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Friday, April 20, 2018

Black Panther delves into making great nations and great people

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Zarin Rafiuddin illustrates the inner thoughts and ground of the movie

What does it mean to be a king? Or a good man? This is a primary question in Marvel's Black Panther. Black Panther takes place right after where Captain America: Civil War (2016) takes off. It is the eighteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is now supposed to be crowned as king of Wakanda, the nation that is home to the strongest metal on Earth, Vibranium. The movie is directed by Ryan Cooglar, who also co-written the screenplay with Joe Robert Cole.

The movie contains sharp criticism of colonization, imperialism, war and of course betrayal. T'Challa tries to balance to be a great king but also an honorable man. In Civil War we saw this surface already when he realizes that Bucky Barnes, also known as the Winter Soldier, is not his enemy, rather is a victim himself. T'Challa struggles with his responsibilities as king on one hand but also struggles to do the right thing as a person on the other.

The film explores Wakanda culture. It is an amalgamation of many tribes, only the Jabari mountain people, led by M'Baku (Winston Duke), have lived in self-exile as they do not agree with the Wakandan nationalist mandates. Wakanda is an isolationist state akin to Tokugawa Era Japan.

It is considered the true El Dorado, however, it was always an African nation. It has great technology, housing developments, transports and also medical divisions. Yet, it does not share much with the world nor does it take aid from the world. It believes that by isolation there can be maintenance, peace and prosperity. The culture, as an amalgamation of many tribes, is rich and colorful. It espouses both traditional and modern ways of life.

There were those who are opposed to Wakanda's isolationist values. Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), T'Challa's former lover and a skilled warrior, works around Africa as a spy to infiltrate extremist groups and liberate people. She believes that countries can use their aid, intelligence, compassion and kindness for others. Nakia is supposed to be the middle-ground in the movie as she embodies a concern that audiences can carry. I really liked her role as a spy, who attempts to try to use her knowledge and Wakandan warrior skills to help people.

Then there is also 16 year old Shuri (Letitia Wright), the technological genius of Wakanda, and T'Challa's younger sister. Shuri is responsible for making the Black Panther suit and most of Wakandan weopandry and technology. I really enjoyed Shuri's personality as she has a great fashion sense, loves action, is sharp tongued and witty. Nate Moore, the executive producer of the movie, says she is the smartest human on the planet and more so than Tony Stark.

I really enjoyed that Wakanda is a very egalitarian nation as well. Its primary army consists of the Dora Milaje, a group of women warriors, who are also the King's and royal family's personal bodyguards. The general of the army and the head of the Dora Milaje is Okoye (Danai Gurira), who is a patriot and a loyalist to her nation of Wakanda. Okoye is a general by the very breadth and width of her character and formidable physique. She does not let emotions cloud her judgment and she is a force of nature in battle. 

Now, the story focuses on two arcs of progression: one where wrongs were done against Wakanda by outside mercenaries and another where Wakanda had wronged innocents. This is where the movie becomes historical, socio-political and also tied to actual makings in the world. The Black Panther is the symbol of Wakanda, the Wakandansrevere the Goddess Bast, who led them the way to utilize Vibranium and unite Wakanda.

T'Challa must face the primary antagonist, Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), codenamed Killmonger, as he has been wronged by Wakanda. This is where the story becomes controversial and personal for T'Challa. He understands Erik's anger and his want of revenge, as he too had similar feelings in Captain America: Civil War, but at the same time he does perceive that Erik is as lost as he was at that time.

The ideological clash between T'Challa and Erik is a very good point in the movie. T'Challa desires to do the right things, he wants to help those in need and his people though struggles with traditional ways of Wakandan thought. Erik is his antithesis: he is brutal, efficient, used to be a Black Ops member and part of the US army. To him the ends justifies the means.

For the very first time in his life, T'Challa has to face an enemy who feels lost and he knows a great level of injustice had been done to. It is not merely revenge, even if revenge is part of it, but rather Erik does have some crucial points. He manifests points that have already been voiced by Nakia and Shuri even if his executions are violent and merciless. T'Challa does not hate Erik, rather he wishes to fight him in equal combat.

Erik's evolution as a villain is something Marvel has been doing even before the MCU universe started building up. In Sam Raimi's adaptation of Spiderman, we saw Peter Parker encounter villains who can be understandable. I do believe that Marvel has been able to flesh out villains who are a lighter shade of dark than many other movies. We can feel some sympathy for them even if they are twisted in their deliveries, and they also did evolve their superheroes as well. One only has to look at Tony Stark who started as a womanizing, cocky, selfish and arrogant individual to a more nuanced and compassionate person in Captain America: Civil War.

Overall, Black Panther is a fantastic movie which delves into the matters of justice, honor, integrity, postcolonial thoughts, patriotism, unified nations and civilizations coming to mend each other. Black Panther is the preceding movie to another highly anticipated film, Avengers: Infinity War.


The riviewer is working with The Asian Age

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