The Basics of Black Panther, for Non-Nerds (and a Refresher, for Nerds with Day Jobs)

It’s Black History Month: a time to talk about the histories of Black folks in these United States. 

In 2018, we are triply blessed this month to talk about Black Futures and Black Fantasy. The occasion is the two week countdown to the release of Black Panther and the anniversary of the South Living Room.

The joyous occasion of Black Panther is one of those events, which like Obama’s 2008 nomination and victory, are “instant history moments.” We have known this since the trailer dropped for Black Panther and, near the 30 second mark, Danai Gurira’s Okoye says, “We are home.”

Don't Be Caught Slippin'

Now while we cannot (yet) help you procure movie tickets yourself, we here at the SLR want to make sure you know as much about the story as you need to know to have as a great time as possible. Over at VSB, Panama Jackson quipped: "I don’t know much about Black Panther—the movie, the comic, anything—I AM really excited for all the people who do and are super-duper in their feelings of glee and joy surrounding this movie." 

We got you! You don't have to wonder what's happening with all those Black characters on screen. Using an expert solicitation method developed by my company, and my own ongoing geekdom, we here at the SLR have create a Black Panther starter-kit so that even the most casual of movie fan feel like they know enough about these Marvel characters and plots. We wanna help you root for everyone black, and be in the know.

 

This Movie Is Taking America By Storm

By any objective measure, this movie is already taking America by storm. 

Pre-sales: The pre-sale rates have been off the charts, setting new records, just like #blackexcellence does every time. 

The advanced ticket sales for Batman v Superman in 2016 totaled $166 million ($170.61 million in 2018 dollars) and, Captain America: Civil War, the king of MCU pre-sales, posted $179 million in its May 2016 opening weekend ($183.97 million in 2018 dollars).

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Opening Weekend Checklist

(Especially for Black folks)

  • Advance tickets
  • Story background
  • (Royal) Outfit
  •  #moviesquad
  • After action debrief

Red Carpet: The title of this piece say it all: "Black Panther cast delivers next-level slayage on red carpet" Even the understated choices of Michael B. Jordan convey the range of exquisite tastes and looks.

Michael Bakari Jordan at the Black Panther priemere

Michael Bakari Jordan at the Black Panther priemere

This pre-sales record and this slayage areeven more impressive considering that first months of the year are known as the 'dump months' in Hollywood, canonically including January and February, and sometimes August and September, because of awards season.

Described generously as "a bleak stretch for cinephiles, traditionally packed with movies that studios dislike, and want to release with little fanfare", films released during the dump months face lowered commercial and critical expectations. Audiences during these periods are smaller than the rest of the year. 

This is a really long way of saying that #blackpantherbesolit that's its movie sales are succeeding in a time when movies don't tend to flourish. 

 

Wanna join our team of experts? Fill out this short-questionnaire and I’ll include your responses in future posts, and a shout-out at the end of the series.

From Fotolia.com

From Fotolia.com

The Current Solicitation Team

Six experts so far have responded to this solicitation, and all of them watch several movies a year. 2/3rds of experts do not have pre-sell tickets yet. (Full transparency: I have two pre-sale tickets for Thursday and Friday night, and am taking that Friday off work.) Their answers will be woven into the analysis.

Our solicitation method allows us to generate a wide-range of insight about current affairs using our network. We got enough content for at least two more posts, after this one. It's not too late to be a part of it! Send in your responses here. All of our respondents, with their permission, will be revealed in the last post in the series!

Why is this movie important to comic book and fantasy fans?

The comic book universe, especially Marvel Comics, has always been more diverse than the movie representation of those comic books. And although Black Panther has only appeared once on the silver screen (more on that later), this movie is generated quite a bit of buzz for a few reasons. 

  1. This is a blockbuster film from a "mainstream" studio that features an African-American lead and a predominantly African-American cast. The all-star cast includes Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Forest Whitaker, Danai Gurira, Sterling K. Brown. It has upcoming talent such as Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira. 
  2. The director of the movie is black: Ryan Coogler. 
  3. Coogler handed direction of the film’s soundtrack to Kendrick Lamar, with Coogler stating that Lamar’s artistic themes are aligned with those that get explored in the film.
  4. Writer Joe Robert Cole, director Ryan Coogler, and lead actor Chadwick Boseman possess on-the-record developed understanding of Black experiences in these United States, with the subsidiary ability to properly communicate a type of culture and character that really has never been fully fleshed out on the silver screen before.
  5. Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter drew her inspiration for the visuals of Wakanda from real black experiences, like the Maasai and the Suri. 

