Black Panther, Black Cinema and Black Love
The recent transitioning of Chadwick Boseman has shocked people globally and many are asking why? Part of it is his relatively young age, the fact that his cancer diagnosis wasn’t divulged, that he was actively supporting political causes around him and giving to others. But for many it’s his depiction of T’Challa in Black Panther that makes this harder. A movie that revolutionised black cinema albeit not Marvel.
I was genuinely surprised that I enjoyed the Black Panther movie. I really feared that Marvel would screw it up for all of us and that I would hate it. Yet I saw it 12 times at the cinema and got used to wearing 3D glasses and sitting uncomfortably in 4D chairs. Taking a blanket so that my discomfort was lessened became my norm. I even got over my hatred of bad African accents and found their use of Xhosa kinda cute? The costumes, the richness of colour and character, the relationships. For me the main take away was the depiction of different types of love and in particular black love.
Let’s be clear that black cinema is flawed by including Black in the title. It’s not just cinema. It’s a minority cinema and as such spends a lot of it’s time blacksplaining or relying on characters that white media commonly depicts. The gangster, the struggling single mother, the athlete, the musician. It’s all very trite. My worst is the slave narrative with the white saviour trope. Yes we get it. This still sells but, how many do we need?
This isn’t black cinema’s fault. For too long the controllers of Hollywood have been told that black stars couldn’t bring in the big box office numbers or sell beyond a black audience. Washington and Smith aside, there hasn’t been many that have been gifted the opportunity. Black productions aren’t as well financed and their stories are edited to suit the mass audience. So it’s stumbled along despite a few short waves of success (70s and Late 80s / 90s most noticeable eras of success). Since Black Panther however we’ve seen more diversity outside of just Ghetto and Slave stories. It unleashed a recognition of other black stories aside from Tyler Perry. Yay!
But back to Black Panther. What I took away is that there was so much love in this movie despite all of the fighting and car chases etc. An example is how they explored the familial relationships well. From anger and resentment when he finds out what his Father’s decisions and actions years before to the love both his mother and Shuri demonstrate for him. It’s rare that we see this. But there are two types of love that stand out.
Every Marvel movie needs romance to make sure our heroes show vulnerability. Strangely this wasn’t the case in Black Panther. The romantic relationships focused more on partnership and eventually accepting the views of others. The male characters were flawed in ego and stubbornness so needed to change their views on Wakanda and it’s future. This is huge when political and socio-economic differences are explored in a relationship. It’s nuanced. Iron Man and Thor’s relationships with their fathers are similarly fraught but their romances are fairly standard fare. There wasn’t a lot of physicality at all which is typical of the genre but, who knows what Black Panther 2 will bring us?
One of my favourite mainstream movie relationships is (ironically) Cuba Gooding Jr. and Regina King in Jerry Maguire. It was unconditional and real. They touched and kissed at every opportunity. We don’t see that very often. Either the black relationships are asexual or there is a toxic stereotypical arch at play. Not with Black Panther.
Both romantic relationships are based on long time friendships and a love of country but they approach things differently. Of course there is the danger of the ‘strong black woman’ character deemed as the new norm as there’s not a lot of saving of damsels in here but overall, it’s refreshing to see honest black on black love stories.
Love of Black People
And so to the most important love in the movie. Wakanda, the fictional country in Africa is an obsession. Everything is about the people and protecting their way of life. You even see love for country between competing tribes. Wakanda Forever is the national cry. The secret that can’t be divulged but, Klaue and the Americans are constantly sniffing around because, white need for capitalism, power and colonialism is the American way. So what’s the best solution? Give what they want or need instead of it being stolen again. I’m not sure about the U.N. ending as it erases some of the racial honesty of the movie but, ultimately American Propaganda wins. Marvel is American after all.
That sense of belonging to something with culture and a history that isn’t slavery and colonialism is Afro Futurism at it’s best. Black Panther, like Black Lives Matters took us on a journey of exploration. That sense of black identity has been tried before but failed. When it works it’s lovely to see and this is what a lot of the audience fell in love with and have longed for. And this is why so many are sad right now. Because there isn’t enough black love out there and in the midst of police killings, gender-based violence and global systemic racism it was nice to escape for 2 hours into another world where a love of black people and culture conquered all.
To Black Love. Wakanda Forever!
© Chelsea Black ® 2020