Camelot. Hogwarts. Westeros. The Shire. Wakanda from the Black Panther comics lives in our hearts and minds, much like other fictional realms. Set down a well-written novel or comic book, and its characters will live in your dreams. With our imaginations as the authors’ complicit allies, we have all been collaborating in their creation of our fiction. In the theater of my mind, I knew what Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins looked and sounded like before I ever saw them in movies, and even after we have seen the movies, our brains cooperate with the filmmakers to create something unique stageplays in each of our souls. If that wasn’t the case, then everyone’s favorite movie would be the same, but our uniqueness is what makes life possible in the first place. Without the differences effected by the first mutations in unicellular life billions of years ago, humanity would never have evolved from our mammalian ancestors. Our differences make us more interesting, and that diversity brings tensile strength that can create powerful alliances. Uniqueness should be celebrated, and we fail to do so at our mutual peril.
My favorite movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Black Panther (2018). It checks off every box: the story, the acting, the music, the costumes, the sets, the visual effects, everything in Black Panther appeals to my sense of aesthetic. Seeing it in the theater with my wife was like eating delicious food with good friends in a beautiful restaurant, while my favorite music was playing on the loudspeakers. The story of Black Panther wasn’t the most nuanced story ever, but the struggle between the protagonist and antagonist was as profound as it gets; it’s related to the Cain and Abel allegory. To be clear, Erik N’Jadaka “Killmonger” Stevens was a villain, but he wasn’t a monster in the way of Thanos or Red Skull. T’Challa didn’t want to kill his cousin N’Jadaka. He wanted to try to reform Erik, but Killmonger refused to surrender to the son of his father’s killer. Dialectically, Killmonger’s story changed the Black Panther’s own narrative, and in synthesis, T’Challa erected the first Wakandan International Outreach Center in Oakland, on the site of his uncle’s execution. Also, King T’Challa decided to end centuries of Wakandan isolation by sharing their knowledge at a UN summit, to the surprise and delight of everyone in attendance (I’m assuming). Answering the metaphorical question if he was his brother’s keeper, T’Challa said, Yes.
Hey, reader. Next time you’re watching Black Panther, pay extra attention to the geometry on the screen. Usually in the western visual canon, movies depend heavily on hard or soft angles, but Black Panther honors its Pan-African aesthetic with a much more organic approach to incorporating curving lines and color into almost every shot in every scene, with ancient and modern African art. My favorite scenes in the movie were of Shuri’s lab and of the city streets of Birnin Zana, the “Golden City”, capital of Wakanda. I really dig the sense of high fashion mixed with a next level architectural sensibility. The buildings look like they were grown from metal and glass. It looks like the cure for cancer is hiding around every corner, and I would happily wear some of those outfits. Sadly, they probably won’t be at Old Navy soon.
After you’ve finished reading this post, treat yourself to Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther The Album Music From and Inspired By. Several popular hip hop and R&B artists (including Rihanna, ScHoolboy Q, and The Weekend) contributed to the recordings, but Kendrick Lamar might be greatest recording artist of the last decade. Also, it sounds like a second round of COVID-19 might be coming as states start to re-open for business. Ill advised, America. Stay home, if you can, friends. Stay healthy. Stay safe. One Love & Peace.