Black Panther: Colorful setting, conflict, and complexity

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The movie, The Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, produced by Marvel, and lauded as one of the year’s best films, takes place in the hidden fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, which is both mythical and mystifying.

Outside of the Wakandan borders, this country is assumed to be another struggling third world country, like its neighbors. On the inside, however, the Wakandan people not only live in comfort but also have some of the most advanced science and military technology in the world. Vibranium is a world-changing extraterrestrial resource that found its way to the country many millennia before the story began and was, thankfully, not pillaged during the European colonization of Africa. This resource is exclusive to Wakanda; it is to what the kingdom owes its success.

Vibranium, used as an ultra-efficient energy source to create top-notch technology, allows the kingdom of Wakanda to flourish even though the members of the kingdom simultaneously seem to exclude themselves from foreign affairs. This allows the country’s African traditions and culture to remain. Director Coogler showcases the country’s vivid colors and lifestyles, juxtaposing these with the complex infrastructure of the country.

Viewers assume that Wakanda has been in this utopia-like state for quite the stretch of time, which is a significant accomplishment, considering the fact that a single ruler is responsible for maintaining the peace in their monarchy. During the coronation of T’Challa, the new king played by Chadwick Boseman, Wakanda’s culture is further established, showing off ritual combat, tribal leaders in vibrant attire, and magical purple plants that grant the ruler the powers of the Black Panther.

Yet even though the ruler has been granted this power, a ruler does not rule alone or tyrannically. In a flashback at the beginning of the film taking place in Oakland, California in 1992, female warriors with their traditional garbs and spears and Wakandan spies, identifiable only by their glowing tattoos on the inside of their lips, are introduced to the audience.

This scene not only provides exposition for the duties the future main character has, but also shows another clash in culture: these futuristic and fantasy-like people are in an urban area with graffiti, makeshift basketball hoops, and grimy apartment buildings. This scene would be what drives the antagonist to become corrupt while trying to find justice.

As the new king trying to uphold his father’s legacy, T’Challa carries himself with honor and humility while trying to handle the kingdom’s responsibilities on his shoulders. His seemingly passive attitude irritates some in his kingdom who want Ulysses Klaw (played by Andy Serkis), an arms dealer with an arm cannon selling stolen Vibranium, to be stopped.

While King T’Challa is reserved and regal, his little sister, Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, is a quirky and tech-savvy inventor who is the source of a lot of the comedy. Most of the Black Panther’s abilities are because of her gadgets and gizmos such as the soundless “sneakers” and a suit that absorbs and reflects kinetic energy. She is accompanied by a Wakandan spy, (Nakia played by Lupita Nyong’o) and a stoic warrior (Okoye played by Danai Gurira); these make up the main characters, the ones who help T’Challa throughout the movie.

One of their main contributions to T’Challa and his rule is during the wonderfully chaotic, yet masterfully staged car chase after Klaw and his henchmen in the neon streets of the city. The movie only becomes more thrilling when one of T’Challa’s henchmen, Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, sets his plans of ruling Wakanda into action by challenging his cousin T’Challa and being successful. Erik’s ideas and motivations are what set him apart from the classic “villain,” who desires nothing but power and anarchy, even though those are things he wants.

By spreading Wakanda’s hoard of vibranium and its militaristic capabilities, he shows he is motivated to fix a world struggling with hate and racism that he views as politically unjust. His plans cause a divide between the Wakandans who wish to follow Killmonger and those who wish to remain loyal to T’Challa, even after his defeat in the ritual fight. This causes a temporary civil war during the climax of the film while two Black Panthers kings fight for Wakanda’s fate.

Although Killmonger is corrupt and seeks vengeance through wrath, the audience seems to be left with a love-hate relationship with him. He grew up in an urban area where he witnessed poverty, prejudice, and pain, making the peace in Wakanda seem like a taunt. Although they have a true utopia where everyone is respected equally, they ignore the people just outside of their borders who are struggling just to make it to the next day.

Director Coogler creates a conflict that has sparked debates in history for centuries: Do we use passive resistance or violent activism? The conflict has a deeper meaning than conflicts that arise from superficial plotlines.  This conflict is actually relevant to real life issues – issues that are not lost in the movie’s fictional perspective.

 

 

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