From the moment a uniformed T’Challa gracefully lept his way into Captain America: Civil War, the official countdown to his very own titular film began.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther, based on the Marvel Comics character of the same name, follows T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as he returns home to the hidden and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to succeed the throne after the death of his father, former King of Wakanda T’Chaka (John Kani).
The fictional kingdom of Wakanda is formulated into a setting onscreen that feels real. It welcomes a world filled with textures, colors and vibrancy, which speaks to the immeasurable talent of cinematographer Rachel Morrison, production designer Hannah Beachler and costume designer Ruth E. Carter. Not to mention, the expert sound mixing and soundtrack — led by Kendrick Lamar — rumbles through your bones and fully lures you into Wakanda.
You can feel the fabric of the costumes, you can feel the breeze as it whisks past the perfect green pastures in Wakanda — it’s in this that you feel the magic at work.
Boseman dazzles as T’Challa, portraying him as the regal yet vulnerable character he is, after being thrust upon the challenge of taking his rightful place as king. Michael B. Jordan deftly incorporates an engaging balance of evil and charm as T’Challa’s primary antagonist, Erik Kilmonger. Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya masters his role — and facial expressions — to convey every imaginable emotion possible through his portrayal of the conflicted W’Kabi. Forest Whitaker graces the screen as the wise and paternal Zuri, who also struggles with his own life choices to improve his nation. Winston Duke (M’Baku) and Sterling K. Brown (N’Jobu), whose appearances are not prominent, also leave their mark in their intense scenic moments.
But it’s the women… ohhhh, the women, who truly help Wakanda shine.
Angela Bassett, who portrays T’Challa’s mother, Ramonda, said it best during Black Panther’s recent press conference noting, “In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen.”
That statement is proven by the exquisite performance of Danai Gurira as the tough-as-nails and dedicated Okoye, who is a part of The Dora Milaje, a team of women who serve as special forces in Wakanda. They propel onto the screen with a commanding presence that is unmatched, dominating action sequences in the film that are invigorating to watch.
Lupita Nyong’o stars as Nakia, a strong and passionate proponent of her people, who wants to ensure that T’Challa maintains his throne. She is tough, diligent and fast on her feet as she kicks ass in several unforgettable action scenes in the film. There’s also Letitia Wright, who stars as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister, a technology buff who offers hilarious comic relief throughout the film. Wright serves as the film’s breakout star, offering the funniest lines and delivering wit and charm that make her instantly lovable.
“What I love about the way this film represents women is that each and every one of us is an individual, unique and we all have our own power and sense of agency,” Nyong’o said at the Black Panther press conference in LA last week. “We hold our own space without being pitted against each other.”
At its core, the film features a world in which black people dominate, make their own rules and decide their own consequences. It is a film that introduces some heavy-hitting and valid conversations surrounding race relations amid colonization (and in Wakanda’s case, a lack thereof), family relations amid expectations of loyalty and the distribution of power when both love and hate fuel it.
Coogler did a marvelous job bringing Black Panther to life and worked with a committed cast. The film serves as a breath of fresh intellectual air, especially amid today’s sociopolitical climate. It is the power of representation in its best form. It is empowerment on a higher level. It is inspiration to a different degree. It is black excellence exemplified that will leave audiences yearning to inhabit Wakanda forever.
Black Panther flips into theaters Friday, February 16, 2018.