Black Panther review: Afro-futurist film is a game-changer in the MCU and superhero genre

It’s finally here! I remember when I first saw T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War (2016). I was completely blown away. When it was announced he would star in his own film I was so excited. I eagerly anticipated the release of this film. It seemed like the longest wait ever. Then a trailer was released in July 2017 and I began to get really hyped. Since July last year until just before I saw the film I was constantly anticipating its release. With every new trailer, still and poster I got excited. And now it’s finally here. Again I was blown away. I was speechless after seeing it. Black Panther (2018) deserved all the hype and more, it far exceeded my already very high expectations. I absolutely loved it!

The character of Black Panther first appeared in an issue of the Fantastic Four in July 1966. Black Panther was the first Black superhero in mainstream American comics. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (two white guys), T’Challa was a symbol of anti-racism during the peak of civil rights movement. The character predates the radical black nationalist/socialist organisation, The Black Panther Party, by a few months and the name was purely coincidental. In fact, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby tried to distance themselves from people associating the character with the party by briefly renaming him Black Leopard. Not only was Black Panther a black superhero but an African superhero the character was so important for Black representation but at the same time also problematic. With the first adaptation of Black Panther finally, on the big screen, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, made some important changes to the character and story for modern Black audiences.

Black Panther begins a week after the events of Civil War. In Civil War, T’Challa was introduced, for the first time on screen, as the noble prince of Wakanda. Wakanda is a fictional country located in East Africa. After a bomb kills his father, King T’Chaka (John Kani), T’Challa as heir to the throne of Wakanda is set to become the king and the new Black Panther, a role each new monarch takes. The first shots of the film are breath-taking. There is a CGI depiction of the history of Wakanda. It shows how the different tribes went to war over a meteorite containing vibranium. Vibranium, the fictional metal, has incredible powers and has made Wakanda the richest and most technologically advanced nation on Earth. However, to the rest of the world, Wakanda is just another poor African nation full of suffering people because it hides in plain sight to avoid outside interference. The film draws clear parallels with real-world history. The history of imperialism and colonialism and how African nations have been colonised, plundered, had its people kidnapped, killed, its resources drained and continues to suffer from the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism. The film also draws on the history of decolonisation and Black revolutionary movements in the 20th century with sub-Saharan African nations gaining independence from colonial powers, African-American political movements, the rise and fall of revolutionary African leaders and military dictatorships. Early in the film, there’s a scene where T’Challa and Okoye (Danai Gurira) the leader of the Dora Milaje fighting force, extract his ex-lover Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from an undercover assignment so she can attend his coronation ceremony. There’s a visual reference to the Chibok girls who were kidnapped by terrorist organisation Boko Haram in Nigeria in 2014 with the kidnapped girls in the car dressed in hijabs.

The film follows T’Challa as he becomes King of Wakanda and the new Black Panther. He struggles with the enormous new responsibility as ruler of a wealthy African nation. The central conflict of the film arises when he is rivalled and challenged by Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) also known as Killmonger who does not agree with Wakanda’s isolationism. Coogler, who also directed Fruitvale Station (2013) and Creed (2015) both featuring Michael B. Jordan, has a unique vision. He ties in his hometown of Oakland, California into the film as the city where Killmonger grew up. The minor changes from the comics help to enhance its story because despite it being a big budget blockbuster it’s also a very personal film. In interviews, both Ryan Coogler and Chadwick Boseman have talked about wanting the film to be as authentically African as possible. As African-Americans, they have been disconnected from their roots and both went to visit several countries in the continent to discover more about cultures from the continent they’re descended from. The character of Killmonger, brilliantly played by Michael B. Jordan, is in a way a proxy for African-Americans. Although he is an antagonist and may be described as a villain because he’s in opposition to the hero’s goal the great thing about his characterisation is that his motives are complex.

