Black Panther came out last Thursday and it completely blew my mind. I’m joined by Patricia Hernandez and Mike Fahey to talk about the wonder of Wakanda, colonialism, and especially Erik Killmonger.
Gita Jackson: Over the weekend, the long awaited Black Panther movie dropped. I was trying not to let the hype take me over, but I have to say I had high expectations for this movie after seeing Captain America: Civil War and seeing Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa for the first time. I’m happy to say that for me at least, this movie didn’t disappoint. What a fucking great flick y’all.
Mike Fahey: Eh, it was okay.
Patricia Hernandez: I thought it was incredible—everything from the casting, to the costumes, to the music. Just a palpable sense of vision and artistry which is rare for a superhero movie.
Gita: Black Panther was directed by Ryan Coogler, who had previously directed Fruitvale Station and Creed, both of which were up for Oscars. Even more so than Thor: Ragnarok, this felt like a director led movie, and that’s a trend that I’m glad the Marvel Cinematic Universe is embracing because lordy, some of the MCU movies are very boring.
Fahey: You’re just going to let me get away with that?
Gita: You gotta live with your words, Fahey!
Fahey: The thing is, when I left the theater on Thursday night, I wasn’t overwhelmed. I didn’t have that flush of fresh excitement like I did with say, The Avengers or Captain America: Civil War But Technically the Avengers III. I wasn’t disappointed. I was just thoughtful. Now, five days later? I think the movie is amazing. But it took me a while. Rather than being all BOOM EXCITED and then cooling off after a few days, as with most Marvel movies, I started off mildly appreciative and as it steeped in my brain it grew more and more delicious and flavorful.
Gita: What a tasty metaphor.
Patricia: That was the thing up until very recently, Marvel movies felt very formulaic. You knew what to expect, and often, many of them felt the same. I think the only memorable MCU movie I’ve watched is The Winter Soldier, maybe Civil War too, but always with that asterisk of “okay for a superhero movie.” But I felt that thrill and rush almost immediately, because my theater experience was something else. I was watching in NYC, and my theater, I swear, was like half women and 75% people of color. People were VERY excited, dressed up, and just vocal when anything happened. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many women in a nerdy movie before, and they all fucking lost it whenever Michael B. Jordan entered a scene!
Gita: My theater wasn’t that saturated with women and people of color, but they did lose it at the “don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” line. I hadn’t anticipated that being something that would get a big laugh, but it did. It ended up being an emotional experience in the theater. All I could think when I left was, I wonder what it’s like to see this movie if you’re like, a ten year old child. How amazing must that be, to see a vision of Africa untouched by colonialism?
Fahey: I probably would have been more excited had I seen it with my wife, as originally planned. She went and saw it on Saturday and came home glowing. So many amazing performances, so many powerful women (except Killmonger’s poor girlfriend). She was happy with tears the whole time.
Patricia: Oh man. Martin Freeman - from the trailers I was worried about what his role was going to be. I was surprised that he was a character who was there to be dunked on primarily, or to be helpful in very specific ways. My theater handed out these surveys where one of the questions was, why did you come see this movie? And Martin Freeman was a choice and I laughed because who the fuck would say they paid money to see Freeman in this movie??
Gita: People really like Sherlock, I guess? I found Freeman surprisingly likeable, and it was neat to see how comfortable being the butt of jokes. Like that scene where M’Baku starts barking at him when he tries to talk. That still makes me laugh.
Patricia: Oh my god. That scene.
Gita: Patricia, it was a good scene.
Fahey: Shuri was my favorite. Shuri needs her own movie. Get her a Panther costume, stat.
Patricia: I hope M’Baku is in the next Avengers movie and just barks at the big new threat. SHURI IS ALSO AMAZING, and this is the actor’s first big role right?
Gita: Yeah! Letitia Wright, who plays Shuri, was in an episode of Black Mirror last season, but this is her first major role. We should maybe set up what this whole movie is about before we keep gushing. Honestly I was taken in by the voice over prologue, which is definitely unusual for any movie. My friend pointed out to me that the origin story of Wakanda was actually being narrated by N’Jobu to his son, N’Jadaka, AKA Killmonger.
