It wasn’t until my butt was in a chair in an IMAX theater Thursday night that I realized what this movie would mean to me. Black Panther had been on my mind for the better part of the months following the first trailer premiere—when we got a glimpse of the grandeur Wakanda would dazzle us with. I talked to everyone who would listen about Danai Gurira’s involvement, squirreled Black Panther into the Off the Shelf editorial calendar at work, and accosted family and friends to make room for a screening or two. But on Thursday night, I had butterflies. I was expecting something to go wrong: What if the accents are terrible? What if it’s corny? What if I shouldn’t have believed the hype? I’ve never walked into a theater with these thoughts, these fears, because there has yet to be a film like this one where black people are the heroes of their own story, where melanin and beauty and strength are one in the same, where the narrative would depart from the poverty-stricken war-torn Africa the world seems so obsessed with.
During my first viewing I absorbed, but on my second viewing I cried, danced, and watched breathlessly. I walked away with few thoughts on what made Black Panther so amazing.
Danai Gurira. Full Stop.
Having watched Danai Gurira masterfully wield a katana as the Walking Dead’s Michonne for several seasons now, I had high expectations for her portrayal as Okoye—leader of Dora Milaje and the fiercest warrior of Wakanda. What I was not expecting was for Danai to exceed those expectations ten thousand-fold. Okoye—like many of the characters of Black Panther—is multifaceted making her a fan favorite. Intelligent, strong, beautiful, with a refreshing sense of humor—Danai brings Okoye to life in a way that’s fun and exciting to watch on the screen.
From the #BlackPanther trailers, I didn’t think Okoye would be as layered as she was. That was the biggest surprise. Okoye gave me strength, vulnerability, beauty, humour, love, sadness, conflict, heart, compassion. All of it. Danai Gurira was EVERYTHING.
— Random J (@_RandomJ_) February 17, 2018
Most notably, what Okoye represents among the Wakandan people is an honorable—I emphasize, honorable—display of patriotism. Every word she speaks, with every swing of her spear, she honors her nation.
All Your Faves Are Present
Remember how 2017 was literally bursting at the seams with black excellence? Well, Black Panther featured all your faves including Sterling K. Brown of This Is Us and American Crime Story fame, Get Out boo Daniel Kaluuya (Sunken Place status, still questionable), and even rising star Letitia Wright who, you’ll recall, appeared in the Afrofuturistic-leaning episode of Black Mirror’s latest season. Ryan Coogler brought Michael B. Jordan onboard for yet another project because dynamic duos such as these are not meant to be broken. Oscar-winning beauty (and author to be) Lupita Nyong’o stars as T’Challa’s melanin-enriched love interest. Black Hollywood legends like Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker appear. Black Panther also propels new talent to the forefront like Yale grad Winston Duke. He plays the intimidating (but soft-hearted) M’Baku. You can’t miss him, he literally stands 6”5 tall. Then we have some Tolkein guys to round out the cast: Andy Serkis (who previously played Gollum in the LOTR and Hobbit movies) and Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins).
And then there’s Chadwick Boseman, who—having played renowned figures like Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and most recently, Thurgood Marshall—can now add yet another iconic name to his resume: The Black Panther.
From the cast to the director to all of those working behind-the-scenes, Black Panther is teeming with the best kind of black excellence.
The Wakanda Sunsets
To quote a comment I read on Facebook, Black Panther is just so pretty to look at. Throughout the film, Coogler plays with this dichotomy between tradition and innovation and this certainly informs how visually captivating the film is. Mixing breathtaking African landscapes with sleek and stunning technology, the blend between the old and new is just right. The terrain of the ancestral plane—which almost harkens back to a scene out of The Lion King—coupled with the neon-laden aurora borealis… MY GAWD. The sun-soaked roads of the bustling city through which levitating buses travel…Wow. Families in countryside, living off the land… Sigh. The sunsets in Wakanda truly are the most beautiful in the world.
From whip-smart and tech-savvy Shuri to her regal and nurturing mother Ramonda, from the socially conscious Nakia to the fierce warriors of the Dora Milaje, the women of Wakanda—if I can be so bold—are what make this nation so great. In an interview on The View, Danai says “The country [of Wakanda] understands in order to work at its absolute best, you want women at their fullest potential and you celebrate that!” Black Panther gives us a glimpse into a reality where a nation thrives because the women are equal. Imagine that…
What I love about the women of Wakanda is that there is no push and pull between femininity and strength. They just are. Feminine and strong. I’m reminded of the casino fight scene in which Nakia and Okoye slay while—sorry—T’Challa hides behind a table. (I kid, he did good). After epically snatching off her wig and kicking some dude off a balcony, Okoye proceeds to jump down after him, a soft billowy cloud of red chiffon in her wake. Or how Nakia, a crown of natural curls adorning her head, snatches off her heels and uses it as a weapon (but of course, if you grew up in an African household, this course of action doesn’t surprise you).
And then we have Shuri, a fan favorite. Funny, witty, innovative—with tech to put Tony Stark’s to shame. She is now being called a Disney Princess—once a young girl in a dress waiting for her prince, now a creator, innovator, mover, and shaker.