Black Panther review: This love letter to Africa proves celebrating blackness harms no one but fragile racists

Black Panther review: This love letter to Africa proves celebrating blackness harms no one
Black Panther is a love letter to Africa (Picture: Disney/Marvel Studios)

Not only does Black Panther make other Marvel movies look fairly primitive it also serves as a love letter from Hollywood to Africa – and Michael B. Jordan’s performance is one that deserves all of the praise.

The latest offering from Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is undeniably, unapologetically African as it centres itself around #blackexcellence, taking the popular hashtag straight from social media to the big screen.

From the incredible roster of actors on hand – Chadwick Boseman, Jordan, Dania Gurira, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya – and the two token white males, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman – and the clever marketing by Disney, this has been expected for some months now.

But what no trailer could prepare us for is director Ryan Coogler’s skills at perfectly weaving socio-political lessons on love, culture community, isolation, personal responsibility and identity in between some pretty dope fight scenes.

And Ryan, whose short CV includes Creed and Fruitvale Station, does this without crumbling underneath the pressure and the grand expectations so clearly placed on him to deliver the first black superhero story of the modern cinematic universe.

Black Panther review: This love letter to Africa proves celebrating blackness harms no one
Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther (Picture: Disney/Marvel Studios)

Of course, love letters aren’t enough, and although there is an underlying sadness knowing that the African nation of Wakanda is as fictional as unicorns, every scene stands as a defiant middle finger to damaging stereotypes that have plagued black viewers and actors since the beginning of cinema.

This pure and unfiltered ‘African gaze’ is one that Hollywood is not used to; many projects based on the vast continent have focused on problematic storylines, illogically centered around white characters or narratives told from a distant, cold vantage view.

But Black Panther feels warm and local as it stays firmly on the ground from beginning to end – and it begs us to wonder why this isn’t more of the norm in the movie industry because it works.

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Following the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther – also known as King T’challa – has returned to his technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda to serve as his country’s new leader, but trouble ensues when two foes conspire to destroy Wakanda.

Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger is the so-called villain of this story, but this character abruptly interrupts what feels like a utopia with a reminder of a harsh reality.

To explain further would only serve as a spoiler, but what Jordan’s standout performance does is remind viewers of the disparity in the diaspora; Killmonger’s rage and lust for revenge can quickly be empathized with because as an outsider to Wakanda he isn’t simply just an evil villain, he is a hero of a different but valid story.

Black Panther review: This love letter to Africa proves celebrating blackness harms no one
Chadwick Boseman and Lupita Nyong’o in Black Panther (Picture: Disney/Marvel Studios)

Strong performances from the entire cast help to make this one of the best Marvel films to date – but Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challas’s technical genius of a sister, is a particular standout while Danai Gurira as Okoye, the head of the Dora Milajie – T’Challa’s royal guards – is an absolute scene stealer.

Lupita Nyong’o and Daniel Kaluuya’s powerful delivery of Southern-Eastern African accent should also help ease any concerns that the accents may not work, while seasoned actors Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker easily serve as the voice of reason for the younger characters.

More: Marvel

It has to be noted that, like many superhero franchises, Black Panther isn’t flawless.

It is in its biggest plot twist that it becomes evident, Coogler’s efforts are haunted by the Marvel brand, and the head honchos who would have been keeping a very close eye on production, as although the director and his cast infuse nearly every frame with soul and style, many MCU fans who have simply watched the trailer for Infinity War know what’s up and, well, will see right through the most-shocking part of the film.

But, the need to keep this story within the realms of the wider MCU only afflicts the film for a short while, and luckily, without a doubt, Black Panther proves a point that celebrating some sweet and glorious melanin harms no one but fragile racists.

Black Panther is out in the UK on 13 Ferbuary.

MORE: Black Panther’s Andy Serkis admits filming fight scenes with kickboxing expert co-star Chadwick Boseman were ‘pretty painful’

MORE: Lupita Nyong’o is here for the gender equality in Black Panther

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