The film looks absolutely gorgeous. It is shot by Rachel Morrison, the first woman ever to be nominated for an Oscar for best cinematography, and it’s one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen. The beautiful black skin of the actors glow and pop in the lighting. From the extreme long shots of the rolling hills on the outskirts of Wakanda to the snowy mountains where the ostracised Jabari tribesmen reside to the Utopian afro-futurist landscape of Wakanda everything in this film looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s distinctly African and modern. And there’s plenty of eye candy. What a cast. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as T’Challa, regal and stoic, while he’s not the most interesting character Boseman plays him very well. Michael B. Jordan is perfect as Erik Killmonger, one of the best performances of a villain (or antagonist), up there with Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008). It’s a very difficult performance to pull off he is ruthless and violent in his methods but charming at the same time. As we learn about his backstory he becomes more sympathetic. While I love both their performances. My favourite characters had to be Shuri (Letitia Wright) and M’Baku (Winston Duke). Shuri is the younger sister of Black Panther and the source of much of the film’s comedic moments. The film has the perfect balance of humour and drama and never overdoes it. It’s better not to spoil the lines but the audience I saw it laughed whenever she was on screen. M’Baku is just the best. The leader of the tribesman he’s inexplicably the only character with a Nigerian accent compared to the rest of the cast’s South African leading to hilarious line readings I won’t spoil.

You don’t need to have seen other films in the MCU to understand this film, it works perfectly on its own. Other than T’Challa, T’Chaka and Ayo (Florence Kasumba) the only other characters we’ve previously seen are the token white guys in this film, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) a South African arms dealer who works with Killmonger and Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) a CIA agent who T’Challa brings to Wakanda after he saves Nakia’s life. It has an absolutely stellar cast of Black actors from across the diaspora. Oscar-nominated, Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Forest Whitaker as Zuri, Sterling K. Brown as N’Jobu and so on. The music is also excellent. The original score was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who mixes West African drum rhythms, South African vocals and different sounds from the continent. In addition, the costume design is exquisite drawing from many different cultures across the continent. Black Panther if you’d excuse the pun is a marvel. A fresh and updated adaptation of the first Black superhero for modern audiences, it is very important for representation to see a Black superhero as the protagonist of his own film. We’ve had films like Blade (1998) and Hancock (2008) in the previous two decades but those were anti-heroes and nothing on this scale, of this magnitude and spectacle. It is in my opinion by far the best film in the MCU yet and one of the best superhero films ever.

‘Get Out’ review – thrilling satirical horror captures the anxiety of a ‘post-racial’ America

I have to admit when I first saw the trailer for Get Out I was immediately skeptical. It sounded like an interesting concept but I thought it would be another mediocre horror film. Admittedly I’m not a huge horror fan, my favourite horror films are The Shining and Alien, hybrid-horror films which I’m not sure some horror purists would consider true horror. However in recent years I’ve grown more fond of horror with films like The Witch, The Cabin in the Woods, Green Room and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night being among my favourites. I really enjoyed those films because they subverted genre expectations or were a hybrid of different genres. Despite my growing taste for horror the trailer for Get Out didn’t sell me. That was until the film was released in the United States and I saw the overwhelmingly positive response (100% with 139 reviews at one point) and of course memes on Twitter. Then I discovered the film was written and directed by Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo, Key and Peele, and I was suddenly very intrigued. That intrigue grew into anticipation which grew into excitement into full-blown obsession as I anxiously awaited the UK release of Get Out. I’ve now seen it twice and it was well worth the wait.

Get Out opens like a typical horror film, someone is walking alone on an empty street at night and they’re going to get captured or killed by whatever the monster in the film is. In the case of Get Out like every horror trope in it (and there are a few) it takes on new meaning. This is because the person walking down the street is a black man, named Andre Hayworth, played by the always brilliant LaKeith Stanfield. There is a well worn trope in horror films where the token black character usually a man dies first. Get Out cleverly subverts this trope. Andre is walking down an empty white neighbourhood and is captured by a mysterious hooded figure but he doesn’t die instead as we later find out something far more sinister happens. There are already so many layers of meaning in this opening scene. For one it allows a black man to be scared which in a white society we aren’t allowed to be. This might sound ridiculous if you’re not black but trust me when you’re a black man you have the pressure of hyper-masculinity (something Moonlight brilliantly explored) but you also can’t be seen as threatening or you risk your life. We are often seen as intimidating and we’re not allowed to be vulnerable. It’s so refreshing to see Get Out subvert this because if you’ve grown up like I have as a black boy in a white society you know that if you put your hood up some people will have a preconception about you because they’ve seen images of “thugs” perpetuated in the media. This resonates deeply with recent high profile cases of young black boys like Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, who were seen as intimidating despite their young age, killed by police. Even though I was myself scared of white chavs I still avoided appearing intimidating from a young age from fear of scaring old white people. There are a lot of things I related to in Get Out because simply being a black man you share a lot of experiences with other black men because of the way society treats us as a whole. Despite being set in America, I felt a lot of the same feelings the black characters felt in this film.

