The Black Panther Files

As one of my favorite films of the last decade, Black Panther deserves more than the usual admiring review. So, instead, I compiled these quotes that explore many of the depths of this movie and the passion behind it:

---"Despite the difference in style and practice of storytelling, my approach to comic books ultimately differs little from my approach to journalism. In both forms, I am trying to answer a question. In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? Research is crucial in both cases. The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the pre-colonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of isis." --from Ta-Nihisi Coates' "The Return of Black Panther"

---“'You might say that this African nation is fantasy,' says Boseman, who portrays T’Challa in the movie. 'But to have the opportunity to pull from real ideas, real places and real African concepts, and put it inside of this idea of Wakanda—that’s a great opportunity to develop a sense of what that identity is, especially when you’re disconnected from it.'

The character emerged at a time when the civil rights movement rightfully began to increase its demands of an America that had promised so much and delivered so little to its black population. Fifty-two years after the introduction of T’Challa, those demands have yet to be fully answered. According to the Federal Reserve, the typical African-American family had a median net worth of $17,600 in 2016. In contrast, white households had a median net worth of $171,000. The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.

The Black Panther Party, the revolutionary organization founded in Oakland, Calif., a few months after T’Challa’s debut, was depicted in the media as a threatening and radical group with goals that differed dramatically from the more pacifist vision of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Lewis. Marvel even briefly changed the character’s name to Black Leopard because of the inevitable association with the Panthers, but soon reverted. For some viewers, Black Panther may have undeservedly sinister connotations, but the 2018 film reclaims the symbol to be celebrated by all as an avatar for change.

The urgency for change is partly what Carmichael was trying to express in the summer of ’66, and the powers that be needed to listen. It’s still true in 2018." --from Jamil Smith's "The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther"

---"Analyzing the film’s antagonist is more complicated. Killmonger is written as pure rage, and it’s hard for a man written as pure rage, however justified, to be a good villain. What’s impressive about Black Panther is that it asks us to examine the grey area of that designator. Unfortunately, the Killmonger we see on screen is one who has read the Baldwin line 'To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage,' and ignored Audre Lorde’s 'The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.' The film is an ode to the exceptionalism of black American rage that, while singular, cannot speak for the majority of the diaspora. There is no precedent for worldwide liberation.

What’s more, Killmonger’s politics completely ignore the ways power structures overlap to oppress individuals. He is the type of man who would shoot down the concept of intersectionality if he met it in the streets. He kills his girlfriend. He brags about killing people of color in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his own brothers and sisters in Africa. He is quick to assault an unarmed priestess who questions his orders. He delights in killing one of the Dora Milaje. In truth, I can only see him as a sympathetic victim if I squint hard enough at the past that made him instead of his actions on-screen.Regardless, from T’Chaka and W’Kabi’s isolationist approach, to T’Challa’s inability to choose between isolation and visibility, to Killmonger’s ruthless pursuit of power — one fueled by the belief that America was built on the rage of white men and that a better world might emerge from the rage of black ones — men were never going to save Wakanda. Danai Gurira is the most exceptional actor in the film, and it’s worth noting, to Coogler’s credit, how the majority of humor in Black Panther is performed by the women at the expense of the men, especially T’Challa. It is what makes the king’s relationship with the women in his life who ground him feel familial, a humbled framing of masculinity I wish more filmmakers would employ. T’Challa anchors the narrative, but it is the women he is surrounded by who anchor the film and save him from himself. Killmonger has no such luxury, and despite his desire for a global community of free black people, his end is a lonely one.

