Unless you live under a rock you have heard the buzz around “Black Panther”. It broke all kinds of box office records, got huge critic approval and fans love it. It has also refined what a hero can look like. I have seen it twice and it is a wonderful movie. Engaging, fun, and enjoyable. What follows contains spoilers, so if you are waiting to watch it until the film is released for home viewing, stop reading now.
Obviously, the movie is notable in that practically the entire cast is black. And contrary to popular movie making wisdom, white people flocked to the movie in droves. We were seemingly unconcerned the the hero, villain, and entire supporting cast didn’t look like us. For me, the worst thing about seeing “Black Panther” as a white woman was that I feel that it is not my place to randomly shout “Wakanda Forever” and give the Wakanda salute. Because, honestly, it is SO COOL!
Another trope that was ‘wrong’ for an action movie the villain, Killmonger, was multi-layered and complex. His motivations were good even though his execution was wrong. I actually kind of liked him until he started killing people. His view of the world is not wrong. He doesn’t want to burn down the world, he wants to right wrongs and rectify injustice. The best description of him I have read said he is “not the villain in T’Challa’s story. He is the hero of his own story.” The secondary antagonist, M’Baku, was also layered. His primary concern was not the usurping of power, but the protection of his own people. Plus he was hysterical.
The next stereotype to fall was the role of women. It is usual for there to be one woman who is ‘part of the team’ and perhaps another to fill another a typical woman’s role (damsel, love interest, mother, wise woman, etc.) “Black Panther” had many women. The hero was literally surrounded by powerful women who were treated with respect, listened to, and were in positions of leadership. They were warriors, diplomats, scientists, and spies. There wasn’t a distressed damsel in sight. In fact the women did the rescuing. Interestingly, in spite of the strong and diverse cast of women, “Black Panther” barely passes the Bechdel test. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, the Bechdel test asks simply that there me at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a male character. A shocking number of films do not meet this standard and “Black Panther” was almost one of them. The many amazing women in the film talked almost exclusively about the men in the film when they talked to each other. It is one low spot is what would otherwise a film that shines as a beacon for underrepresented demographics.
For me, I hope that Hollywood learns the lessons of “Black Panther” and is brave enough to trust that good movies will succeed no matter what color the cast might be.