Can a good man with a good heart be a good king? It’s the question at the heart of the storyline in Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther which hit theaters today.
Amidst what sounds like the beginning of a fairytale, we learn about the origins of Wakanda as the film takes off. Also taking off is the ship carrying T’Challa and Okoye as he suits up for a mission. Don’t freeze, she tells him before the floor drops out from under him and he’s on his way. We’d say he’s on his way to saving Nakia, but that would do her a disservice. He’s on his way to lend a hand. The women of Wakanda don’t require saving.
They also don’t require a hand in terms of intelligence. As T’Challa returns home for a ceremony in which he’ll be crowned king, his little sister raves about advances she’s made in already functioning technology to help better him.
‘It works fine,’ he proclaims.
‘Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.’
That isn’t the only time that idea is addressed in the film. In fact, during the ceremony, T’Challa is challenged by M’Baku because he feels that Wakanda can be improved. It’s an underlying take away that you find instances of even hours after you’ve seen Black Panther.
Shuri herself is constantly working on improvements in the film. Within the walls of her lab she has the power to do everything from protecting her brother (in turn, protecting Wakanda) to the remote navigation of cars and shuttles and so much more. Her brilliance will undoubtedly inspire young girls around the world to chase smarts, to work hard, to be the girl that the world depends on. It’s no longer a dream, it’s tangible.
Also tangible is the strength and power of Okoye and the Dora Milaje. While Okoye herself says that Wakanda has survived for years only battling when absolutely necessary, she is prepared for that necessity to be born at any moment.
In fact, when King T’Challa stepped up, his warrior women were only steps behind. Standing tall as the epitome of strength, wit, and loyalty.
There’s not an abundance of ‘fight’ in Black Panther. Or rather, the film doesn’t depend on it, and rightfully so. At one point in the film, Okoye says that Wakanda has survived for years by only fighting when it is absolutely necessary. It would be contradictory for battle to begin at the first sign of disagreement.
So, when faced with every decision, T’Challa never thinks for himself alone. He puts the best interest of his country, his home, in the forefront of his mind. He does this to honor his father and continue his legacy. So imagine his surprise when a piece of his story turns out to be something he never expected to face: a great untruth.
Erik Killmonger, however, knows not where his best interests and the best interests for those around him, or like him, begin and end. In fact, we see some of his ideas and traits in T’Challa’s love interest Nakia. She, too, feels like Wakanda isn’t doing enough for those who struggle against oppression and violence every day. However, Killmonger’s rise to ‘villain’ is one that focuses less on grandeur and more on realism.
His rise to villain is where T’Challa uncovers that very untruth.
In the trailer, we hear Killmonger says he wants to burn it all, but during one of his heart-wrenching moments, we wonder if he’d rather the fire burn up the anger inside of him. It is that anger that brings both his rise and his fall, that anger that makes him an outsider of Wakanda.
Of course, his circumstance is also to blame, and that circumstance was handed to him on a less than silver platter by T’Chaka and Zuri. He wasn’t given the opportunity to go to a country where he would be given the opportunity to flourish, to learn with brilliance and advances unlike the rest of the world has ever known.
Instead, he was left alone in an inner city, and Ryan Coogler used his storyline to bring to the forefront of a superhero movie, the devastating truth of too many youths in America.
How can you see him as a villain when you understand that to fight is all he’s ever known?
‘My pops said Wakanda was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen, he promised he was going to show it to me one day. Do you believe that? A kid from Oakland running around believing in fairy tales…‘
If that doesn’t bring the point home, nothing else will. Also, if it doesn’t make you want to reach through that screen and breathe life back into Killmonger, well, we aren’t sure you’re quite human.
Coogler himself, a kid from Oakland, just gave life to the kind of fairytale that allows children the ability to dream. The kind of dream that might otherwise have been deemed impossible due to their own circumstance.
If you’ve not yet purchased your Black Panther ticket, do so now, and buy one for someone you love, too. The experience will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
‘…but I knew him’