Credit: Marvel Entertainment
The upcoming Black Panther movie seems to have gradually become a massive spectacle promising to be historic, and for good reason. It’s one of the few movies to be based in Africa around African peoples using mainly black actors. Just for standing outside of the norm and taking a risk it is very interesting. It’s also important due to the fact that black ensemble movies usually have focused on dramas, romance and comedies. A superhero movie is a bit outside the norm of this and will hopefully encourage further experimentation in the future. However a lot has been happening behind the scenes. Not only is this an action movie but it’s also a superhero movie with a focus on sci-fi due to the nature of Wakanda. This requires a lot of research and careful planning so that they can ensure they don’t present it in any incorrect way.
If you have forgotten the basic plot I’ll fill you in. King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, is the ruler of Wakanda as well as its secretive protector, Black Panther. Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, played by Michael B. Jordan, serves as a villain to the king, challenging him for power. In the trailer he is seen using the Golden Panther suit, a different set of armor similar to Black Panther’s armor. This concept is honestly very played out in the universe since it has been done with:
- The Abomination – Hulk
- Iron Monger, Whiplash/Crimson Dynamo – Iron Man
- Yellowjacket – Ant-Man
- Winter Soldier – Captain America
- Kaecilius – Doctor Strange
This film would be no exception but I would have appreciated a new approach such as using a different animal suit or some type of magic. I also can’t find a version of this suit in the comics so as far as I know it’s a recent creation. We’re apparently taking a trip to South Korea where we see Everett K. Ross and Ulysses Klaue or Klaw. Ross was the CIA agent from CA: Civil War who was outsmarted by Helmut Zemo while Ulysses Klaue was the man whom Ultron bought vanadium from for his artificial body. Ross is played by Martin Freedman, best known as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit movies and Klaw is played by Andy Serkis, a man who needs no introduction but, why not? He played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies and Caesar from the rebooted Planet of the Apes movies as well as Supreme Leader Snoke from the new Star Wars movies and King Kong from the 2005 remake. The characters are actually relevant due to their comic histories: Klaw tried to attack Wakanda and Ross was a constant companion to the Black Panther. Hopefully their roles will be expanded further. A quick fun fact about South Korea; the car chase involved over 150 cars and 700 people.
In the trailer Killmonger comes off as very brash and emotional, a strong counter to T’Challa’s calm and careful demeanor. His ritual scaring and dreadlocks separate him from other Wakandans as well in addition to his American accent. It really sets him apart as very different from the Wakandan society. He doesn’t look very good as a villain from the trailer. He truly possesses the potential to live up to the cinematic downfall Marvel Studios continues to spiral into by being a bad guy that does bad things. Hopefully throughout the movie his character will be given more emotional or moral depth but we’ll have to wait. As an aside, I’m also wondering what the average Wakandan will look like. Will they be rich, middle class or poorer? What will their clothing and technology look like? What are some societal norms? All questions I’m happily looking forward to.
I was happy to see a quick peak at the dream world featured in their religion (gave me an Avatar flashback) but I am definitely ready for it to be fleshed out more. I was a bit disappointed by the rap music used for the trailer since that is more representative of America and doesn’t incorporate African elements. Thankfully, I was happy to find out that they do use African instruments in the film’s score as seen below so the side by side of new and old should work well in the film. I wonder which instruments we’ll see in Wakanda. In the trailer we see women, all bald, wearing red robed armor and acting as a personal guard to T’Challa. These women are the Dora Milaje, sworn to protect the king at all costs. They are looked at a little more closely in this video.
Credit: Marvel Entertainment
Another aspect of the film I am looking forward to is the way that law works in Wakanda. What impressed me about Black Panther was that at the end of Captain America: Civil War, he prevents Helmut Zemo from killing himself and instead makes sure that he’ll face a trial for his crime. It speaks moral volumes to separate yourself as the vigilante hero, operating outside of the law, from the court to only act as the extraordinary executive force (the executive branch of government is responsible for enforcing the laws so police come under this branch). Regardless of how you feel on the methods different police employ, the way a state should function is that police identify and apprehend the suspect with minimal force. The suspect is then turned over to the judicial branch to determine if they have committed a crime and then what precedent has been set forth so that they can determine the best way to punish them. In this case, law enforcement fails because the villain is too smart and eludes them, hence the basis for superheroes. But how does it work in Wakanda? Perhaps similarly, but we’ll see.