It is these quiet scenes that haunt me most throughout the film. The looks T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia have on their faces when they see Wakanda from midair, which also serves as the audience’s first glimpse of the country. The awe with which T’Challa says, 'This never gets old.' It’s one of the most important scenes of the film: To not just know where home is but to have access to it, to know that they belong. Later, the desperate exchange between Nakia and Okoye after Killmonger defeats T’Challa is equally heartrending. These are women whose allegiances are subtly examined and confronted: Okoye’s to protocol, Nakia’s to Wakanda, and both to each other. The way Okoye, anguished, all but vomits the words, 'I am loyal to that throne, no matter who sits on it.' These actors do so much with so little while conveying incalculable pain in a matter of minutes. For all the talk of Black Panther’s technological accomplishments, it is important to remember that the film doesn’t just give us a star-studded cast but the full extent of their talent." --from Rahawa Haile's "How Black Panther Asks Us to Examine Who We Are to Each Other"

---"Africa—or, rather, 'Africa'—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely beside the point. Wakanda is no more or less imaginary than the Africa conjured by Hume or Trevor-Roper, or the one canonized in such Hollywood offerings as Tarzan. It is a redemptive counter-mythology. Most filmmakers start by asking their audiences to suspend their disbelief. But, with Africa, Coogler begins with a subject about which the world had suspended its disbelief four centuries before he was born. The film is a nearly seamless dramatic chronicle of the threat created when Killmonger travels to the African nation he descends from. Yet some of the most compelling points in the story are those where the stitching is most apparent. Killmonger is a native of Oakland, California, where the Black Panther Party was born. (In an early scene, a poster of Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Party, hangs on a wall, next to a Public Enemy poster.) In an impeccably choreographed fight sequence, T’Challa and General Okoye, the leader of Wakanda’s all-female militia (brilliantly played by Danai Gurira), alongside Nakia, a wily Wakandan spy (played by Lupita Nyong’o), confront a Boko Haram-like team of kidnappers. At the same time, it is all but impossible not to notice that Coogler has cast a black American, a Zimbabwean-American, and a Kenyan as a commando team in a film about African redemption. The cast also includes Winston Duke, who is West Indian; Daniel Kaluuya, a black Brit; and Florence Kasumba, a Ugandan-born German woman. The implicit statement in both the film’s themes and its casting is that there is a connection, however vexed, tenuous, and complicated, among the continent’s scattered descendants. Coogler said as much in Brooklyn, when he talked about a trip that he took to South Africa, as research for the film: after discovering cultural elements that reminded him of black communities in the United States, he concluded, 'There’s no way they could wipe out what we were for thousands of years. We’re African.'" --from Jelani Cobb's "Black Panther and the Invention of 'Africa'"

---"At least as far as its origins are concerned, though, Wakanda may not be where you think it is, and its forgotten religious roots tell a story with as many twists and turns as any comic book.

Trace the word back several generations — before comic writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby at Marvel applied it in 1966 to a hidden kingdom of scientist-warriors whose technological capabilities make it the most advanced civilization on the planet. The nativity of Wakanda becomes very curious, and suggests the name of the fictitious land in the beginning was in no way African, but thoroughly American.
Among the Plains Indian peoples — the Omaha, the Kansa, the Ponka, the Osage and others — Wakanda was (and is) a name for God. And like the Wakanda of Black Panther, this was a divinity whose hiddenness was inseparable from its power." --from Peter Manseau's "The Surprising Religious Backstory of Black Panther's Wakanda"

---"These scholars, sometimes referred to as the 'Howard School' of international relations, include a number of luminaries typically overlooked in white histories of world politics: philosopher Alain Locke, scholar-practitioner Ralph Bunche, and Merze Tate, the first black woman to receive a PhD in international relations. These thinkers clustered around Howard University in the 1930s and ’40s, hence the name. Howard School thinkers had a diverse and complex set of interests, but one core thing that united them was deep study on the role race and racism plays in global politics — which sheds light on some of the IR of Black Panther.

In 1943, Tate published an essay titled 'The War Aims of World War I and World War II and Their Relation to the Darker Peoples of the World.' In it, she argued that Americans did not truly understand the implications of their sweeping rhetoric about defending democracy and freedom — that a war against Nazis, waged on the grounds of principle, calls into question global white supremacy (in the forms of both European colonialism abroad and Jim Crow at home).

