Transcendent cast and script seal the legacy of a favorite comic
In 1966, Marvel Comics masterminds Stan Lee and Jack Kirby debuted a new character in the comic Fantastic Four. His name was T’Challa, a superpowered prince of the mysterious, futuristic African nation of Wakanda, but most people know him by his heroic nom de guerre, Black Panther.
Black Panther, the character, and Wakanda, the place, have maintained a powerful hold on the collective imagination in the four decades since — acclaimed journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates would pen a run of the comic — and last year, director Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station) gave us an awe-inspiring vision of a superhero film that goes some distance in elucidating the mystique.
T’Challa (Chadwick Bosemen) heads the royal family of Wakanda, along with his luminous mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and his genius sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), when not serving alongside his fellow superheroes as a world-saving Avenger in the Marvel franchise. T’Challa wrestles with the obligations of leading his gorgeously rendered, Afro-Futurist home nation when challenged by a revenge plot and a charismatic outsider (regular Coogler collaborator Michael B. Jordan).
This makes it sound simple. Like most Marvel films, the plot line is not. However, Black Panther is the rare comic-book film that makes full and glorious use of its immensely talented cast (including Academy Award winners Lupita Nyong’o and Forest Whitaker, Sterling K. Brown, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, and others) and its own richly envisioned world. The production and costume design alone would be well worth a viewing, even without its marvelous adventure, heart-racing action sequences, and the kind of moving drama that might actually move you, even if you aren’t necessarily a comic-book fan.
It was certainly enough to move critical audiences Not only was Black Panther a record-breaking hit, it also received rapturous, nearly unanimous praise from domestic and global press (unusual for a blockbuster). It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture — it won for Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, and Best Production Design — and stands as testament to what a director and tremendous cast can bring to a genre that’s often dismissed as kid stuff.
Since its creation, Black Panther has shone a light on the power of representation. The widespread success of Coogler’s utterly enjoyable film should not have been a surprise to anyone. Black Panther is a great, fun movie. It also happens to be a film with an almost entirely black, largely female cast that present a version of our world that will almost certainly inspire audiences for generations to come.
Transylvania County Library (212 South Gaston St., Brevard) will screen Black Panther as part of its Second Look Films series on Thursday, Aug. 22, 6-8:15pm in the Rogow Room. Free. Popcorn available. (Viewers may bring their own dinner.) For more information, call 828-884-3151, ext. 1800, or see library.transylvaniacounty.org.