*Dedicated to Chadwick Boseman- a superhero on and off the screen*
Representation is important. Black Panther is above standard MCU fodder, but it’s important because it took a superhero of colour and made him, and his culture, the focus. The late Chadwick Boseman and his character became icons practically overnight and you don’t have to be a person of colour to see that. The most prolific examples came much later than the release of the film, upon the passing of Chadwick Boseman. Social media was flooded with images of children wearing his character’s costume and messages about how good people felt to be represented. A mural bearing Chadwick’s face was unveiled at DisneyWorld California and the Disney+ version of Black Panther added Chadwick to its opening logo roll – something that has only been done to honour the legendary Stan Lee. There’s certainly a discussion to be had surrounding Chadwick’s passing and how he kept his illness secret to carry on playing the role that meant so much to so many, but I’m not the person to have it with. All I can do is discuss why representation matters and dissect the technical aspects of a film.
As a member of the LGBT+ community living on an island, I felt alone when I first came out. I knew there were people like me but society said, through its lack of representation in media, that people like me would never have an easy life. We were players in other peoples stories, there to help them along and to die whenever they needed added trauma. We were never the focus, especially in major motion pictures, because we weren’t normal. This sentiment isn’t just true of the LGBT+ community but of every minority. To see yourself represented, and represented well, on the big screen to a worldwide audience is like being accepted by society. Of course, this isn’t really the case, minorities remain marginalised, but with an audience that large you become unavoidable. You become a public conversation. When Chadwick Boseman became Black Panther he wasn’t just another actor donning a suit, he was setting a precedent. I’m sure that if the film had failed, a large portion of blame would have been unjustly laid upon him, but thankfully it didn’t. To date, Black Panther is the highest grossing non-Avengers film in the MCU at $1.3 billion and, for what it did, it deserves every single penny and more.
The film itself is a delight. In the aftermath of his father’s death, Prince T’Challa of Wakanda is crowned the new king and title of Black Panther. However when he fails to capture known Vibranium thief, Ulysses Klaue, and a distant relative appears with the corpse of said thief, his position is challenged. The acting is superb across the board but particularly noticeable are Andy Serkis and Michael B Jordan as Klau and Killmonger respectively. It’s rare that Serkis is allowed a non-motion-capture-suit role and he revels in Klaue’s unflinching madness. He’s one of the most entertaining villains in the MCU and giving him such a sudden death does the character a real disservice, although it works wonders to demonstrate Killmongers ruthlessness. The son of the late king’s brother, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens/N’Jadaka is determined to gain power by any means necessary. Driven by a desire to free people of colour around the world, he is outraged that Wakanda hides itself and its technological advancements from the rest of humanity. Once returning to Wakanda, he rapidly dispatches T’Challa, takes the throne and begins preparations for his grand plan. Marvel have often struggled with compelling villains but that certainly is not the case here.
What they do struggle with is the CGI, although that’s not to say the CGI is bad. Instead, it is clearly incomplete in areas, specifically during the final battle between T’Challa and N’Jadaka. This is not a fault of the CG artists but of the time constraints placed on them by an industry that doesn’t value their work enough. It is infuriating to see, especially when better examples of their work are present elsewhere in the movie. This “time crunching” is an industry wide problem, but nothing is being done. Artists aren’t given better pay or more hours to complete a task. In the instances where they are given more time, they often aren’t paid for it. All this should have come to a head when, 6 months before release, the CG artists working on Sonic The Hedgehog re-animated the titular character from scratch, but it simply was not talked about enough. CG artists deserve better. This is part of why the criticism of “bad CGI” in movies is infuriating to me, especially with the MCU. The artists are doing the best they can with the time they have and given the time they have the CGI is pretty damn good. For every floating head, there’s an oversized rhino that doesn’t seem out of place. Andy Serkis has an entire arm digitally removed in many of his scenes and the occasional look at the end of his stump is a particularly nice touch.
The ramifications of this film will be felt, not just in reality, but in the MCU itself. Wakanda is no longer in hiding, granting N’Jadaka’s wish to share their knowledge with the world. The Black Panther and Dora Milaje will continue to fight alongside The Avengers, with the Dora Milaje even appearing on their own later down the line. Wakanda itself will host the final act of the brutal Infinity War. All of these things are important to the MCU but it’s the real world ramifications of Black Panther that really matter. It’s now been over a year since we lost Chadwick, but there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where his loss hasn’t been felt.
The world needs more people like Chadwick.