'Those Englishmen and Americans who envision plans for and approach the problems of lasting peace have an egocentric view of the world and think primarily in terms of Europe, the Western World, the balance of power in Asia, and appear to take for granted a return to something akin to the pre-war African and Asiatic status quo,” Tate writes. “They think and write entirely too much in terms of saving European civilization, ignoring the fact that that civilization is a partial and secondary culture serving a minority of the peoples of the world.'

Indifference to the question of not just victory in the war, but what a peace settlement would look like for the world’s nonwhite peoples, would be more than immoral in Tate’s eyes — it would be impossible. Colonized and oppressed people everywhere, from Africa to East Asia to the United States, would not permanently agree to their own subjection. If they were not freed, they would fight.

'Will the white man and the colored man now find a basis for cooperation as equals? [The] alternative is an inter-continental war between the East and West, the greatest war the human race has ever seen, a war between whites and non-whites,' Tate writes. 'That war will come as a result of the white man’s unwillingness to give up his superiority and the colored man’s unwillingness to endure his inferiority.'
Erik Killmonger is Tate’s warning brought to life. His plan, to distribute advanced vibranium weapons to members of oppressed groups around the world, is essentially to spark the kind of global race war Tate warned against." --from Zack Beauchamp's "What Black Panther Can Teach Us About International Relations"

---"even I can admit that certain beats of Black Panther fall a little flat. That it also has to hit some paint-by-numbers beats in the course of executing a giant Marvel blockbuster. Or how, duh, I too have seen better shot action in X or Y movie. But if there’s anything the popular response to Wonder Woman has taught us, it’s how little those kinds of minimal, surface-level complaints actually matter.

Not next to the heights of what it has to offer.

Not next to the sincerity lying under those same beats. Not next to the innumerable scenes full of life and joy and hilarity. Not next to those cool as hell action beats I’ve never seen before (The spear through the windshield, then stopping the car! The fun hilarity of rhino armor!). Not next to the incalculable value of the aforementioned representation, like the fact that the smartest tech whiz in the world is a young African princess who quotes vines and could probably run laps around Tony Stark. Not next to the range of characters and motives and perspectives rarely seen in any films, let alone within a cast of ten (TEN!) amazing black actors who are getting to headline a major studio superhero film. Not next to the gorgeous and loving expression of African culture and afrofuturism. Not next to the sheer litany of little brilliant details of characterization that make the film sing in every nook and cranny (notice how much Klaue usurps not just Black resources, but Black culture). Not next to the sheer competence of storytelling where my concern for the layers of informational prologues ended up mattering so damn much to the emotional pay-offs. So no, those surface complaints don’t matter much not next to all of that." --from filmcrithulk's "Black Panther's Right Thing."

---"There are glimpses of these sobering realities in Black Panther as well: in an especially moving scene, Erik Killmonger relives the death of his father in their Oakland apartment using the radioactive elixir of the Heart-Shaped Herb, and when asked why he isn’t moved to tears, his young self shrugs and says 'Everybody dies. It’s just how it is here.' At the end of the film, Killmonger makes another statement about living in imprisonment and bondage that gestures toward the turbulent life experiences that fuel his angst. That the film confronts these issues head-on, without the crutch of allegory, is rare in itself, but what makes Black Panther truly unique is that this 'dystopian' present is juxtaposed with a (stunningly staged) utopian vision that is also wholly steeped in the black experience—in its history, iconography, and culture. In doing so, Black Panther gives blockbuster science fiction its new vocation: a grounded and inclusive reflection of reality that isn’t closed off by mass spectacle, but instead—in the tradition of Afrofuturism—allows for radical reimaginings of both the past and the future." --from Devika Girish's "Out of This World"

