Film Review: ‘Black Panther’ is a Game-Changing Cultural Work of Genius

Director Ryan Coogler has successfully shown the world what Black excellence means.

"Black Panther" director Ryan Coogler / YouTube

For Black people living in the United States, it’s not enough to be good or great. We have been taught that we must be exceptional to counteract unconscious bias, prejudice or just plain old racism in order to get a seat at the table. From our appearance to our speech, we are constantly judged.

The superhero film “Black Panther” is exceptional in every aspect.

Director Ryan Coogler had the weight on his shoulders of orchestrating an unprecedented Marvel Studios movie. He has successfully shown the world what Black excellence means.

Coogler’s debut film was “Fruitvale Station” in 2013 based on the police-related death of Oscar Grant. At age 31, he both directed and wrote (with Joe Robert Cole) “Black Panther,” incorporating all of the elements of an action-packed Marvel blockbuster film that will delight fans, like me, and audiences across the globe — but the film goes further in ambition.

The multidimensional storyline highlights the future of African Americans and women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through the character of Shuri, brilliantly played by Letitia Wright. The beauty and grandness of African nations is celebrated through wardrobe, music and scenery. Themes of social justice are woven into the film. There’s even a parallel made between unity and disunity within the Black community.

Yes, all of this goodness is wrapped up in a movie based on Marvel Comic character Black Panther, whose real name is T’Challa, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in the 1960s. T’Challa underwent a renaissance in 2005 through the writings of director and producer Reginald Hudlin, which set a precedent for Coogler’s on-screen T’Challa.

Wakanda is a fictional African nation that is technologically advanced and chooses to be isolated from the rest of the world. T’Challa, wonderfully played by Chadwick Boseman, with much swagger, must succeed the throne after the death of his father and become the King of Wakanda. But he must deal with skeletons in his family closet and confront archrival, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Jordan’s performance will give you chills. Forest Whitaker skillfully plays Zuri, who Coogler calls the religious and spiritual figure.

The beautiful, strong women of Wakanda, including Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, Danai Gurira as Okoye and Angela Bassett as Ramonda, are at the forefront of protecting the nation — kind of like what Black women have done in U.S. elections.

All Marvel films incorporate humor. What I found particularly delightful is the way T’Challa swoons over Nakia. She definitely has Black Girl Magic.

“Black Panther” is a game-changer. It is a big-budget film with a Black director and a predominantly Black cast, which has already surpassed Marvel’s pre-release ticket sale records. Opening weekend ticket sales are projected to reach $170 million or more.

“Black Panther” will clearly and definitively show what UCLA’s 2017 Hollywood Diversity Report found — films with relatively diverse casts have the highest median global box office receipts and the highest median return on investment.

Hollywood no longer has any excuses.

Last week, when #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe trended on Twitter, I spoke with Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, which has long been an advocate for diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera.

“Black people are used to being disappointed by Hollywood,” Robinson told me. “The excitement around ‘Black Panther’ shows that there’s a real hunger in our community for authentic, empowering Black stories.”

I, too, had a hunger for more empowering films. But when I left the Marvel Entertainment screening of “Black Panther” in New York City, my hunger was satiated and I felt full.

“Black Panther” is produced by Marvel Studios (a division of The Walt Disney Company, No. 36 on the DiversityInc Top 50 Companies list)

The film opens nationwide on Friday.

Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes

Rated PG-13

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