Courtesy of Marvel Studios

February 20, 2018

Black Panther Roundtable

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What was the best moment in Black Panther?

Jonvi Rollins: Black Panther taking Killmonger to watch the Wakandan sunset. The moment perfectly exemplifies the “good heart” of the title character while farther humanizing his adversary. The paths of the men finally converge as Panther takes steps to understand, through Killmonger, his duty to others outside of his nation.

Andrea Yang: T’Challa’s second visit to the spirits of the past Black Panthers, in which he speaks to his father again and makes a decision about what kind of king he wants to be. It undoubtedly is a turning point in the film and in T’Challa’s character arc.

Noah Harrelson: EVERY MOMENT that was a part of Wakanda’s worldbuilding.

Lev Akabas: A five-way tie between Shuri shouting “WHAT ARE THOSE!”, the car flip, any and all times Forest Whitaker says “the Black Panther,” the upside-down shot of Killmonger entering the throne room and the African chant kicking in after Killmonger finally sees a Wakandan sunset.

Ashley Davila: The first exchange between T’Chaka and T’Challa, particularly the lines about the difficulty of being both a good-hearted person and a fair leader. By reflecting on hardships faced by great leaders, the heartbreaking talk between father and son showed Marvel at its best.


What surprised you most while watching the film?

Rollins: The character development. Sometimes superhero movies emulate a LeBron James basketball team, focusing primarily on the main character and one or two allies. Black Panther feels more like Warriors basketball; everyone on the promotional poster gets their opportunity to shine, despite a few key characters stealing the spotlight.

Harrelson: How alien (truly, otherworldly) Wakanda felt, and how faulty that feeling should be.

Akabas: The film’s independence from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When my mom, who’s seen just one MCU movie, asked me to fill her in on any backstory she needed to understand Black Panther, I literally had nothing to tell her.

Davila: The twist with N’Jobu’s betrayal, since Sterling K. Brown makes everything better. Brown gave emotional depth to a character that could have been one dimensional.


What was the best performance in the film?

David Gouldthorpe: Daniel Kaluuya as military leader W’Kabi. He walks a fine line; he’s never a villain, but he’s not afraid to take sides against T’Challa if he sees fit. He’s a political actor, and Kaluuya delivers the subtlety needed for the character to work.

Nick Smith: Michael B. Jordan, obviously. From almost the first moment he appears on screen, Killmonger sets himself apart as one of the most developed villains we’ve seen in the MCU to date. The levels of emotion and nuance his performance exudes caught me completely off guard, as I’ve been beaten into complacency with cookiecutter comic book movie villains. Jordan’s stellar performance does the character’s brilliant writing justice.

Harrelson: Martin Freeman… just kidding, it was definitely Michael B Jordan.

Akabas: Michael B. Jordan… “Hey Auntie!”

Davila: Chadwick Boseman as the titular Black Panther. Boseman gave life and dimension to the Wakandan king, showing that he’s a soft-spoken, patient and funny family member. He had charisma as a leading male and chemistry with Nakia in a love story that didn’t feel forced at all.


What was the film’s biggest flaw?

Gouldthorpe: It had so many characters thrown in. While I could track them by the end, I found myself scrambling to keep up with who was who. Part of it might be that T’Challa was introduced in other movies, but it confuses someone who hasn’t seen those movies.

Harrelson: Either how rushed/typical the climax felt or the lack of emotional connection I felt toward T’Challa.

Smith: I won’t lie, I don’t think I enjoyed Black Panther as much as everyone I keep talking to, and I think that’s in large part because the plot struck me as extremely predictable. The film featured some great character writing and added a number of intriguing themes to the MCU, but you could see the three main plot beats coming from a mile away!

Akabas: This is sort of a compliment, but it should’ve been longer. I needed one more Killmonger scene in the first half and a scene establishing the relationship between W’Kabi and Okoye beyond just a throwaway line. These characters were complex enough to deserve a runtime longer than that of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

Davila: The movie didn’t include Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack as much as I would have liked. For as much as the soundtrack was hyped, in an era of Baby Driver and Thor: Ragnarok, I wanted more scenes that featured the amazing Kendrick. Even when his songs were used, they were very faint and overpowered by battle sequences or dialogue.


What was your favorite aspect of Wakandan culture?

Gouldthorpe: The tribal nature of the country. I’m a sucker for world-building, and the political structure we see is easy to access and understand while also introducing conflict into the story.

Yang: The Dora Milaje. I love the idea of a team of elite female warriors. How I wish Asgard’s Valkyries were still around so the two teams can fight together.

Harrelson: The Dora Milaje. Those women were badass.

Akabas: I was digging the ceremonial battle for throne, if only because the Democrats challenging Trump’s presidency by having Hillary Clinton shout “is this your king?” as blandly as possible and then throwing him off a waterfall would’ve been the greatest thing ever.

Davila: The different tribes within Wakanda. I loved the small glimpses we were given about the Jabari mountain tribe, and the attention to detail (wardrobe/makeup choices, fighting styles and warrior calls) made the tribes distinct.


Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger was…

Rollins: Not just a villain, but a victim of the intersection between Wakandan leadership’s ignorance and the systems of oppression consistently working against African Americans.The line “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, because they knew death was better than bondage” demonstrates the character’s ambition, righteousness and dedication to justice.

Yang: A conflicted and complicated villain with a tragic backstory who deserves understanding and sympathy.

Harrelson: The true protagonist of Black Panther.

Akabas: Compelling as a villain to the point where he actually challenged and ultimately changed the hero’s worldview. That’s Joker-level stuff.

Smith: In a word: right. I know the movie’s “villain” probably went about acting on his motivations in the wrong way, but Killmonger is one of those rare movie villains who makes the hero seriously question themselves. That dynamic by itself makes Black Panther stand head and shoulders above some lesser entries in the MCU. I know that I was supposed to root for T’Challa, but I couldn’t stop asking myself how Killmonger was wrong. It’s hard to imagine that I’d act differently in his situation, which is a testament to the anti-hero’s story arc.

Davila: One of the best MCU villains to date. Besides Loki and Hela, MCU has not produced many memorable antagonists, as many of them have been very one dimensional or CGI (see: Ultron or Malekith). Killmonger’s painful story allows the audience understand how he became a villain.


Black Panther is an important movie because…

Yang: It completely turns our existing perspectives on the world upside down, and asks the questions we may not dare to or have not thought to ask.

Harrelson: It does for superhero movies what Raisin in the Sun did for American theatrical drama.

Akabas: It is, amazingly, one of the first movies I’ve ever seen in which two women of color have a substantive conversation. That’s scary. I see a lot of movies.

Davila: It finally shows groups of people who have previously been ignored in the superhero genre that their stories are valid and vital. As a woman of color in America today, it is easy to be pessimistic about the landscape of America; progressions in representation are inspiring and make me more hopeful for future films.