What Should The Black Panther (Movie) Stand For?

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So, I wrote a blog article where I pointed out a few key things necessary for a good Black Panther film. Some of the things I mentioned are more likely than others (sorry, guys, we will NOT be seeing Storm and T’Challa kissing in the jungle on screen in our lifetime), but I tend to think I covered the basic gist. Anyway, as I was reading some Facebook responses, it occurred to me that I left something crucial out.

I’ve talked before about how one of the perks of a character having a movie adaptation is that it gives said character a baseline version that can be absorbed into the collective consciousness and possibly make them a household name or close to it. The best example for this, outside of Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, is Wesley Snipes’ Blade. I mean, even with the franchise going to Hell with that last movie and fame making him a colossal asshole, he IS Blade to the point where the comic version was tooled to look more like him. Whether you’d never heard of him prior to the Blade films or whether you’d seen everything he was in before he picked up the sword, there’s a pretty good chance that when you think of Wesley Snipes, you’re thinking of the Daywalker (unless you’re like me and immediately remember Demolition Man). That’s probably why it’s important to fans that Marvel doesn’t screw this Black Panther movie up for us.

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Since the the beginnings of the superhero movie genre’s blitzkrieg on the film industry, most of the successful projects have had some things in common. However, the underlying thing to look at is that they seem to view their stories more as modern-day fables than anything. Fables have themes and morals.

[quote_simple]Spider-Man (Sam Raimi version): “Sometimes, giving up stuff to do the right thing sucks and, most of the time, doing the right thing is a thankless job that nobody appreciates you for, but do the right thing anyway.”

The Dark Knight trilogy: “Deep down, people want to make things better, but sometimes, you have to be the one to go first.”

Watchmen: “Failure is a thing.”

X-Men First Class: “As long as you have two good looking leads doing things, your movie doesn’t have to make the least bit of sense.”

Iron Man: “You don’t HAVE to be less of a raging asshole to save the world…but it helps.”[/quote_simple]

Even flops like Spawn seem to adhere to this unseen compendium of superhero morals (“No matter how fucked up your situation is, you can always use it to do the right thing.”) Black Panther is unique in that it wasn’t exactly created with a definitive moral the same as other archetypes. Now, granted, it’s worth mentioning that the Black Panther wasn’t originally a marquee solo character and that most of his early history consisted of appearances in A-list books like Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Daredevil. With that in mind, it could be argued that there wasn’t as much of a focus on giving T’Challa these harrowing archetypal principles that lend themselves to what turned out to be a winning formula in Marvel movies.

(Side note: If you have any constructive ideas about morals or themes in the Black Panther mythos, please feel free to share.)

Now, it’s entirely possible that the movie could go the route of being a “just plain fun adventure romp.” However when you’re introducing a superhero, especially a lesser known superhero (depending on the circles you run in) to mainstream circles, as we established earlier, principles and fables become what separates Batman from WhateverTheFuckStalloneCallsHimselfInTheExpendables. So, yeah. We need Black Panther to stand for something.

Sure, he’s the king of an isolated, self-sustaining African nation that’s flourished for generations without the aid of outside governments. And, yeah, there’s probably a couple of ways to work the “duty to country” angle, which would establish the politics between Wakanda and SHIELD, further adding to the flavor of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (imagine T’Challa showing up in an Avengers movie to help Captain America and Friends “off the books” because Wakanda doesn’t officially deal with America). But being a tireless patriot is Cap’s thing already and Marvel’s not quite at the point where they can get away with churning out clones. But then that brings up concepts of xenophobia that I highly doubt Disney wants to delve into.

Perhaps Marvel could go the easy route of “all for love” (Raimi’s Spider-Man) but Panther needs a love interest for that and giving fans any love connection that isn’t T’Challa and Storm will not end well.

A really interesting road to go down would be the revenge angle. A long embraced part of the Black Panther’s mythology is the death of his father, T’Chaka (who should absolutely be played by Djimon Hounsou), at the hands of Ulysses Klaw. So, maybe the movie takes place some years later, after being crowned king of Wakanda, where T’Challa finds himself consumed with bringing Klaw to justice. He becomes obsessed to a point where he starts to lose sight of his family and his country, leaving Wakanda susceptible to attack from outside forces. The story could lend itself to the theme that “Revenge Can Eat You Alive If You Let It.” Because I think the superhero genre is at a level of writing and production quality (that it wasn’t when Daredevil happened) where we can get effective films in which heroes get some on-the-job training in Costumed Ethics without the audience feeling too spoon-fed (Man of Steel).

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So far, the only movies to come close to truly exploring this particular theme are really Iron Man 3 and Spider-Man 3… both of which were met with questionable fan reactions. This way, we get to see an awesome look at a character who, despite already being an established hero, gets to learn about how to be a better hero without necessarily looking “weak” or having to go through the time-worn formula of taking everything away from the hero to build him back up (Dark Knight Rises; Iron Man 3). And we also get to see him put his own ends to the side for his country. That’s enough of a sense of patriotism without getting too xenophobic for Disney’s taste, I suppose.

Personal improvement, nobility, sacrifice, pathos… there’s no way Marvel could ruin that. Unless Tyler Perry gets his hands on it.

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  • Ish Al-Harriyah

    Could the Panther become enraged by the persistent dehumanization of Blacks in America and the apathy and inaction of the Avengers and therefore rally to defend Black Lives? Or perhaps Wakanda becomes the destination of choice when American blacks begin to migrate to survive police brutality. It begins to get out of control and T’challa needs to stop the problem at the source…

  • Jim Johnston

    Very well thought out and thought ful article Thank you for posting .
    Speaking personally I think that the movie and the character must have politics There should a vein of anti Imperialism and anti colonialism running through the film Wakanda and it’s people own nothing to the West .And the West might have a big problem with that .They might see the very existence of such a country and such a character be a threat and an affront and re act accordingly

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