---"The comic, as first introduced, was not the least bit radical in the political sense — and not even self-consciously black — but it had a genuinely radical subtext. The Black Panther’s alter ego was T’Challa, a highly educated king of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda, which had never been colonized by foreign powers and was the most technologically sophisticated country in the world. (To underscore the country’s prowess, King T’Challa introduces himself to the Fantastic Four by giving them a vehicle that runs on magnetic levitation.) This portrait begs to be read as a critique of both the western slave trade and the prevailing attitudes of superiority through which Westerners have long viewed Africans." from Brent Staples' "The Afrofuturism Behind Black Panther"

---"With its fully realized, finely detailed vision of the technologically advanced, never-colonized African republic Wakanda, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is notable for being one of the purest expressions of Afrofuturism rendered on film to date. The term, coined by the academic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay-cum–interview collection 'Black to the Future' — which features insightful perspectives from authors Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose — has come to connote a flexible artistic aesthetic, and a framework for critical thought that’s applicable to multimedia work focused on imagined and alternative global black experiences, often laced with strong political undercurrents. As the author Ytasha Womack writes: 'Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-western beliefs.'" --from Ashley Clark's "What to Watch After Black Panther: An Afrofuturism Primer"

---"In Black Panther, the future is female. Sure, the titular hero is the man-king T’Challa, but his bodyguards, advisers, and chief technologist are all women. Same goes for the crew behind the camera: The design of the movie’s setting—the fictional African nation of Wakanda—mostly comes from production designer Hannah Beachler (Moonlight, Beyoncé’s Lemonade) and costume designer Ruth Carter (Amistad, Selma). 'The challenge was imagining how something futuristic looks in Africa,' Beachler says. 'What would Africans have done given reign over their own culture, without having been colonized? How would their cultures have mixed together?' The answer is a future that Tony Stark never could have dreamed of." --from Angela Watercutter's "Behind the Scenes of Black Panther's Afrofuturism"
---"We, as Black women, are marginalized and underrepresented — especially when it comes to cinema. Seeing yourself reflected in media can shape who you are.

With Black Panther — brimming with female heroes like T’Challa’s personal guard the Dora Milaje, played by some of the biggest stars on the planet — a generation of young women with ravenous appetites to see themselves on screen now look to Wakanda to feed that hunger. For little girls everywhere, who will soon see Black women as tech-savvy, loyal-hearted, kick-ass heroes in a blockbuster film — a medium that rarely depicts us that way — this will mould who they become."
--from Jamie Broadnax's "Before the Dora Milaje: The Black female heroes who led the way to Black Panther"

---"For many, it seems radical to show women leading without apology, technology reshaping and fundamentally helping society and tradition as clarifying the future rather than as a funny mirror to a false glorious past. My mother, Dr. Achola Pala, who writes about pre-colonial, colonial, and neo-colonial African society, was the first person to call me a radical because of an ability to suss out the root causes of things.

In many Western spaces, the word radical conjures negative or destructive images. But before that framing could affect me, my mother taught me the real definition of the word: to grab a problem at the root and remove any trace of the original defect. Or rather, that in order to make progress, the status quo must be challenged straight on—even if that means something must be lost to move forward.

If Black Panther is indeed is a radical tale, its $387 million global opening weekend and currently $500 million in sales worldwide is indicative of a world hungry for a radical story—a story where, for a change, women lead, black people set the tone, and the whole is bigger and more important than the sum of its parts." --from Agunda Okeyo's "Wakanda: A Nation Without Chains"

---"Indeed, Black Panther offers a radical vision of what black national power and internationalism could look like, if we trusted, respected, and elevated black women — especially in male-dominated fields such as the military and international diplomacy.

