, resonant, and a movie for our time, Black Panther shapes an incredibly well thought out universe, with every element lovingly crafted.
By Tym Stevens
Segregation should be replaced with inclusion.
When change is needed, pathfinders move forward. Black Panther, the first black superhero, was co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966, opening the dawning Marvel Universe into being truly universal. Simultaneously, the Black Panther Party raised fists and awareness in Oakland, CA.; while the revolutionary group struggled with ideology, unity, and the FBI in the fraught late ’60s, the hero fast-tracked into the Avengers. From 1973 to 1976, Don McGregor and Billy Graham redefined the African champion T’Challa as a complex and mindful liege in their epic “Killraven” arc. Acclaimed author Ta-Nahesi Coates, with artists Brian Stelfreeze and Chris Sprouse, streamlined him with contemporary political sophistication in 2016.
Walls fall, doors open.
Black Panther paved the way at Marvel Comics for diversity, from his peers The Falcon, Luke Cage, Shang Chi, and the international X-Men, to their heirs Echo, Kamala/Ms. Marvel, America Chavez, Amadeus Cho, and Miles/Spider-Man. (And for DC Comics, from John Stewart/Green Lantern to Kong Kenan/ Superman.) His success enriched the Marvel bullpen with African-American creators like Graham, Coates, Stelfreeze, and noted Panther writers like Christopher Priest, filmmaker Reginald Hudlin, and author Nnedi Okorafor. And the 2018 film likewise broadens Marvel Studios’ creative spectrum with director Ryan Coogler, his crew, and the cast.
Embrace a fuller world.
Marvel films are always rich with inspired production, from Asgard to the Kree, but the innovation, radius, and subtext of this film are uniquely rich. Chadwick Boseman centers the film with wise calm and benign dignity, Lupita Nyong’o is assured and driven, Danai Gurira is steely resolve, Andy Serkis triples his presence by sheer gusto, Martin Freeman is supple and earnest, and Letitia Wright heists the spotlight as the mischievous genius, Shuri. Behind the players, Coogler’s triumph is a family affair: Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, Ludwig Goransson’s score, Hannah Beachler’s design, and Ruth E. Carter’s costumes combine into an interwoven vision as vibrant and intricate as Kente cloth.
Colonialism gives way to the cosmopolitan.
Divisions depend on false suspicions. T’Challa crosses this Rubicon early on. In the South Korea sequence, he could be viewed as James Bond with the CIA’s Ross as his Felix Leiter. Yet, whereas Bond was an echo of Britain’s rule, the Panther is isolationist to prevent his nation from being colonized, making them uneasy allies. But when Ross is hurt protecting him, he chooses compassion for individuals beyond any previous divisions. The Panther values a person’s actions over their appearance or origin.
There’s a difference between a reactionary and an activist.
The opponents Killraven and T’Challa have a chance to learn from each other and advance together; their conflict challenges them to navigate their choice of responses, and the responsibility of their choices. Their antecedents Malcolm X and Martin Luther King are often posited as opposites, the hawk vs. the dove. But this divisive narrative carefully obscures how the conscious uprisers actually became closer in outlook over time. Malcolm’s razor insight was initially corroded by his localized anger, but his ascent into becoming Shabazz was tempered by an empathic grace; meeting him halfway, Martin expanded from pacifist desegregation to boldly calling out the corrupt powers behind war, poverty, and tyranny. Between them, they began unifying disparate protest groups. Under oppression, a Divider is a tool, but a Uniter gets killed. After Hoover expedited the deaths of both men and the Panther Party, he deliberately filled the vacuum in communities like Oakland with the self-defeat of guns and drugs. Killraven mirrors the hate that the hatemongers thus created, a reflexive absolutist who confuses war with liberation, killing all in between. T’Challa is the love that redeems the soul, a reflective egalitarian who can dissolve discord with empathy, bringing everyone into harmony. This is the continual cycle of Adolescent Reactionary vs. Adult Activist that must be superceded. The Leopard thinks like a general, where the Enemy is a physical reality taken down by arms; the Panther thinks like a diplomat, where the delusions that we actually oppress ourselves with are taken apart by awareness. Killraven fails to advance past Guerilla Chic but helps T’Challa achieve mature perspective like a sharp Griot: real revolution always starts with reevaluation.
Factions should enlarge into family.
Expansion always runs the risk of going adrift. The human race came from Africa, and spread so far across land and time that it forgot itself, treating its limbs like strangers. The nation of Wakanda is a metaphor, a crux point of human progress and future potential. Yet T’Challa is faced with disintegration: an isolated utopia where tribal fissures and separatist incest can erode paradise. But when challenges come, growth emerges. Nelson Mandela, though imprisoned unfairly for decades, bravely chose forgiveness and inclusion for all. Faced with the threat of division, the Panther goes on faith to extend unity, parity, and charity to everyone.
“Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence…We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”