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Wakanda Forever: The New Frontier of Superhero Films

It is abundantly clear by now that “Black Panther” is a rare breed of movie. It is the product of black artists, from the director to the actors to the hair and makeup team, coming together to imagine a place where, unfettered by white supremacy and colonialism, black ingenuity, black power, black love, and black lives can flourish; where black people are no longer marginalized. This place is Wakanda, the primary setting of the film, ruled by Chadwick Boseman’s T’challa, the titular Black Panther.

Picking up where “Captain America: Civil War” left off, T’challa is coronated in the wake of his father’s death. Now, it is his turn to guard Wakanda and its rich source of Vibranium, the most valuable substance on earth that is used to make impenetrable, shock absorbent technology that has kept Wakanda’s economy thriving and its people safe for centuries. However, he must battle to keep his throne against expatriates and foreign aggressors alike. But rather than focusing on action and physical conflict, the movie places culture and family at its center. As a result, the film has an emotional focus that many previous Marvel productions have shied away from, favoring comic relief. It does not rely on cameos of characters from other big Marvel blockbusters to boost popularity, and the plot is all the more focused for it, although per tradition, Stan Lee does make an appearance. In addition, the women in the cast of characters play a more powerful role than in other Marvel movies, and even most other action films.

Alongside Chadwick Boseman, Lupita N’yongo, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett and Michael B. Jordan shine as co-stars. Wright’s character Shuri is particularly lovable. She is T’challa’s sister, a brilliant young girl who builds various technologies that T’challa uses, including his suit, using the Wakandan Vibranium. She also provides comedic moments and emotional support throughout the movie.

Jordan’s Erik Killmonger is one of the best villains the Marvel Cinematic Universe has ever seen. Not only does he have incredible depth of character, he is also legitimately intimidating as he attempts to wrest the crown from T’challa. Killmonger also represents  ideologies rooted in the rage of the historically oppressed. T’challa’s  battles with this way of thinking, but realizes that though Killmonger is hostile, his vitriol is not unfounded. Though he does not accomplish his original goal, he does succeed in changing T’challa’s view of the world and subsequently Wakanda’s policy as a nation.

The movie also carries the influence of Afro-futurism, a discipline of science fiction that centralizes black people when most sci-fi either entirely excludes or ends poorly for black characters.  It is one of the few movies worth the steep price of IMAX, with colorful backdrops and dizzying shots as power shifts in the Wakandan throne room. The score is full of traditional African sounds, featuring strong drums and vocals as the events of the movie transpire.

“Black Panther” has been breaking records since its opening. It is set to have the biggest opening weekend since “The Avengers”, according to The Hollywood Reporter, with 37 percent of ticket sales to African-Americans in North America. The cast of the movie came to each premiere dressed in some of the best outfits Hollywood has ever seen, featuring brightly colored suits and dresses, each with a unique silhouette.

And seeing the movie surrounded by black people is the best way to experience it. It is an important film to Africans and the African diaspora alike. The Center for Black Cultures, Resources, and Research hosted about 200 students in a screening of “Black Panther” in IMAX at Irvine Spectrum Saturday. Many moviegoers showed up to the event in colorful dashikis or in African-inspired prints. Hopefully, Hollywood can take a frame out of Marvel’s film and remember in the future that representation matters, and inclusivity pays. Wakanda Forever.