Article by Joe von Hutch
Art by Tabitha Swanson
If you haven’t seen the new Marvel film Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, and Forest Whitaker, stop reading now to avoid major spoilers.
PART 1: I’M NOT RACIST, YOU’RE RACIST.
How good was Black Panther! I got my tickets to opening night early because I knew I had to watch it with other Black people. The moment was too historic, and we needed to let our natural / relaxed hair down. For two plus hours that meant doing all of the things we can never do around white people like talk about racism, be loud, and eat fried chicken.
How loud were we up in that theater? Let’s just say that nappy hair still didn’t care after the loudest, longest “shusssssshhhhhhh” when the film started and, yes, my friends really did stroll up on in there with buckets of KFC. I even switched to my native African-American Vernacular English, formerly known as Ebonics, because Black Panther was so good I have stopped caring what white people think of me or the way I sound when I am loudly eating fried chicken and hollering at the screen at the one theater in Berlin that shows movies in the original language. This isn’t a review of Black Panther because I’ll never be critical enough no matter how many times I watch it. My ancestors were only counted for three-fifths of a white person. To even the odds I figure I have to watch Black Panther at least two more times in the theater just to make sure all my money counts in the official figures. Plus, like Issa Rae, “I’m rooting for everybody Black” so there’s nothing bad I could ever say about this film or its production.
Instead, this is a review of Black Panther reviews.
PART 2: HOW DO YOU SPELL LGBTQQI IN WAKANDAN? WHERE’S THE (QUEER) LOVE?
Despite releasing a scene last April that made us hope there might be something more than just friendship between two members of the Dora Milaje, the elite all-women unit of Wakandan special forces, the scene never made it into the final cut, and disappointed fans around the world tweeted #letayohaveagirlfriend.
According to the Advocate and Screencrush, cutting the scene and omitting an explicitly gay character means no lesbian sheroes, but let’s pause to remember a few other notable non-lesbians: Bette Davis in All About Eve, Thelma and Louise in the film of the same name, Xena and Gabrielle in every episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, and Willow for the first three seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
While General Okoye’s (Danai Gurira) remaining on-screen love interest is the very male – and very fine – W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya), do we ever see them kiss? Hug? Fist-bump? The best glimpse we get into their so-called relationship is that he calls her “my love” and they maybe raise giant aggro rhinoceroses together. We know as little about them as we do about the rest of Wakanda, but since Wakanda was never colonized we can imagine that homosexuality was never criminalized. Like political instability, coup d’etats, and dependence on foreign aid, Bible-based homophobia is another cheap Western import.
It was a surprise to me that there’s no queer representation because you can only reach that conclusion if you automatically assume everyone is straight or don’t know how to read queer subtext. I’ll wait for the sequel, but Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) fights with a similar weapon Xena fans immediately recognize as a chakram and there seems to be more than just a little Willow in Shuri (Letitia Wright). If the Marvel writers are too afraid to go there, I will happily write the slash fiction where Shuri steals Nakia from her brother T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who has to console himself with the royal harem. T’Challa’s harem includes both men and women, and he soon regrets revealing Wakanda to the world after the first Christian missionaries arrive and convince the male pages of his harem to resist his sexual advances. After convincing W’Kabi to assassinate the incoming bishop on Wakanda’s eastern border and burning converts alive, T’Challa wages war on the British to make sure no one ever criminalizes his love.
If you think anything I just described is insane, you obviously know nothing about King Mwanga II who ruled in modern-day Uganda from 1884-1897, lost his kingdom once because of his love of butt-sex, got it back, lost it again, and other than the whole burning-people-alive-for-insolently-spurning-his-sexual-advances thing is the gay hero we didn’t know we needed.
PART 3: “DON’T SCARE ME LIKE THAT, COLONIZER!” CRITICAL RACE THEORY MEETS AFROFUTURISM.
Agree or disagree about queer representation in Black Panther, there’s always room for improvement in the sequel. What can’t be fixed is the racism Christopher Lebron accuses the filmmakers of in ‘Black Panther’ Is Not the Movie We Deserve.
According to Lebron: “as the movie uplifts the African noble at the expense of the black American man, every crass principle of modern black respectability politics is upheld.” That’s a mean burn, but can anyone remember the last time “African noble” appeared in a Hollywood film? I can only think of “African Warlord”. Positive portrayals of Africa and Africans in Western media are rare at best, but Lebron stays trying to ruin the cookout by making three other points about how the film portrays and discards the character of Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).
1) Killmonger’s black life does not matter.
Spoiler alert: Killmonger dies.
This bothers Lebron for multiple reasons, but mostly because elsewhere in the Marvel Cinematic Universe Loki (Tom Hiddleston) gets to see a lot of sequels despite trying to kill his adopted brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) in almost every one. White privilege, amirite?
2) Black Panther depicts black-on-black violence.
T’Challa’s father T’Chaka kills Killmonger’s father N’Jobu. Killmonger kills his unnamed girlfriend and at least one non-lesbian Dora Milaje. T’Challa kills Killmonger.
That’s a lot of Black folks killing other Black folks, which you could call “black-on-black crime,” but never, ever should because it’s not real so stop trying to make it happen. There is no more “black-on-black” crime than “white-on-white” because most victims of crime are the same race as their assailant. Don’t ever use the term “black-on-black” crime again. That’s racist.
3) They should have used a white villain.
Absolutely not. Anyone who thinks Wakanda’s greatest resource is all that vibranium hasn’t understood that they were never colonized by white people. Vibranium powers their cities and makes them technologically advanced, but never having been traumatized by war, slavery or exploitation Makes Wakanda Great (Still). White people scare the hell out of me, especially white American men my country refuses to call terrorists but who carry out almost every mass shooting. You know who white people don’t scare? Wakandans. A white villain doesn’t work in Black Panther because there’s no white threat to Black Panther. The only credible threat to Wakanda is the one it creates through its arrogant and xenophobic Wakanda First policy. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to question whether a superpower should waste its money and resources on a massive vibranium-industrial complex that ultimately sows the seeds of its own destruction.
PART 4: THEY’LL NEVER TAKE MY #BLACKBOYJOY
As the 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you can see Black Panther as yet another superhero film powered by something called vibranium or an afrofuturist escape powered by your imagination. From before I arrived at the theatre with every other Black person in Berlin, I was ready to let myself fall into a world where history was different and Black people were on top. When the film ended at 2 am, I wasn’t ready to let it go, which explains why I didn’t get home until the next afternoon. It helped that one of my friends has the haircut to match Okoye, but as a Black kid who grew up in the Bronx, I didn’t have an imaginary friend, I had an imaginary world. To escape from the poverty and racism around me I created my own Wakanda, except it wasn’t Black and it wasn’t on Earth. I was an alien prince from the planet Caeros, and I kept this going from the age of eight until as late as 15, when I realized I was gay and that’s why I felt so different. Black Panther gave me everything I wanted because it freed me from the limitations of my mind. Black people are out here applying for their Wakandan passports because anything is possible when you reimagine yourself and your potential. Is racism gone? Hell no. That’s why I will be paying good money to watch Black Panther at least two or three more times in the theater and why, in the words of the greatest people you never imagined could exist on this earth I say, Wakanda now! Wakanda tomorrow!
Yes, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis also appear in the movie, but I intentionally omitted them from the list at the top because erasure is a bitch, innit.