Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther Review (Spoilers)

I had mentioned that one of my sons was anxious to see the new Black Panther film, which is part of the Marvel franchise. I thought it was one of the better Marvel superhero films. Some critics have discussed the relatively poor pacing of the film and that the Black Panther character (T'Challa) didn't seem to have any flaws or moral dilemmas to resolve (he begins the story as the heir elect to the kingdom with his suit and everything). And that is true. I put it down to the film having to do too much as far as presenting backstories for the main characters, and changing villains part way into the film. There simply wasn't time to develop some of the story elements.

         Since the villain, Killmonger, is a black power supporter and figure, you can't escape the anti-white/anti-European message to the movie: Killmonger wants to be king of Wakanda so that he can export advanced weapons to "oppressed" blacks all over the world. Also, we have one character refer to a white character as a "colonialist" (which doesn't even make any sense because the character was an American--if he had been Belgian, German, French, or English, maybe, but an American?). At the end of the movie, there is a scene where T'Challa is talking to his love interest, and there is some gang graffiti on a wall behind them; although I can't interpret it, the fact that it is the only graffiti in the whole of Wakanda makes me suspicious of its meaning.

       In any event, the underlying theme to the movie is whether Wakanda, which has not helped other peoples, even those in Africa, should open itself up to the world to help black people and, if so, the form of that help. However, allowing refugees into Wakanda is dismissed early in the movie. T'Challa is speaking to one of his military leaders about whether Wakanda should involve itself in the affairs of other countries, and mentions the possibility of giving aid or accepting refugees. The military leader shuts him down on refugees pretty quick by observing that refugees just bring their problems with them. Ouch!

       If you have read or studied Sir James George Frazer's magnum opus, The Golden Bough, the movie has a bit more to offer you. As you may remember, Frazer's book originally was intended to be a simple monograph into a peculiar practice of a certain temple of Diane where a "king" lived at the base of an oak tree, ever fearful of his life being taken by any challenger. From that limited beginning, Frazer begin to discover an almost universal mythology and practice of kings being chosen based on their fighting ability, and their reigns only lasting until they were replaced by a challenger. Even though this practice weakened over time, becoming merely pro forma or ceremonial, and, eventually, fading from existence. However, in the Wakanda of the film, this practice still goes strong. Although T'Challa is the prince and heir apparent, he must still present himself open to challenge by combat for the throne before he can become king. Each of the tribes of Wakanda also presents a putative challenger, although all but one tribe waive their challenge, and T'Challa is able to defeat the single challenger to his ascension.

      This comes up again, however, because Killmonger arrives in Wakanda and challenges T'Challa to combat for the right to take the throne. This time, T'Challa sort of loses by being thrown off a cliff, although he does not die. Later, healed, he returns to reclaim his throne under the pretense that the prior challenge had not been finished.

       It is one of the puzzling aspects of the movie that T'Challa had so little support from his army or subjects following his being deposed, but if you keep Frazer's work in mind, it makes more sense. That is, the duty was to the king who won by trial by combat, rather than any particular line. It is also interesting, in reference to Frazer's work, that Wakanda seems dominated primarily by women (there is more than enough "girl power" to keep the feminists happy), which is consistent with the myths documented by Frazer, where political power derived from the matriarchal line rather than a patriarchal line. We see a hint of this even in the Bible, where in Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5 where we are told that the man must leave his father and mother to join with his wife. In any event, the lack of loyalty to T'Challa won't make sense unless you keep this early practice in mind.

     In short, if you like the super-hero genre, I think you will like the film; or, if you have to chaperone your children, it is entertaining enough. It is not a film that celebrates ghetto culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment