Gone are the days when you had to stay up till some ungodly hour ( 11pm, 12am) to catch a glimpse of a Black person on TV. Gone are the days when I suffered near enough third-degree burns to make my hair as straight as a ruler. Gone are the days when I suffered shame and bullying at the hands of other Black kids because of my strong Nigeria accent after arriving in good ol’ Blighty. These are new times. These are the days of Wakanda Forever. But this review is two-fold. It is about what it does for Black people and what it is as a film. As a film, I was pretty disappointed. I gave it a 5 or 6 out of 10. But as a celebration of Black people and Africa and our uniqueness and varied culture, I would probably give it a 7 or 8 out of 10.
What you need to know about me:
- I am not a comic book connoisseur and nor am I am film buff.
- I love great stories (plots) and great characters (personalities).
- I don’t ‘do’ sci-fi as a genre but if a film is driven by a strong storyline and/or strong characters, I’ll pretty much watch anything.
- I struggle to connect with worlds that are not real and that is perhaps why fantasy and sci-fi are not particularly my thing. I mean I love a good Superman film and even Lord of the Rings but for me, these were firstly character driven and then secondly or equally story driven films.
What I liked about Black Panther as a film:
- I loved Okoye, the female warrior. We get a strong sense of her loyalty to the throne (no matter who sits on it) and also of her ability to exercise her sense of right and wrong which leads to her eventually going against the king. We witness her emotional growth and we feel the strength of her emotions.
- I laughed when Nakia (played by Lupita Nyong’o) is shot clean out of her car with nothing but the steering wheel and her seat for company.
- I loved the film visually. The waterfall was beautiful and the plains outside of the technologically enhanced Wakanda were also captivating.
- We saw that villains are made, not born. Or at least this is what I saw. Killmonger, T’Challa’s cousin has a backstory which means we have some connection with him even though he is in essence a tyrant. But this is born of anger it seems, not pure evil.
What I liked about Black Panther as a Black woman:
- I loved the Okoye’s attitude towards her wig. In an age in which black women are feeling increasingly empowered to wear their hair as God and nature intended, it is a thing of beauty seeing this love for our own hair displayed on screen.
- I quite liked Shuri (played by Letitia Wright) because here was a confident Black woman who was technologically mature but who was still essentially a child at heart (playful, self-assured, ready for action).
- I loved the idea that on the outside Wakanda (like media portrayals of Africa) is considered a ‘third world nation’ but that essentially its richness lies beneath. How wonderful it is for Africans and Blacks to celebrate their inherent richness. Only those who take an interest will ever know this. I’d always viewed Nigeria as a country of cities until my cousins showed me around and took me to Erin Ijesha waterfalls, and Abeokuta.
- Wakandas just like Black folk come in all shapes and shades. No ‘colourism’ here. Light, dark, mid-tones, we are all beautiful. And the colours in those outfits. Damn. My last trip to Nigeria was when I received a baptism in colour. Wakanda reminded me of this glorious array of colour.
There were things I felt let the film down:
- The lead character was supposedly a superhero with not much super about him except for his suit. I couldn’t see the evidence of his power when he was away from his suit but yet I am told he has the power of a panther.
- I believe a great story needs a great character and for me, T’Challa was not that. He lacked the passion of Okoye (a great female warrior), he lacked the good humour of his sister and he lacked the quiet yet passionate emotion displayed by Daniel Kumuya’s character.
- Am I the only one who thought that Killmonger’s death was unnecessarily strung out? I mean at one point I wanted to shout “just die brother, die”.
There were things I wasn’t sure about as a Black woman:
- I wasn’t too keen on the barking thing. Just me personally. It plays too much on the idea of ‘African savages’ for me. This was however tempered by the vegetarian joke made by the ‘chief barker’.
- I personally didn’t feel empowered as a Black woman by watching this film but after speaking to some Wakanda admirers, I understood that maybe that is simply because I am in a different place. I love my hair, I love the richness of my culture, my language (Yoruba) and I am also comfortable with my ‘Britishness’. I am now used to seeing black people on TV. But I understand that just as Africa is a continent rich with diversity, so are Black people diverse in thought, experience, identities etc. So some Black folk may have felt able to puff out their chest more after watching Black Panther.
- There were references to colonialism (Shuri’s greeting: hello coloniser) which I felt slightly uncomfortable with. Was I uncomfortable because I thought that White people in the audience would be uncomfortable or was I uncomfortable because I thought it was ‘old’. I am not sure. I may have to ponder that one for a little longer………..Okay, I’ve pondered. I’ve got it!!! I felt as though certain bits of dialogue were put in specifically for the benefit of Black folk and perhaps there is nothing wrong with that but for me, that is like an actor looking directly into the camera rather than pretending that the camera is not there. It is as though there is a conflation of the real (the oppression and enslavement of Blacks) and the unreal (a place called Wakanda) and this for me is the equivalent of musical dissonance.
I would recommend the film to comic lovers but as I was told beforehand, ditch all expectations.
Next step: Black films set in the real world which tell the story of ordinary rather than extraordinary Black folk. Like not about the world of criminality or drugs or how great we can sing or how well we can run because Lord knows I have seen some slow Black folk out there just like I have heard some awful voices on a Sunday morning. No. I just want stories of great Black people overcoming adversity in whatever walk of live they happen to inhabit.