In Black Panther, as in real life, black women be saving ev-ery-body, white or black." --from Karen Attiah's "Forget Killmonger: Wakanda's Women Are Black Panther's True Revolutionaries"

---"That T’Challa opens up to 'good' globalization but is also supported by its repressive embodiment, the CIA, demonstrates that there is no real tension between the two: African aesthetics are made seamlessly compatible with global capitalism; tradition and ultra-modernity blend together. What the beautiful spectacle of Wakanda’s capitol obliterates is the insight followed by Malcolm X when he adopted X as his family name. He signaled that the slave traders who brought the enslaved Africans from their homeland brutally deprived them of their family and ethnic roots, of their entire cultural life-world. An inspiration for the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X’s mission was not to mobilize African Americans to fight for the return to some primordial African roots, but precisely to seize the opening provided by X — an unknown, new (lack of) identity engendered by the very process of slavery. This X, which deprives black Americans of their ethnic tradition, offers a unique chance to redefine (reinvent) themselves, to freely form a new identity much more universal than white people’s professed universality. (As is well known, Malcolm X found this new identity in the universalism of Islam.) This precious lesson of Malcolm X is forgotten by Black Panther: to attain true universality, a hero must go through the experience of losing his or her roots." --from Slavoj Zizek's "Quasi Duo Fantasias: A Straussian Reading of Black Panther"

---"This is not to say the politics of Black Panther should escape scrutiny; its professed solution of outreach programs and UN speeches is not exactly a middle ground between complete isolation and Killmonger’s agenda, and any familiarity with the United Nations might lead you to snicker at Marvel’s weird optimism. Wakanda is still, at the end of the movie, a country ruled by a monarchy (and one rescued in part by a CIA agent, at that). But even so, Black Panther is the most coherent political statement these blockbuster franchises have yet produced, an unapologetic argument for sweeping change that doesn’t blink in the face of the crowd-pleasing action that got people to buy all that popcorn. It instead holds our gaze, and argues the duty of the powerful to the disenfranchised. In this, it succeeds where so many films created within the cinematic universe system have stumbled, and it clarifies what such films can be if only they are allowed to step beyond their usual pacifying constraints." --from Steven Scaife's "Superhero Films Will Have to Work Harder After Black Panther"

---"The Wakandan technology I would want to get my hands on is both the most cutting-edge and the most subtle; Shuri simply refers to it as her 'sand pit.' Like an Afrofuturist iteration of 3D printing, a black sand (perhaps granular vibranium) coalesces into inhabitable shapes—a car, a plane—that remotely navigate real vehicles. (Fittingly, the token good white guy, a CIA agent, pilots a drone-like one to bomb other fighter planes.) At one point, armor appears to grow out of Shuri’s sand pit. At another, black sand seems to be the basis for 3D video calls, creating a sculptural hologram of the person you’re speaking to in the palm of your hand. The opening sequence of the film, in which we learn the founding myth of Wakanda, uses an analogous form of graphic animation. Shimmering black grains rise and fall from a bed of volcanic sand to form transient pointillist figures and architecture. Adaptive, improvisational, and interactive, black sand mediates between nature and tech, the ancient and the futuristic, the simple and the complex, the individual and the collective.

It is an apt figure for Black Panther’s aesthetic. Movies often flatten real African cultures into two-dimensional imagery—stereotypes in stereo, a quilt of clichés. But Wakanda, as everyone keeps reminding us, doesn’t exist. This gave Ryan Coogler free rein to create a country in the subjunctive mode: what if…? Given a blank canvas, he chose to sculpt and embroider various materials, genres, and tones. Black Panther is Shakespeare meets Shaka Zulu, Too $hort in Timbuktu. The film mingles myriad cultures, fashions, geographies, and (a quibble) accents from across the black diaspora. But even my skepticism about the casting of non-Africans fell away in the face of this glorious Pan-African cornucopia: actors with heritage from Guyana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, the US, and the UK. Audience reactions have been equally diverse, not only in location but also in feeling—the critical debates as lively as the joy. The politics of representation in Black Panther’s diasporic casting and audience may be more powerful, in the end, than its shortcomings in theorizing a truly representative democracy." --from Namwali Serpell's "Black Panther: Choose Your Weapons"