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A member of the super-hero team the Avengers published by Marvel Comics.

T'Challa is the king of the African nation of Wakanda. His father T'Chaka was killed by Ulysses Klaw, a mercenary who sought to steal the nation's deposit of Vibranium. Vibranium is a rare extraterrestrial metal whose properties allow it to absorb vibrations and the force of impacts, making it a highly sought commodity. T'Challa swore vengeance upon his father's killer and tracked him down. Klaw lost both the Vibranium and his hand in the encounter.

T'Challa traveled the world after his father's death, being educated in the world's finest institutions. Returning to Wakanda, T'Challa was required to pass two tests before he would be allowed to lead the nation. First, he was forced to combat the six finest warriors in Wakanda and defeat them in unarmed combat. Second, T'Challa had to obtain the heart-shaped herb that gives all of the leaders of Wakanda their power. T'Challa passed both tests and was granted the right to wear the mantle of the national totem, the Black Panther.

The Black Panther has enhanced speed, strength, endurance, and senses from ingesting the heart-shaped herb. He is a superb hand-to-hand combatant and is an accomplished tracker. His costume incorporates a number of technological enhancements, making him a formidable opponent.

Under T'Challa's leadership, Wakanda has become a wealthy, technologically advanced nation. During this time, T'Challa met Captain America and was offered admittance into the Avengers. Accepting his offer, T'Challa took a leave of absence from his royal duties and served as a member of the super-hero team for many years. Upon returning to his home, T'Challa was shocked to learn that it was in turmoil from his lack of leadership. T'Challa has since returned his nation to order and is working to make it a power in the world.

"Black Panther" is a movie released in February of 2018, taking part in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and starring Chadwick Boseman as The Black Panther (or T'Challa), the monarch of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. This is the second time that Boseman has portrayed The Black Panther, the first being as a featuring role in Captain America: Civil War. It also starred Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whittaker, Angela Basset, Lupita Nyong'o, Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman in its ensemble cast. It was directed and written by African-American director Ryan Coogler, who had previously directed Fruitvale Station and Creed. Before its release, much was made of the movie being directed by a black director, with an (almost) all black cast, something that has usually only been true of certain niche films. There was some question about whether this film, with its large budget, could successfully cross over to a wider audience. This is especially the case because the Marvel Cinematic Universe has become the largest and most ambitious film franchise, putting out a special effects blockbuster two or three times a year for almost a decade. Would a movie like Black Panther, with all its social and political implications, appeal to comic book movie fans?

My own presuppositions going into the movie was that I was going to see a comic book movie, with all that entails. A piece of comic book history: The Black Panther was introduced in Fantastic Four #52, just one month after the conclusion of The Galactus Trilogy, which was proceeded by the saga of The Inhumans. This was Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in overdrive, expanding their world at a rapid pace, doing world building for the Marvel Universe that expanded horizons while also maintaining its own internal "realism". Interestingly, the introduction of The Black Panther followed another story about a hidden, high technology civilization, as well as a color-themed hero that didn't act like a conventional hero. Black Panther's introduction was part of a creative explosion, although over the years, the character has often been underutilized, being an interesting character that never quite made it to Marvel's A-List, in part due to black superheroes being relegated to supporting roles. But my main expectation when I entered the theater was that I would see a comic book movie that would introduce The Black Panther while leading up to the upcoming The Avengers: Infinity War film.

It turns out that "Black Panther" isn't really a comic book movie. This wasn't a source of disappointment, since what it was, was something even more excellent and unusual. The basic plot of the movie involves the related stories of The Black Panther, T'Challa, assuming the throne, and balancing his personal nobility against the necessities of his office; and of Wakanda's attempts to stay safe and isolated in a rapidly changing world, with the voices for and against its integration into the wider world providing the grounds for a dynastic conflict that confronts the still-somewhat naive T'Challa. There is only one section of the movie that feels like a comic book movie, a car chase scene in Korea. Even the parts that are science-fiction feel more like James Bond then a conventional comic book movie. But even without the high tech backgrounds, the movie works. Because, in essence, this movie is more of a costume drama about dynastic struggles than anything. The movie uses Afrofuturistic designs instead of Elizabethean collars or Roman togas, but it is in essence a character-driven drama about the uses and abuses of power. That also delivers a serious political debate without being overwrought or melodramatic. The reason this movie works is that almost all of the comic book elements could be stripped away, and it would still be a great story, which is something I don't think has been true of any other Marvel movie.