Black Panther, as a movie, is part of a longer wave of the film industry getting out of the way of Black talent, and learning that everyone can make a lot of money. The modest indie release Moonlight earned a worldwide gross of $65 million. Last year, the horror movie Get Out broke records with $245 million; Hidden Figures openly made to $235 million, and the fun “Girls Trip” managing brought in $139 million.

One of our experts, a trial lawyer for a major firm in the Northeast, wagered that Marvel was taking a calculated risk in making Black Panther, and is being rewarded for it. "Black Panther is not as well known a character, but once it became apparent that the MCU overall was doing reasonably well, and Black Panther was well received in his cameo in the Avengers movie, it made sense to add him in now so we get his back story before the Infinity War."

Our anthropologist respondent concurred: "I don't think Marvel fully understood how popular Black Panther was going to be when they started all this. I think it was expected to kind of be a one-off like Doctor Strange, so you could bring in another character into Infinity Wars." 

Not everyone is feeling the love, though, with some folks thinking that identity politics is ruining yet another moviegoers experience. 

It's ok, though. It is known far and wide that Twitter is a place where bitter folks go to pop off without reason without any sense of history.

Why are non-Comic Book fans so excited about this movie?

As mentioned by one of our experts, who is a pre-medical doctoral research specialist managed a large study on aging men with HIV, this is basically the first time since Blade that a Black super-hero will not be a sidekick or wise-mentor for a white lead. (Blade was 20 years ago.) Another contributor noted: "The film will be the first in the MCU to center on a black superhero -- one from the African continent at that."

In the movie universe, Falcon and War Machine are part of the Avengers , but never appear on screen without Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, respectively. Bringing Black Panther into the mix represents the first time a non-white Marvel hero has taken center stage.

In addition, the Black Panther universe is quite feminist. In Black Panther, black women not only make up a majority of the cast but are also taking up a fairly pivotal role (e.g., the Dora Milaje) in fighting off the outside influences of creeping imperialism (just like they stopped Roy Moore in Alabama #blackwomenmagic.) 

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This has an interesting parallel to the role that Black Panther played in the comic book universe: Black Panther is the first superhero comic of continental African descent in mainstream American comics, joining a host of African-American characters. The Black Panther story emerged at a time when the "mainstream, conservative notion that people of African descent were in need of white guidance at every turn and were incapable of the complex nuances often associated with other superheroes."

Ok, so who or what is Black Panther? And is the FBI involved?

The title "Black Panther" is a rank of office, chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan, based in Wakanda, Africa, which is a fictional nations created by Marvel comics. In Marvel Atlas #2, Wakanda borders Lake Turkana, near South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia (and surrounded by fictional countries like Azania, Canaan, and Narobia). The Marvel movies largely hew to this geographic description. In Captain America: Civil War and Iron Man 2, Wakanda was shown on a map at the northern end of Lake Turkana, at a fictional point bordering Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda, and Kenya. I'm hoping we get a nice big map in the proper Black Panther movie.

Artwork from the interior of  Marvel Universe  #12. Art by  Don McGregor . All  Marvel  characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Artwork from the interior of Marvel Universe #12. Art by Don McGregor. All Marvel characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are Trademarks & Copyright © 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Wakanda is the kind of place that will excite fans and non-fans alike, and I'm excited that the movie has so many Wakandan scenes. Wakanda is mentioned in Avengers: Age of Ultron as the source nation of vibranium-- the stuff that makes up Captain America's shield. Wakanda vibranium absorbs sound waves and other vibrations, including kinetic energy, making the metal stronger as it absorbs these.

Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world, even more so than the United States, making Wakanda likely the only place in the (fictional) world where the FBI isn't watching black people. Wakandan computer technology, which is not based on binary electronics, is completely immune to outside hacking. The nation has also never been colonized or conquered by any outside power. 