Behind the Scenes
In this section we are going to talk about the work that has taken place outside off the public eye but which has been essential to the creation of this movie. The first part is the director, since everything flows from the director. Originally Marvel had offered the job to Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th) who was mainly responsible for TV movies or shows. Unfortunately, she declined due to issues with Marvel’s willingness to allow her creative control and decided to choose other projects that she felt could make her own.
The next candidates for Marvel were F. Gary Gray (The Negotiator, The Italian Job, Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious) and Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station). Gray chose to direct the eighth Furious film instead and talks with Coogler weren’t going anywhere but later they picked up and he was confirmed as the director. Coogler decided to bring a number of people who had worked with him on other projects into Black Panther including cinematographer Rachel Morrison, production designer Hannah Beachler, composer Ludwig Göransson and actor Michael B. Jordan who has been the main character in all of Coogler’s films (until now).
The cast is almost entirely black, consisting of a variety of both American and African actors. Daniel Kaluuya, the star from Get Out, Danai Gurira who plays Michonne in The Walking Dead, Lupita Nyong’o from the stage play Eclipsed and the new Star Wars movies and The Jungle Book, longtime American actors Angela Bassett & Forest Whitaker and famous African actors John Kani & Isaach de Bankolé are all the major names here in addition to the two stars. Serkis and Freedman are the main exceptions to the cast as well as the Korean actors. It wasn’t lost on Serkis and Freedman how they were the only white actors on set. Coogler even had a first as he told the two it was his first scene with two white actors by themselves, as ironic as it is true. I imagine they had a good laugh about that. There’s also a rumor going around about Beyonce being in the movie, but we’ll see how that turns out.
Coogler stressed how they would be focusing on the differences in the nation since there are multiple tribes, languages and religions in the kingdom, a parallel of other African countries which almost always have a diversity of tribes. To do this, Coogler created a tribe bible to keep track of the designs for each group in Wakanda. A lot of the designs are taken directly from Africa from the clothing to decorations, buildings, Wakandan language and culture which we’ll see below. Here’s an interview with Hannah Beachler where she talks about the process a bit.
Credit: The A.V. Club
While designing the world she took inspiration directly from Africa, as anticipated, and approached the architecture from a natural progression stance. She wanted the buildings and city to look as if they evolved in the society as technology progressed gradually rather than being Westernized as was the case for many African countries which exist today. She used Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia as inspiration to fill in the holes for Wakanda’s culture since their background needed to be fleshed out more. Rondavels (circular roofs instead of triangular or square roofs) were used to top the skyscrapers in a tribute to the Blyde River Canyon, South Africa, since their summits resemble them. Check the trailer for a few examples.
South Africa has factored in with a lot of the designs however Nigeria came into play with the Merchant Tribe since their symbol was taken from Nigerian. The City of the Dead was inspired from Angkor Wat, a slight departure from the overall African theme. The kimoyo beads (also mentioned in the Geography Now video) will feature in the film since they are used in a similar way to our cell phones. The language of Wakanda was based on Xhosa which Boseman learned from John Kani who played T’Chaka in Captain America: Civil War, the father of T’Challa. The fun part of Xhosa is that it’s pronounced with clicks; even the name is pronounced *click*sa. This will likely expose a larger audience to the new language and spread its usage.
This is a video from Geography Now (phenomenal channel) on the fictional antion of Wakanda. Through reasoning he thinks that Wakanda would probably be located near Lake Edward on the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s side. He thinks it would get a micostate classification based on its size since it really isn’t that big. He also thought that Wakandan could have been based on Bantu, Cushitic or Nubian as a language.