So a serious character-driven drama with a forceful and sometimes uncomfortable political and social message? What was the reaction to that. Critics loved it, giving it the highest rating of any Marvel movie. And audiences loved it even more, putting it on track to be one of the highest-grossing pieces of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The great success will hopefully encourage more big budget films with African-American casts, as well as expanding the dramatic scope of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The film opens with a visually intriguing history of Wakanda. Africa has concealed numerous hidden nations and lost lands in pop culture, mostly products of Colonial fantasies. This one boasts advanced technology blended with the style of nearby cultures. The inhabitants also guard a secret of extra-terrestrial origin. With our tour over for the moment, we find ourselves in Oakland in the 1990s, where a series of events occur that will have repercussions for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.1

All of these things lead to the introduction of T'Challa, new king of Wakanda and superhero, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman).2

Black Panther boasts a stunning, talented supporting cast. I would happily watch a movie about Letitia Wright's tech-genius Shuri and the Dora Milaje elite fighting force. Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue is hysterical-- in both senses-- every time he appears on screen. A good superhero needs good villains, and Klaue makes a great, sinister opening act. Winston Duke as M'Baku proves equally entertaining-- though he is a rival and reluctant ally in this film, rather than the villain he has often played in the comics. Of course, neither the self-centered land pirate nor the rival chief remain central for long. T'Challa's real challenge comes from a man who believes in something greater than himself: Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), a man with a claim to Wakanda's throne and very different politics from T'Challa's.

The film is no allegory, but it touches on many political issues. In their plans to redress injustice, T'Challa and Killmonger loosely parallel Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. However, T'Challa also prefers an isolationist policy, dealing with his own nation rather than shaping the broader world directly. Killmonger disagrees, and many Wakandans see his point of view. Of course, Americans in 2018 might well note that the Wakandan coup replaces an eloquent and wise leader with a crude and reactionary one. These points influence the plot, but the film is less about arguing a perspective than presenting differences as a source of conflict. We're watching a comic book movie which recalls Shakespearean drama. Killmonger isn't very likeable, but he's not truly evil. He has legitimate grievances with Wakanda, a country which has chosen isolation when they might help an ailing world-- even if he believes that assistance should come at gunpoint. Killmonger also justifiably rebels against his Wakandan father, who abandoned him in Oakland, California, despite knowing a better world existed for him.

Our choices cast shadows. Our ancestors' choices cast shadows. We ignore history, public and personal, at our peril.

What many people find so remarkable is the film's success in flipping the action movie script. We have a film with a predominantly black cast, a black hero, a token white associate, and strong women: and it opened as the most successful American film (thus far) of the year. The movie deserves accolades simply for showing Hollywood that alternative approaches and non-white casts can fare just fine with audiences.

Of course, with any fantasy universe, the MCU risks becoming, as its films and shows proliferate, unwieldy. How does the world resemble ours when it has access to so many advanced technologies, from Stark's to Wakanda's, contact with aliens, and hordes of metahumans? The problem isn't the Panther's, but one the larger franchise must negotiate with its fans.

Those considerations can be set aside easily, especially given how well Black Panther stands on its own. I rank it among the top superhero movies, one that deserves its strong and positive reception.


Directed by Ryan Coogler
Written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole
Based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.

Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa / Black Panther
Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger
Lupita Nyong'o as Nakia
Danai Gurira as Okoye
Martin Freeman as Everett K. Ross
Daniel Kaluuya as W'Kabi
Letitia Wright as Shuri
Winston Duke as M'Baku
Sterling K. Brown as N'Jobu
Angela Bassett as Ramonda
Forest Whitaker as Zuri
Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue
Florence Kasumba as Ayo
John Kani as T'Chaka
David S. Lee as Limbani
Nabiyah Be as Linda
Sydelle Noel as Dora Milaje
Marija Juliette Abney as Dora Milaje
Zola Williams as Dora Milaje
Janeshia Adams-Ginyard as Dora Milaje
Maria Hippolyte as Dora Milaje
Marie Mouroum as Dora Milaje
Jénel Stevens as Dora Milaje
Sope Aluko as Shaman
Atandwa Kani as Young T'Chaka
Ashton Tyler as Young T'Challa
Stan Lee as Thirsty Gambler
Sebastian Stan as Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier

1. This hidden kingdom also had its genesis in the fantasies of two Caucasian creators, but Marvel has developed it over the years, and the film delivers a researched world resplendent with Afrofuturist designs.

2. Strictly speaking, the cinematic Panther first appeared in Captain America: Civil War. The superhero came before the militant activists, but only by a month, and it's not known if T'Challa influenced the name. Certainly, the Panthers said they took the name from the broader African-American culture. It may be more likely that both took their cue, consciously or otherwise, from the 761st Tank Battalion, an African-American division that fought in the Second World War and went by the nickname of the Black Panthers.

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