I love Marvel’s Black Panther movie and there are many reviews to be had out there about it, made by many much more qualified people than I. However I do have something to say. While I could wax poetic on the costume designs (Ruth Carter you out did yourself), color theories, the drool worthy soundtrack (both Kendrick’s and the Symphonic score by Ludwig Göransson) , what most stood out to me was how the movie showcased interpersonal relationships. Relationships that seemed to fly in the face of not just how often Black are shown in media but also how male/female dynamics are often showcased. Ryan Coogler and Joe Cole have written wonderful and dynamic characters all interacting in realistic and relateable ways showcasing what could be in a better (though still not) world.
I will warn you, due to the necessity of what I’m about to talk about there will be spoilers.
**If you have not seen the movie I suggest you stop this reading this until you do. Not only will this make a whole lot more sense, but you’ll be able to experience the movie for the joy of it without my commentary playing in the back of your mind. This is a movie you need to experience on your own first. The world and the characters are rich and worthy of being experienced without many chatter boxes intruding.**
The interpersonal relationships of Blacks are often showcased in mass media as highly dysfunctional and almost always in a fatherless family. The Black women are usually overly dramatic single mothers or extremely termagant (or both). Let’s not get into their relationships…the petty back and forth…and while art CAN reflect reality why can’t it show us a new one?
T’Challa and Erik (N’Jadaka) showcases very different reactions to the women (or lack of) in their lives. T’Challa respects and loves his mother he takes care of her in trying times and even M’Baku swears to take care of her giving his word no harm would come to her. There is a respect there. Erik…well, aside from Zuri mentioning that T’Chaka’s brother Prince N’Jobu had fallen in love with an American woman and had a child. We are never told her name or her fate. When Erik has all his speeches and how he worked just so he could get back to Wakanda just to murder his cousin…there is no mention of her. Surely someone had to raise him and since it’s never mentioned that his mother died or that he was ever put into foster care or similar one is to assume that his mother took over raising him. Though…interestingly even Erik himself seems to think she’s not as important as revenge or that maybe she might want to live in Wakanda. I highly doubt this is an over site. Two lines of what happened and where she went would’ve been easy to put in. I think this was left out intentionally.
“But he was just attempting to establish his kingdom and take over everything before that.”
Maybe. But realistically if you’re about to start global civil war you’d want your loved ones out of harms way. Realistically, that would be right next to him or in a nearby area where you could more easily monitor it. For someone who was Trained to destabilize and topple governments he would’ve thought of this first *if* he cared. This is further enforced by his response to women all through out the movie. Let’s look at his love. Do you know her name? Let’s say they “forgot” to mention his mother. Did they also “Forget” to mention his girlfriend’s name? We know she’s romantically involved with him after the museum scene. It’s intentional that we see him beckon a kiss from her. But if the mom was an over site because she never appeared in the movie (not even a scene of her mourning over N’Jobu) what is then the purpose of not mentioning her name?
No, I did not miss it. I intentionally listened for it on two more times I watched the movie to make sure. BTW in case you too are curious her name is Linda.
LINDA!! Wow…sorry Nabyah Be, but they never said your name…
She is by his side the entire time helping Killmonger attain his vision of the future. In fact we have no idea who she is or if she even has motivations outside of her man’s. She is almost a text-book example of what is often called a “Ride or Die Chick.” I, personally, have never seen this as a complement and this whole relationship seems to highlight why this way of thought is flawed. She helped him every step of the way and seemed to play integral parts to his plan; hacking the surveillance system, going undercover at the museum as a barista and gathering the information (possibly for months at a time). She was simply another tool to get what he wanted and was discarded when no longer needed. She never questioned him (that we were allowed to see) and, I think, later we see why.
After his spirit walk to converse with the ancestors Erik instructs the Priestess to burn the heart-shaped herb. When the Priestess went to gently protest and tell him the tradition and maybe why that might not be wise his only response was to physically assault her and enforce that he is not to be questioned.
His word is absolute and frankly he doesn’t care what she has to say. Honestly? He doesn’t care about much anymore. He’s gotten what he’s wanted: murdering his innocent cousin and taking over the throne. Revenge on the familiar level was attained. He’s on a mission and though feelings initially drove his desires he’s gotten to the point where that’s fallen into a background hum and all that matters is the mission. He was snarky to his “Aunt” and clearly used the term “Princess” to his cousin only to speak down to her. He barely pays heed to Okoye’s advice about war and only hears what he wishes from W’kabi. W’kabi and Okoye’s relationship is a post all its own but there are many things going on in that one that swings somewhere between the two far contrasting ones.
I will probably save that one for later. But suffice it to say W’kabi respected strength more than diplomacy and without the balance he began to disparage the woman and the General in his life. He assumed wrongfully that because she loved him she would just blindly follow along and/or not fight back. When he called her bluff she set her feet and stood for what she believed was right.
Her love life or Wakanda’s quality of life? There is no contest.
Let’s look at T’Challa and the interactions with women of his life. We first see him interacting with Okoye the General of the Dora Milaje. He’s self assured and casually orders her to not bother with coming with him. To which she is unconvinced. This speaks of a friendship born from years of interacting. Though he is in command and comfortable with that he does not speak down to her. She then directly disobeys his orders and has no fear of repercussions (Likely this is two-fold as the head of his personal bodyguards it was her first priority to protect him…even from himself and two: she’s also a friend who he can trust). He is also able to take her teasing and his sisters in good nature without feeling truly threatened.
Then we see his interaction with his ex, Nakia. A passionate woman who, though frustrated with his privilege and lack of action still cares deeply for him. This is also a wonderful spin on the “Ex girlfriend tension.” Instead of being just simply angry and spiteful to each other (as is almost *always* done in any media) they get along quite well. In fact she was only really ever upset with him when she got frustrated with his comfort in not helping others less fortunate than them and when she thought he blew her cover for a mission she was in the middle of. T’Challa himself went out to find her and ask for her to attend his Challenge. Which meant even though they did not work out romantically in the past he knew he could still trust her as a confidant in such trying times without judgement. At that time T’Challa was attempting to follow his father’s way of ruling completely but he did not deny Nakia’s desire to help others outside of Wakanda as a Wardog knowing that it was part of who she was. He wanted her happy more than he simply wanted her. The obvious evolution of which is that if he wanted her happy *and* with him he couldn’t completely ignore her desires as well.
This is not to say that T’challa is perfect in his handling of the ladies in his life but he has far less negative friction and never does he resort to violence. What we see are two very different ways of interacting with women both have varying degrees of success but one obviously works better than the other. Linda who was loyal to her man and seemed to have no goal or life outside of his wishes vs a range of women who, though loyal to a man, have thoughts, talents, desires and goals of their own.
The difference is just as startling as the male/female interactions.
Why does any of this it matter? Well in much of Black media showcasing the difference in such contrasts is rare and rarely done so well. Also I find that stating it’s “Just at movie OMG get over it. Stop reading so much into it” is lazy and misguided.
Art is not created in a vacuum and assuming that a creator is not influenced or take inspiration from the world around them is ignorant. Also thinking that an artist does not use their medium to speak about situations via his or her chosen medium is sad. Art is open to interpretation and rarely does someone put so many things in a movie so well and not want people to draw out the many things that influenced them. I wonder about those people who yell that so often. Is it an argument used when it’s convenient for something that makes them uncomfortable? Or do they really think that art is JUST for entertainment and that entertainment should always be brain numbing and vapid? What kind of world do they live in? I’m not sure I want to know, really.
Until Next Time Lords and Ladies.