Tag Archives: Black Panther

Reframing a Narrative

So it’s been some time (a week-ish) since Black Panther came out and the mental nerding out has sufficiently subsided that I can have some actual Rational Thoughts about the movie beyond “wow it’s so cool and Okoye is everything.” And, go figure, it’s coming down to a lotta thoughts about representation.

And how representation is happening.

But first, a detour to Star Wars. My favorite movie series seems to have enacted a moratorium on white guys as new protagonists. Which is dope, and means that we now have folks like Daisy Ridley and Diego Luna being main characters in Star Wars. And John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Donny Yen, Riz Amed, and, look, I could go on. But you get the point.

Now, Star Wars is fundamentally a fantasy (a space fantasy) that takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and so its world is decidedly removed from reality, albeit one inspired by a mishmash of Western and Japanese myths with a healthy helping of 1970s haircuts. You’ve got samurai-monk Jedi Knights running around alongside fighter pilots fresh outta World War II. Part of the fun of seeing women and people of color get the spotlight in Star Wars is seeing them in these archetypes; a woman gets to be the Jedi Knight and a Latino’s the hotshot pilot! Star Wars is the story of the everyman, and opening the series up to diversity means that we get to change the image of said everyman. Also, it means there’s room for folk who look like me in the world, and that’s really cool.

Black Panther is also a fantasy, but it’s one set on Earth (this Earth). Wakanda may be a fictional nation, but its culture is one that draws on real-life African countries. Which makes sense: if you’re gonna have a high-tech futuristic nation set in Africa, you darn well oughta get inspiration from real-life African countries.

And the movie is so much better for it.

By thrusting African aesthetics into the forefront, Black Panther is making a statement about what’s cool. Ndebele Neck Rings aren’t just something you’ll see inside the pages of National Geographic, within the context of the film they’re a fashion accessory that’s part of the Dora Milaje’s uniform. Basotho Blankets look great in general, but in the movie they’re warrior gear that can generate a forcefield. These bits of tradition can be infused with a helping of sci-fi, these looks can be cool and not just as seen on the Discovery Channel.

Narratives are important; they inform how we see the world and help us process things. For centuries now, the narrative surrounding Africa has been one of a poor and primitive continent, one on the receiving end of a “white man’s burden” whether through colonial subjugation or questioning if they know it’s Christmas. It’s a woefully outdated, untrue narrative (and a harmful one that I feel dirty just typing out), but it’s hard to undo a story so firmly ingrained in the popular consciousness.

Black Panther doesn’t just show black characters as kickass heroes, it presents a sci-fi image of an Africa untouched by colonialism that’s flourishing, replete with its tribal trappings. Zulu headdresses and Mursi Lip Plates  aren’t seen as primitive or savage, they’re regal, majestic, and epic.

I’ve written about Chimamanda Adichie’s TED Talk before, where she stresses the importance of different narratives, about how stories in fiction can be validating. When the only stories we get about Africa (be they through fiction, news, or leaked presidential minutes) focus on it as a war-torn and underdeveloped continent, we start to form certain assumptions about the people who live there and their culture. Black Panther tells us, no matter how subliminally, that these people are as sophisticated as folks anywhere else, that their traditional clothes are rich beyond serving as something for you to gawk at.

Look, one story alone can’t wholly change a centuries-old narrative. But the representation in Black Panther is certainly a step in the right direction. I want to see more colorful science fiction (and stories in general), ones that don’t just pay lip service to non-western cultures but dig into them for both inspiration and representation. I hope there’s more. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.


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Wakanda Forever

So. Black Panther.

Right now, I want nothing more than to geek the crap out about this movie. It’s, wow. Ryan Coogler’s quickly become one of my favorite directors (courtesy of Creed and Fruitvale Station), and this movie is the icing on the cake.

There’s so much to love about it. The plot moves along at a clip pace, so much so that I found myself wanting more when it ended. Its supporting cast is as interesting as its leads, with everyone getting their due and characters like Okoye, Nakia, and Shuri stealing the show (and seriously, Okoye is the coolest). The conflict between T’challa and Killmonger is surprisingly nuanced, one where there is no real easy answer. Does a super advanced African nation have an obligation to other Africans, both those within the continent and part of the diaspora? Or should Wakanda remain isolationist, able to remain free of colonialist influence?

And these are all well and good facets of the movie (Okoye is so stinking cool), but there is, of course, the obvious one: Black Panther is the first movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to feature not only a black protagonist, but a predominately black cast as well. On top of that, these characters are from Wakanda, a fictional, utopian country in Africa. They’re cool and they’re badass; they get to do the superhero schtick.