The post opening credits scene begins with an incredible musical cue, Childish Gambino’s “Redbone.” It’s a smooth sexy Bootsy Collins channeling R&B/funk jam, pure baby making music but it’s lyrics are lot deeper than that. During the chorus Gambino repeats the line “stay woke”, for those not familiar with the term it is used as a reminder for black people to stay knowledgeable and not to turn a blind eye on injustices against black people. The title of the song itself “redbone” which means a light-skinned black or biracial woman is relevant as Jordan Peele himself is a biracial…well man. Peele mined his biracial identity for comedy on his very popular sketchy comedy television series, Key and Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes many interesting observations on what it’s like to be black in a white society. The protagonist of Get Out, Chris, (brilliantly played by Skins star, British actor, Daniel Kaluuya) is a very dark-skinned black, young photographer who is dating a white girl, Rose (Allison Williams of Girls). Although Peele is a biracial man with a white mother and black father, he identities as a black man and calls himself a black man because historically that’s how black people of mixed race have been treated in America. The casting of the film is excellent. Daniel Kaluuya, who I’ve been a huge fan of since watching him in an episode of Black Mirror, astounded me in this role giving a subtle yet powerful performance – the range of facial expressions is seriously impressive. Allison Williams also give a good performance as a very basic white girl almost ridiculously basic that I wonder if she was acting at all. But the MVP is Rod, the TSA agent, played hilariously by Lil Rel Howery. He is the much needed comic relief of the film, delivering very funny lines and being a proxy for the black audience member.

The premise of the film is an idea which has probably come across the mind of every black person who’s ever been in a relationship with a white person before (perhaps relatable to any interracial relationship but more specifically black and white couples). I related to Get Out not because of the interracial relationship though it’s something I’ve thought about but because it shows what it felt like to be the only or one of the few black people in a mostly white space. Chris and Rose go away for a weekend to her parents house presumably somewhere in upstate New York. What Chris knows but Rose doesn’t realise is that it is important that Rose’s parents know he’s black. This is so that Chris can prepare himself for the inevitable questions and pandering as a black person amongst white people. Unfortunately, the weekend is anything but a comfortable experience for Chris. Rose’s father, Dean, is played with a sinister charm by Bradley Whitford, another genius bit of casting, Whitford appeared in Cabin in the Woods. His charm isn’t so sinister at first, sweet-talking and a bit annoying, he drops slang to appeal to Chris and says he would voted for Obama a third term if he could. Her mother, Missy, is played skillfully by the wonderful, Catherine Keener. Missy doesn’t pander to Chris but she does try to get him to kick his smoking habit. While in this house, Chris starts to notice that other than Rose’s weird white liberal parents there are black people working there who act strangely.  There is the robot-like, groundsman Walter (Marcus Henderson) and the nervous, maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel). The two actors give excellent little performances which make for great moments of tension. Finally, her brother, Jeremy, is played by Caleb Landry Jones who brings a lot of slime and sleaze to this role. The Armitages have an annual get-together and invite all their white friends. Chris is asked lots of ridiculous and annoying questions as the only black guy (not working) there and the uncomfortable feeling on his face throughout the scene is one I and many other black people who have been the only one in a white space have felt. At this point, the story begins to takes a darker turn as the film leads up to a truly stunning reveal which has left me shocked and stunned ever since I saw it.

Jordan Peele has surprised me and got me excited by crafting a masterful and timely satirical horror-thriller and I can’t wait to see more from him. Get Out succeeds perfectly as a horror film if you’re black. Not because it’s terrifying though there are a few jump-scares it’s not really that scary, more so creepy and suspenseful, non-horror fans should be able to go see it. No, Get Out succeeds as a horror film especially if you’re black because you will recognise how uncomfortable and anxious it can feel to be the only black person in a white space (no matter how nice people are) and you will mostly like feel how Chris feels, sitting in that cinema seat. And oh yeah Get Out must be seen in the cinema (the more packed the better) because it works incredibly well when you can react with the audience. Different audiences react differently to different scenes, the first time I saw it it was mostly white audience with a few black people and some interracial couples. I took enormous delight in hearing knowing laughter from other black people, nervous laughter from white people and awkward glances with white people after the film was over. The second time I saw it, it was in a packed screen and I was one of two black men (I could see) in the entire audience. I felt the audience’s gaze on me not literally but I could sense it. There is so much depth to Get Out and it will be regarded as a classic horror film. I can’t wait to see it over and over again!

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