It’s unfortunate that the tension between 1990s superhero-film cheesiness and 2022 superhero-film coolness makes this effort implode. A post-COP27 viewing allowed more sensitivity to how Egyptians oppress themselves with the West’s help. Too bad the film quickly traded in that theme for a third-act battle with a Hellboy knockoff and some fake AMC Walkers. God bless his soul, Pierce Brosnan, 30 years distant from the start of his ’90s James Bond, elevated Black Adam when he could (with fine assists from Aldis Hodge) but couldn’t save it. It’s not hard to see why few wanted a piece of this Rock.
1) In your opinion, what is the importance of continuing the legacy of Black Panther in cinema, as it was one of the rare positive representations in Hollywood of a Black king, seen here at the head of an African nation among the most powerful countries in the world?
I struggle over “importance” being the right word. The comicbook geek and the Africana scholar forever warring inside me go back and forth on it. This is a white corporate product starring characters originally created by white Americans with some later help from African-Americans, and now it’s a film produced by a white conglomerate, one written and directed by African-Americans starring both African-Americans and the children of continental Africans. This is not an authentic, organic African cultural product–which shows our powerlessness to do one ourselves. Remember: America was comfortable having a Black president serve two terms but there is still no Black American that can greenlight a Hollywood film. The great writer Haki Madhubuti has called the first film “dangerous.” And if you are committed to African liberation, how can you not call it that? The first Black Panther is an exciting and powerful movie, one that made me tear up with joy, but it’s also a film whose climax shows a white male CIA agent shooting down African revolutionaries. I have known about T’Challa since I began reading Marvel Comics as a pre-teen, but I have only loved him since I first read, while in grad school in the late 1990s, a groundbreaking, satirical Black Panther comic series written by Christopher Priest, its first Black writer. Reginald Hudlin, its second Black writer, did his best to make T’Challa a decolonized character fighting European imperialism. But what about real, decolonized African heroes and Black/African films? Black Panther only shows that the billion-dollar Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe can make popular any kind of story starring anyone, that it can make anybody in the world into a popular superhero, but it is not an advance for Black, African and African Diasporic filmmaking. I’m excited as any fantasy-loving Marvel Zombie about this sequel–I got my ticket for the November 10 Thursday afternoon sneak preview weeks ago–but the African reality always is in the back of my mind. At the same time, I quietly agonize, I do acknowledge what this franchise means: African children–and some adults–around the world get to see themselves as the most powerful people on Earth. I think that’s where any importance really lies. So it’s complicated for me, internally and externally, intellectually and emotionally.
2) How much do you think the success of the original film is due to the ferocity and brilliance with which Chadwick Boseman embraced the role of King? Can a sequel be as successful without him? He was the heart of the movie, in a way, right?
3) Since we have now some distance from the first film, do you see any positive impact of Black Panther on the way Hollywood mainstream films portray Black people these days?
Well, here’s what I wrote one year in. I don’t think it’s changed Hollywood at all, with one obvious exception: it’s clear that without Marvel’s Black Panther, there would not exist The Woman King. (Look at the chronology of the greenlighting of that film here.) And I definitely don’t think The Woman King‘s familiar-feeling vibes, non-sophisticated story and Hollywood filmmaking style, along with a wide release date right in front of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is in any way coincidental. As I wrote, The Woman King is Black Panther 1.5. 🙂
It’s clear that if the great writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is right in that the first Panther was Black people’s Star Wars,Wakanda Forever is positioning to be the trying-to-be-bigger, trying-to-be-even-better sequel, a Black Empire Strikes Back.
But here’s what I’m most fascinated with as 2023 approaches: will Angela Bassett, an Academy Award nominee, be nominated and win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her anchoring Wakanda Forever and Oscar winner Viola Davis be nominated for and win Best Actress for her film, too? Can Black American women sweep the female Oscar contests for portraying African royalty? As they say in the comics that inspired all this Panthermania, to be continued!
If only this film wanted to be free. But as a Hollywood product, the pitch meeting was clear: Sarafina! + Soap Opera=Black Panther1.5. Viola Davis will get at least one Oscar nomination for this film that she produced with the best intentions.
I was bombarded with Black images today, both subtle and powerful. Did a double-feature this afternoon—“Hidden Figures” and “Fences.” The former, part of a new trend of “Black HistoryMonthMovies” (I am old enough to remember when these kinds of films were only on HBO) made me choke up, while the latter had me in that August Wilson hypnotic state, where his never-ending flow of working-class words arraigned in profound ways continue to fill the mind until you can’t take any more.
“Hidden Figures” did a good job turning a not-so-routine job transfer from a smaller office into a bigger one into a Civil Rights march. It was a very patriotic movie; I guess it helps greatly if your movie on Black excellence is also about John Glenn and NASA. So this is the Henson Black moviegoers have known about for two decades and white people have not been able to stop talking about for the past two years! For the first time, really, I was attracted to her, and yes, it had everything to do with those glasses and the idea that this film was the closest Black America ever had to having its own version of “A Beautiful Mind” without the mental illness. She and her co-sisters displayed with great power their controlled rage of a unprivileged class. I was interested in how much that film was about their discrimination being gender-based. I kept wondering if that emphasis was part of the story, or was it Hollywood’s way of making everyone (reading: white) comfortable. Comfort and humor were sprinkled throughout this film, and both work.
As for “Fences,” I have only wanted to see this play for 30 years; I am quite grateful for this movietelling. I couldn’t stop thinking as Denzel did his best, How did James Earl Jones did it? I bet he sounded louder, angrier. Viola Davis to me is that Black actress who nails down the “Black woman holler” thing, but she is a rainbow of feeling. Denzel had real challenges, the biggest one being making this play—where the camera almost never leaves the house and backyard—as a movie, a moving picture. He keeps the camera on the words, and hopes that you feel enough to compensate for the lack of visual narrative.
What is great about 2017 is that the dam holding back all of the positive images seems to be more cracked than ever. Yes, only the acceptable images are out. No, the more radical parts of the African-American experience are nowhere to be seen. No, we can’t have one of these “Black History Month” movies without a major white actor headlining (the camera seems to find Kevin Costner whenever it can, like it did when Indiana Jones was in the Jackie Robinson flick). But I must admit it was an absolute joy to be able to finally watch Taraji Penda Henson, Viola Davis (who now needs no more, ah, “Help” to get some more statues 🙂 ) and Octavia Spencer without having to flinch. And Janelle Monáe owns the screen like she’s been acting her whole life. More, please. And I hope Denzel follows through on his goal of producing the remaining un-filmed plays of the Black American Shakespeare (yep, I said it!).