Patricia: Oh shit, I didn’t realize that.
Gita: Yeah that blew my mind when I realized it.
Patricia: But I did like that intro—the aesthetics really pushed the idea that, hey, this is a place with a long history. You may not have heard of it before, but that’s by design. So the intro establishes this idea that at least one Wakandan goes out into the rest of the world, sees how black people are treated, and decides it’s a grave injustice, and Wakanda—which is powerful and technologically advanced—should help. And that’s kind of the central tension of the entire movie, because Wakanda has survived this long partially by NOT getting involved in foreign affairs.
Gita: The idea that makes Wakanda so tantalizing is that it’s a country in Africa that was allowed to flourish, and wasn’t stripped of its resources and people by the transatlantic slave trade. But the movie also immediately asks us, as an audience, to question if it’s fair that this one place has all the resources and the global black diaspora is left to their own devices. As much as this is a superhero movie, it’s also a movie about colonialism. It is wild that they pulled this off.
Patricia: It’s a really interesting conflict, though. We as viewers kind of know exactly what the movie is talking about even though it never goes into detail as to what the injustices are, but just given that the movie is dropping at this specific point in time, or even the director’s specific filmography, the stakes felt more tangible than some infinity stones or the end of the world or whatnot.
Fahey: I don’t know if I’d even say it was a superhero movie. There were people with powers, sure, but those powers took a back seat to the issues and the ideological struggle.
Patricia: Yeah, I’ve seen a couple of interviews with Coogler and one of the ideas he keeps touching on is “innovators versus traditionalists”—many scenes in the movie are paired specifically so there’s always one of each, to set up good dynamics between characters. T’Challa we know, maybe mostly due to his familial ties, is a traditionalist. But he’s in love with someone who thinks the old ways are wrong, and they need to help others out more. So then you have Killmonger—who was left out in the real world, disconnected from his people—who is definitely NOT a traditionalist, going after the throne. It turns into this big thing, but you also sort of understand, hey, T’Challa probably doesn’t think this dude is totally wrong? If he can be in love with Nakia despite her insistence—maybe BECAUSE of her insistence—to break from tradition, he definitely understands where Killmonger is coming from.
Fahey: It’s been said, but it’s a very Professor X/Magneto relationship.
Gita: I think it’s the best realized version of the Xavier/Magneto conflict. Xavier in the X-Men movies and comics comes off as a patronizing dick. Over time, T’Challa accepts that he’s letting down the global black population in a huge way. Killmonger’s methods are also obviously too extreme. His goal in the movie is to become king of Wakanda and then arm black people around the world to start a global insurrection. That is a bad plan.
Fahey: And all of those scenes of Magneto crying for his parents at the concentration camp gates—none have the power of young Killmonger staring up at that apartment building from the basketball court.
Gita: I legit cried for Killmonger more than once. Michael B. Jordan puts in a powerful performance. You know how and why he lost his way so badly, even if he is right in some ways. The entire world has let him down, like it lets down so many young black people.
Patricia: The plan was bad, but you still definitely emphasize with him. He’s a dude who’s been consumed by his rage, and like, yeah, that would mess anyone up. Also it probably helps that it’s Michael B. Jordan, who killed it every time. I love this new tendency of Marvel movies to make the villains fucky, like in the last Thor movie.
Gita: Michael B. Jordan in the British Museum is a whole look.
Fahey: I was almost rooting for him when he showed up in the Wakandan throne room, with his swagger and his “Hey Auntie.”
Patricia: When he takes the mask because he’s just feeling it.
Gita: “Hey Auntie” also got a huge laugh in my theater, as did the mask stealing.
Patricia: Haha, yeah, man just his entire delivery. Some of the specifics of his dialogue felt weirdly out-of-touch, but he pulls it off.
Gita: He’s a charismatic villain as well as being a compelling one. You’re almost literally seduced by him until he’s like “let’s start a global race war.”
Patricia: I do feel like they must have cut out some Killmonger scenes. They accomplish a lot with little screentime, or is that just me?
