T’Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.
With a library just shy of 20 movies in Marvel’s ever-expanding universe, it’s hard to believe we haven’t exhausted the superhero genre of any compelling material. But Black Panther fights tooth and claw to prove that his place among the Marvel classics is well deserved in this new tale which takes fans to new and uncharted territories.
The setting is the fictional African country of Wakanda, mentioned only briefly in previous Marvel films, and our hero is the newly crowned king, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). This refreshing new setting of exotic jungles and rolling savanna, coupled with the innovative amalgamation of rich African heritage, hip-hop culture, and the sleek cityscape so familiar to the genre, sets a rich tone for the film which announces to the world that this is a film meant to bridge cultural gaps and expand our view of the world.
But the rural setting of Wakanda is merely a façade to a world of technological advancement hidden beneath the surface. As the country is situated above vibranium, an alien metal foreign to Earth and coveted by all, the Wakandan people have fought hard to pose as a third-world country in order to protect their valuable resource.
When a ghost from T’Challa’s past emerges onto the scene, hungry for the throne of Wakanda and the firepower found within, King T’Challa’s eyes are opened to crises whose roots find soil well outside the film’s primary antagonist. While Wakanda has lived in peace for centuries, celebrating their African traditions and enjoying their land, the African descendants from around the globe have found themselves in systemic oppression, and their cry is now being heard in Wakanda, championed by our antagonist, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). It’s a fight for the throne as Wakanda’s two warrior kings battle it out. As always, Dove’s aim is not to spoil any plot for their viewers, so we’ll say no more. But before you go, here’s what you should know.
Unfortunately, due the amount of violence and language, Dove is unable to grant Black Panther a seal of approval. As a superhero film, it lights up the screen with a plot surrounding combative conflict, well-executed choreography, and an all-around action-loaded premise. Needless to say, there’s enough violence to keep the seal of approval at bay. But as it is one of the year’s most highly-anticipated films, it’s important to consider engagement with Black Panther, especially as your family might wish to be informed on how best to converse with friends about something which will no doubt be a cultural staple.
Engaging Our Culture:
Mining Black Panther for cultural commentary and important motifs is a task that will, no doubt, take the audience to familiar and tragic depths. By way of entertainment—of superhero movies packed with action and adventure—we are reminded of the brutally dark and important history of our country and the necessary conversations which must follow. Throughout the film, clear and resounding echoes can be heard from both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panthers of Oakland. This film finds its voice in harmony with those facing the modern-day struggles of marginalization and racial injustice. To be sure, the foil of Erik Killmonger to King T’Challa mirrors the philosophical contrast between Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—a fundamental disagreement on how to respond to violence and oppression.
Black Panther is certain to ignite conversation outside movie theaters across the globe, but given the harsh and divisive time we live in, perhaps we ought to see this as a blessing and an opportunity of paramount importance to engage in hard dialogue with those we love about the problems we see in and around us. At the end of the day, this is a great piece of entertainment which tells the tale of a heroic king whose primary aim is to fight for those he loves and to establish peace in his kingdom. But if we’re willing, it can also be a window into dialogue that explores peace that comes most fully and truly with the advancement of the Kingdom of God, and what our responsibility is as the Church as we partner with our King in the process.