Credit: Geography Now
Ruth E. Carter, a veteran of wardrobe for decades in Hollywood (yes she is also black), worked on the costumes from the Black Panther suit to T’Challa’s royal attire, the Dora Milaje uniforms as well as the clothing for all of the citizens and the different tribes which needed to reflect their unique areas and cultural differences. In order to create a unique look for Wakanda and the tribes she looked at the Tuareg (Libya, Algeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso), Turkana (Kenya), Xhosa (South Africa), Himba (Namibia, Angola), Basotho (Lesotho), Suri (Ethiopia), Zulu (South Africa), Dinka (Sudan) and Maasai (Kenya, Tanzania) people. She wanted to display different forms of fashions from body piercings and beads to body art and new fashion pieces from the likes of Issey Miyake, Yves Saint Laurent or Donna Karan. An example of the modern is Ozwald Boateng’s green suit which was worn by Isaach De Bankolé’s character. She had to merge tradition with modern styles to create a real culture in Wakanda which would distinguish it from other nations on the continent.
Let’s go through some of the best examples. To get some simple ideas she sent out people to Ghana and South Africa for inspiration from the jewelry and clothing. For the Dora Milaje she used Ndebele neck rings (South Africa) as inspiration. To realize the image of the Jabari tribe she went to the Dogon tribe (Mali). When modeling a look for T’Challa’s mother she took inspiration from Winnie Mandela’s traditional Zulu outfit. To accomplish all of this and integrate it into the film she used, “…five illustrators, 14 designers, mold makers, fabric dyers, jewelry makers..”
Now let’s look at the soundtrack. For this endeavor they recruited Kendrick Lamar as the producer who used dozens of writers, artists and other producers. The film’s score was composed by Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and producer. Göransson talked about this briefly but mentioned traveling to Senegal and South Africa to record local musicians so that he would have a good base for the film’s sound. I already mentioned this but I’m excited to see how the new and old music forms are blended together.
Unfortunately at the end it swerved into political activism by suggesting that to improve the sound in the film it would be necessary to replace the Swedish composer with a black composer. Despite the fact that the black director of the film hand-picked him, despite the fact that a famous black artist is producing the soundtrack with a large number of black artists, writers and producers and despite the fact that Göransson is incorporating unique African sounds into the film, no that’s not enough. At some point, despite such a large involvement of black people, you just have to admit to yourself if you just don’t want any white people in the film industry.
Since the Black Panther and Wakanda will be featured heavily in the movie Avengers: Infinity War both of them needed to mesh evenly which meant that they were shot together. The Avengers movie is coming out only three months after Black Panther so they would have to be merged a little bit in order to make use of everything responsibly. To do this, they were shot together with principal photography taking place at nearly the same time, both in Atlanta. I felt the location they choose, Atlanta, Georgia, was a nice change of pace from Hollywood but unfortunate since they could have filmed it in Africa to give it a more grounded feeling as well as extend outreach to the continent and people they are using. Due to this, Black Panther HAS to be good.
Credit: Marvel Entertainment
In the trailer, Wakanda is the site of a large battle and we can see Captain America, Falcon, Iron Man, Black Widow, Winter Soldier and the Hulk joining Black Panther. All of them joining together will play a very uniting role and this needs to be solidified with the Black Panther movie. Since it is playing this central role the success of one will flow to the other. If it tanks at the box office or in reviews it will negatively affect the Avengers movie. Therefore it needs to turn out very successful in order for the franchise to have a good future in the short term. The film’s budget hasn’t been disclosed anywhere that I can see but is likely to be fairly high. Digital effects, thousands of costumes, a star cast and shooting in Korea cannot be cheap. The price will also be another factor in its future.
Here is the purple carpet arrival of Chadwick Boseman.
Credit: Marvel Entertainment
The film’s projection for its run at the box office is already amazing, with early predictions hovering around $100 million up to $150 million for its opening weekend.
The film has also inspired numerous people and celebrities to start GoFundMe’s in order for black children to get exposure to the film. The first was for the Boys & Girls Club of Harlem by Frederick Joseph who, after receiving a large amount of support, challenged others to start their own campaigns and since then over 100 campaigns for viewing the Black Panther have been made. Ellen DeGeneres even came in later to foot their bill, helping the club even more.