Fahey: The contrast between his world and T’Challa’s really hits home when he drinks the Panther juice. T’Challa winds up on these mystical plains with swirling purple lights. Erik is right back in that tenement building.
Gita: This did feel like a... concise movie, I’ll say. But the scenes like the one with the ancestral realm in ancestral Oakland that were kept had huge emotional impact. When you see that his vision of himself, meeting with his dead father, is still him as a little boy... It hurts! It says so much about where he is trapped, emotionally.
Patricia: Like, there are very few scenes where you hear from Killmonger what his motivations are, or are being let into his private thoughts. I think the only one really is when he takes the Panther juice, yeah. And what an effective scene, too - that even when he’s forced his way into Wakanda, spiritually, he’s still disconnected. He doesn’t go where T’Challa goes.
Gita: Well he’s in the ancestral realm to meet his father, and his father never got to return to Wakanda. They’re both literally lost souls, trapped outside their homeland. Not to keep bring it back to slavery, but you know, it speaks a lot to the experience of being black in America. You don’t know where you’re from, or where you belong, and you don’t have a home to go back to.
Patricia: That’s some real shit right there. I have lots of feelings about ~diaspora~ as the child of immigrants, which obviously doesn’t translate 1:1 to the specific experience depicted here, but I definitely felt emotional about it.
Gita: It’s so interesting to me how much time we’ve spent just talking about Killmonger, but his emotional journey as a challenge to T’Challa’s worldview is the heart of the movie for me. T’Challa learns a lot about himself over the course of the film, but it’s because Killmonger is making him.
Patricia: I’m kinda pissed Killmonger dies at the end. I know why he has to in terms of narrative devices, but still. He’s the best villain in the MCU IMO and now he’s just gone
Gita: Killmonger’s final line did make me cry for the third time, though. It’s just brutal. “Bury me at sea where my ancestors jumped the ships. They knew death was better than life in bondage.” FUCK ME UP, KILLMONGER.
Fahey: My favorite line, however, comes from an even more powerful actor. “SHOW HIM WHO YOU ARE!”
Gita: ANGELA! We need an entirely separate chat to talk about Angela Bassett. Like up in the background of every scene, giving Looks.
Fahey: She’s got looks.
Patricia: I loved Angela Bassett’s everything. Honestly, the entire family is so good.
Gita: Same! I loved the royal family so much but Angela Bassett was serving Wakandan Queen Realness so hard in every single scene.
Fahey: She’s what made the family royal. While Shuri made them human. T’Challa’s like a combination of the two.
Patricia: Can we talk about the general??
Gita: Okoye fucking rules.
Patricia: That entire look. Danai Gurira with spear on the car. Danai Gurira with the red dress. I just.
Gita: Danai Gurira throwing her wig in someone’s face.
Patricia: I felt very powerful when she blew that fucking car up
Gita: That entire South Korean bar fight and chase scene was beautiful. Also:
Patricia: Danai Gurira being like YES I WOULD KILL YOU FOR MY COUNTRY.
Fahey: I just asked my wife if she would kill me for her country. She said no.
Gita: Hopefully you won’t start a war with your wife, Fahey.
Fahey: If I had an armored rhino, maybe.
Patricia: But yeah, it was just so gratifying to see T’Challa surrounded by so many kickass women, I also got sentimental just seeing all the little girls cosplay folks like Shuri and Okoye, to the degree that I’m really looking forward to next Halloween. The last thing I wanted to praise (for now, because there’s so much!) is the music. Kendrick Lamar did tremendous work here, I’ve been listening to the album non-stop for the last month. This song is stuck in my head right now:
Gita: You posted that and it was an automatic click for me. I really love Schoolboy Q’s verse on “Are You On X,” as well as SZA’s feature on “All The Stars.” The thing I’ve been saying about this movie is that it felt like the first MCU movie that just functions as a movie, and not as a piece of a huge multimedia universe. It’s about some real shit, and it’s a well realized fantasy world that stands on its own. Fahey said that he didn’t think of it as a superhero movie, and I hadn’t thought of it way, but honestly, yeah. This is a movie about lasting, difficult questions about race. I’m glad we all got to see it. Wakanda forever.