As chieftain, the Panther has two supernal forces empowering him to be protector of Wakanda. One, the Panther is entitled to eat a Heart-shaped herb that grants him super-humanly acute senses, enhanced strength, speed, agility, stamina, durability, healing, and reflexes. Two, the Panther possesses a mystical connection with the Wakandan Panther God gained through extensive martial arts training. One of our experts rightly noted, "Black Panther was married to Storm (of the X-Men!) at one point in the comic books, but I don't believe that's still the case."

To honor this legacy of independent and nobility, Chadwick Boseman created a whole distinct accent for his character.

In an interview to CNET, worth quoting at length, Boseman noted: 

 Colonialism in Africa would have it that, in order to be a ruler, his education comes from Europe. I wanted to be completely sure that we didn’t convey that idea because that would be counter to everything that Wakanda is about. 

I wanted to be completely sure that we didn’t convey that idea because that would be counter to everything that Wakanda is about. It’s supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. If it’s supposed to not have been conquered — which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it — then there’s no way he would speak with a European accent.

If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it’s not just about him running around fighting. He’s the ruler of a nation. And if he’s the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there’s no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice.

T’Challa speaks like a Wakandan, because Wakanda evolved and thrived without the taint of Colonialism that ravaged the African continent. It's important to note here that for Boseman because in this world elite/educated is synonymous with Europe, in this fictional world, Wakanda needed distinct linguistic performances to reflect nobility without European legacies. 

Black Panther is one of many Marvel movies. How does Black Panther fit into that larger plot?

There have been 17 Marvel movies to date in this continuity. They began with Iron Man in 2008 and extend through the third Thor movie, Thor: Ragnorok in 2017. There have been three types of movies within this franchise: those that focus on the exploits or perspective of a single hero, such as Thor, Iron-Man, etc; those fleshing out the origin story of peripheral characters to build out an ensemble cast and guide clues about the universe (such as Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, etc); and those devoted to ensemble casts banding together (such as Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc).

A glaring exception to all this world-building has been the lack of a solo movie featuring the female Avenger, Black Widow. Black Widow first appears onscreen Iron Man 2 (2010) and may receive a solo movie after the next Avengers movie. For those keeping track, that would mean the chief female character would witness 19 Marvel movies between the character’s big-screen debut and her solo project. 

Our experts collectively were extremely divided on what the master plot of the MCU has been. (Future posts will showcase our experts' rankings of the good, the bad, and the ugly of Marvel's cinematic universe movie experiences.)  One respondent, a specialist in religious studies, tartly noted that it is not clear that "they know. I'm not entirely sure they have a handle on their characters."

In addition to that general plot narrative, the other themes that our respondents noted are: "the MCU is about how we can use our own innate "superpowers" to fight for what we believe in, despite our imperfections. In fact, our imperfections can be our superpowers if we know how to use them" and "banding together as a whole to defeat our greatest enemies and that we can only do that together."

One expert holds out hope that this movie will make it all make sense: "Black Panther seems to be a connector in the story. It might even be the missing puzzle. We heard mention in Ultron and more in Winter Soldier but did not truly see Wakanda. I think this reveal will ultimately provide focus to this disjointed story MCU has been telling."

He's not here to make new friends

He's not here to make new friends

Closest to my own view is one shared by an anthropologist respondent: The meta-plot of this series of the Marvel cinematic universe is about "Thanos and the Infinity Stones."

What does Thanos have to do with Black Panther?

One of our experts have this to say:

"I think Thanos messes with Wakanda in the comics at some point, so it wasn't crazy to write him into the Infinity Wars films (Avengers 3 and 4)." 

"The Black Panther is the genius king of Wakanda and y'all gon' learn today if you didn't learn yesterday. He fits into the story because, unlike a lot of the other superheroes in the MCU, he not only relies on his superhuman abilities, but also his practical gifts like his wealth and martial arts skills to protect his kingdom and his loved ones."

Ok: So who is Thanos? What are Infinity Stones?How deep does this geek well go?

Pretty deep, but we can keep it fairly light here.

Thanos is a really bad dude; and the Infinity Stones would greatly increase his power. That's all you have to know. These Stones are six very powerful objects tied to different aspects of the Universe, with each Stone possessing unique capabilities. These are the:

  1. Space Stone
  2. Mind Stone
  3. Reality Stone
  4. Power Stone
  5. Time Stone
  6. Soul Stone

The chief function of the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was to have The Collector explain each of the Six Stones, and that to possess them would give the bearer the power to reshape reality.