That’s a big part of what makes the movie so interesting (on top of that it’s an excellently crafted film): its representation. This is a movie where a bunch of people who don’t usually get to be these sorts of heroes gets to be these sorts of heroes. Not only that, but Wakanda is a science-fiction style setting that doesn’t draw on Western influences, but rather celebrates Africa. Wakanda is Afrofuturism put up on the big screen, and believe you me, it’s refreshing. Characters wear traditional African outfits that, guess what, generate force fields and also look really cool.

That Black Panther is succeeding is excellent news for genre fiction. It proves that blockbuster science fiction and action don’t have to be about white people with decidedly western influences. If we can get this Afrofuturistic fantasy, maybe now an East Asian inspired science fiction story is viable, and one outside of anime at that. Or an anime that’s been adapted and now stars a white actor in the lead. Now there’s room for a Mesoamerican-inspired fantasy world where Spanish conquistadors don’t even enter into the equation.

For better or worse, media (that is, movies, television, books, games, etc) is predominately dominated by the West (and, in particular, the US). As such, most of the stories that Big Movies and blockbusters draw on are Americentric; we’re used to stories with characters who look like Tony Stark and Steve Rogers ‘cuz those are the stories that get told. Black Panther is a shift, it’s a movie that says “Hey, you don’t have to look like Ryan Gosling to be the superhero.” You can look like Chadwick Boseman.

So does this mean there’s gonna be a scifi epic coming out soon starting a Chinese dude in a Changshan kicking ass but not in an orientalized kung fu way? God, I hope so. It’s hard for me to find words to describe exactly what it was like watching Black Panther, getting to see this dope futuristic world that celebrated a culture that wasn’t, well, white. It was different, it was cool; in Wakanda it showed a country that’s as much an ideal as it is a fantasy.

And throughout it all, I couldn’t help but to ask when was my turn. When am I gonna get to see people who look like me in a big blockbuster, when am I gonna get to see the culture I’ve spent so much of my life a part of celebrated in a science fiction film featuring the people who actually live it? Sure, I’m only half-Asian, but that’s a half that doesn’t usually get seen.

In the meantime, Black Panther’s freaking awesome, go watch it, and celebrate what it does.

There’s gotta be more to come. 

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Marvel announced their upcoming slate of movies this week and I am very excited for one very important reason: Captain. Marvel.

Now, of course I’m pumped for the other announcements. Captain America 3 is officially Civil War, which bodes very interesting the MCU at large. Black Panther’s also showing up in Civil War and getting his own solo film a year later. We’re getting a second Guardians and another Thor, which is cool (especially the art for Guardians 2). The Inhumans are getting a movie so they’re definitely part of other MCU (five bucks say they show up in Agents of SHIELD). And the Avengers film(s) following Age of Ultron Is, based on being named Infinity War, hopefully going to be based on the fantastic Infinity event from last year. So of course there’s all that.

But Captain Marvel. Those of you who’ve been reading this should know that I’ve been clamoring for a Black Widow film, which part of me still is. I’m assuaged partially because there are plans to weave Black Widow into other films. But mostly because not only will Carol Danvers probably be showing up in some of the other films, there’s going to be a freaking Captain Marvel movie.

I’m gonna come right out and say it: Captain Marvel is my favorite comic in print right now (up there with Avengers and New Avengers. Black Widow probably comes after).There are a bunch of reasons, like the epic adventure nature of the comics and the sheer fun they’re filled with, but it’s mostly because Carol Danvers is such a great character, especially as Captain Marvel.

There’s the obvious fact that she wears pants, which is a welcome respite. More so than that, she’s interesting. She does all the usual superhero stuff, time traveling, fighting bad guys, saving New York and so on. Best of all, the comic is never condescending. We have a woman fighting crime who’s not presented as a special case or just a sex-object. She’s fleshed out and great in her own right. Writer Kelly Sue Deconnick has done a fantastic job creating a character who’s not just layered but likable and, most importantly, fun.

With that, Captain Marvel (like Black Panther) will bring something new to the Marvel ‘verse. Black Panther’s the first not-white guy headlining a Marvel film and also, as the king of Wakanda, has the potential to add additional political intrigue to the universe. Captain Marvel, on the other hand, will be the first female headliner and, based on comments by Kevin Feige and the most recent batch of comics, bridge the cosmic and earthbound sides of things. Besides getting her powers from the Kree (who showed up in Guardians of the Galaxy), Captain Marvel’s also been running with the Star Lord and crew as well as getting up to her own space adventures. It’s this variety that’ll help keep the superhero genre from getting stale.

But there’s also the sheer nerdy joy. In four years not only am I finally getting a movie starring a female superhero, but she’s Captain frickin’ Marvel, one of my favorites. That’s exciting and that’s something that’s making me really eager for 2018 to come already.

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