Viola Davis got 200 kids from Austin, Texas and Octavia Spencer is buying out a cinema in Mississippi just for the event. Sha-Sha Steadman from South Carolina is getting one ready and The Omaha Star launched a GoFundMe to raise money so that 190 students could go see the new Black Panther movie. The magazine NUVO launched one to make sure that 100 Indianapolis kids can see the movie. GoFundMe even created a page just for these campaigns.
Representative Val Demmings from Florida is using the film for a different reason. She is hoping that seeing the advanced science and technology that the Wakandans use will inspire young black children to want a career in the STEM fields.
What most people do not know about the Black Panther is that the idea for the film was initially headed by Wesley Snipes. It’s mentioned here at 1:02 in GoodBadFlicks’ exploration of the first Blade movie how he initially wanted to portray the character. Stan Lee even jumped on board and the film entered production only to stall and then fizzle out.
There were later murmurings of Snipes involvement in a possible future film but they never came to anything. Unfortunately the articles on this are behind Archive pay walls so unless any of you would like to pay, you’ll have to wait until they re-emerge somewhere else. Unfortunately the black actors that did portray heroes haven’t always been looked at favorably.
The Gazette: Superheroes at home on big screen
San Antonio Express-News : Snipes’ Blade draws focus to black comic book heroes
I found another shameful article which downplays and discredits black actors by attacking early black superheroes of the 90’s as mere jokes or “white analogues”, despite superheroes being heroes, not white heroes. Some of them may not have been as serious but you don’t go anywhere until you take a step. What the author failed to realize is that these early black superheroes were actually crucial to the superhero film industry. When Spawn came out it stirred emotions and got people excited for a new type of movie. In the same video GoodBadFlicks made, he talked about how Wesley Snipes’ film after passing on Black Panther, Blade, was even more important.
The success and reviews from Blade made studios more confident about superhero movies and resulted in the upcoming X-Men and Spiderman movies getting a higher budget and doing quite well. This helped DC push their Superman and Batman movies which helped build interest in superhero movies overall before Marvel rolled out the expanded Universe. Thus, no Blade, no Marvel, no Black Panther. So that one-off was actually extremely important later and attempting to smear black heroes as imitations is extremely disrespectful and overall incorrect in attempting to understand history. Perhaps next time they’ll think twice before pulling poor opinions from their ass.
I understand the implications of an all-black, African focused movie. If you don’t, picture this. Little black boys and girls will be playing with dolls and action figures from the film and imagining themselves as those characters. When Halloween comes Black Panther’s costumes will be worn extensively. At birthday parties a lot of children will pick a Black Panther theme. It’s going to be big and make an impact on their lives since they will grow up with it. However I haven’t seen as many authors talk about what it will do for African children. Finally, a movie will depict Africans as smart, successful leaders who are looked up to and make a positive impact on the world. For a new generation trying to change the world, that message is priceless. With all the hype surrounding the movie, I’d like you to remember something.
Let’s remember that Black Panther is not the first black superhero. After Wonder Woman, a large number of reviewers seemed to forget all of the women who came first to pave the way and Black Panther is the same. Some of these actors worked at a time when there were very few black films which showed black people in a positive light. Their sacrifice and performances were essential to get us where we are today and they should be properly honored as the predecessors to the modern Black Panther. This is just a short list of the black heroes (no villains) that have existed:
- Wesley Snipes – Blade
- will.i.am – John Wraith
- Halle Berry – Storm, Catwoman
- Eartha Kitt – Catwoman
- Cress Williams – Black Lightning
- Mike Colter – Luke Cage
- Idris Elba – Heimdall
- Anthony Mackie – Falcon
- Ray Fisher – Cyborg
- Don Cheadle – War Machine
- Will Smith – John Hancock
- Tessa Thompson – Valkyrie
- Samuel Jackson – Nick Fury, Frozone
- Michael Jai White – Spawn
- Shaquille O’Neal – Steel
- Damon Wayans – Blankman
- Robert Townsend – Meteor Man
- Michael B. Jordan – Johnny Storm/Human Torch, Steve Montgomery
I hope you go see this movie with a new perspective and a deeper understanding of the history that led up to this moment. Comment on the post what you thought about the movie. I’ll be seeing it, will you?
Credit: Marvel Entertainment
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