The Infinity War title of the next movie takes its naming from the Infinity Stones. Read a good history of the Infinity Stones here.

What is the actual Black Panther movie is likely to be about?

The latest entry to the Marvel Cinematic Universe picks up where Captain America: Civil War left off. Wakanda is portrayed for the first time in the final scene of Captain America: Civil War, where Captain America takes refuge with the brainwashed super-soldier James "Bucky" Barnes. Both Captain America, on account of his refusal to agree to United Nations' supervision of super-powered peoples, and Bucky Barnes, the mercenary Winter Soldier responsible for so many international crimes, requested and have been granted asylum in Wakanda. Barnes chooses to return to cryogenic sleep until a cure for his brainwashing is found, placing his hopes in the scientific excellence of the Wakandan civilization.

The movie Black Panther will likely follow T’Challa — a.k.a. Black Panther — who, after the death of his father, the king of Wakanda, returns home to assume the throne. In Civil War, T'Challa and his father are shown conversing together in the Xhosa language, shortly before his father is brutally murdered.

Lurking in the shadow of this tragedy is a character named Ulysses Klaw. Ulysses Klaue is a Dutch physicist whose studies on applied sound lead him to exploring turning sound into physical mass. Klaw was introduced in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Ultron seeks Klaw to get a supply of Vibranium.  Ultron agrees to pay Klaw billions for the Vibranium but not before angrily ripping off Klaw's arm.

Klaw's return to Black Panther hints that themes like capitalism, imperialism and white supremacy will be explored. Although the fears of colonization, science without morals, westernization, and Americanization are not on the forefront of American's minds right now, these are the themes of the Black Panther and Klaw relationship. And an African immigrant and African-American cast is the perfect cast to explore this relationship.

In short order, T’Challa is called on to protect the people and way of life of Wakanda, an isolated, technologically advanced African nation. 

T’Challa will battle long-time adversaries with the aide of his all-female bodyguards and a CIA agent to maintain control of his country and prevent a world war.

Ain't No T’Challa Back, Y'all (This Sh*t is Bananas)
 

If you need more Black Panther in your life, especially if you have read the current Black Panther Series penned by Ta-Nehisi Coates try the World of Wakanda. This series is going to blow your minds. Inspired by Scandal, it's penned by the feminist writer Roxane Gay and the poet Yona Harvey, following the stories of the all-female security force that guards the King. According to Entertainment Weekly, "Gay tells tales of the Dora Milaje, the Wakandan royal family’s elite all-women fighting guard, while Harvey focuses on female revolutionary Zenzi, who fights for her country’s rights."

There is also a Black Panther short motion comic TV series broadcast on the Australian children's channel in January 2010, and BET November 2011.

Is there anything else casual fans should know before seeing Black Panther?

This whole post is the basics of all you need to know. The quick Tldr of it all is:

  • The Black Panther is a newly risen king in the nation of Wakanda. He has to return home for a coronation ceremony. He recently squared off against a subset of the Avengers to find his father's murderer.
  • Wakanda is in Africa, and is a technologically-advanced place, and one of the only sources of a very valuable material called vibranium. Cheering for Wakanda and getting immersed in its stories and visuals, is a wonderful way to imagine non-colonized greatness, without spewing the Hotep nonsense of the ankh-right. Moreover, in Wakanda, there is an all-female division of warriors, who rival the martial skill of the Valkyrie (of Thor: Ragnorok) and Themyscira (of Wonder Woman).
  • The narrow plot of the movie is likely to be able the attempt to prevent outside agents in league with Black Panther's nememis Dr. Klaw from turning Wakanda into a resource colony. 
  • The larger plot surrounding the movie is that the Avengers, inclusive of the Black Panther, will be gathering together to stop an invasion of Earth by Thanos, who will come searching for the Infinity Stones. In the comics, Thanos battles the Black Panther in Wakanda; the Black Panther draws on his mystical connection to the gods to prevent Thanos from laying waste to this Black civilization. 
  • The excitement for this movie is breaking all previous records, despite coming to the sliver screen at a time when movies are expected not to do well.