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Black Panther Revives 1960s Memories

February 23, 2018

Latest Super-Hero Film Does for Civil Rights What Wonder Woman did for Women’s Equality

Black Panther, the box office wonder of the moment, is garnering praise from many quarters and it deserves the kudos. . .for a super-hero flick, that is.

Ignoring my usual tendency to avoid super-hero anything, I bought tickets to a theatre with those comfy reclining seats, slapped on a pair of 3D goggles and watched insect-like flying machines and zooming trains transport me to the imaginary African country of Wakanda.

The film has a story, a message, and, like Wonder Woman, includes some strong challenges to gender stereotypes. All of that I liked. Still, it is a super-hero movie, with plenty of Stan Lee sock ’em, shoot ’em, explode ’em mayhem and destruction. Checking out the latest death toll perpetrated by the younger male generation in the United States, the world needs less of this and I don’t need it at all. But there is a captivating historical reference point to BP.

I couldn’t help but recall the events surrounding the Black Panthers in real life, and the movie does allude to the violence of that era as well as the honorable goals of the young black leaders of that movement.

The film brought back a lot of memories. Think Angela Davis, now a prison rights advocate, Eldridge Cleaver, radical turned codpiece designer, Burn-baby-Burn H. Rap Brown, now serving a life sentence for murder, “Black Power” advocate Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, who founded the BP party in 1966 after hearing Malcolm X speak.

Newton’s good looks might have made him the most likely model for the movie hero, but he was shot dead in 1989 after serving a short jail term for misappropriating funds from a BP-financed school in Oakland, CA. Seale might have been an even better bet. He’s still alive at 81 and long ago renounced violence in favor of doing public good.

At a time when black men are being shot down by white police officers, often with impunity, and more than 2 million African Americans are incarcerated, many in private for-profit prisons, BP has political resonance for the Black Lives Matter movement just as Wonder Women had for the woman’s equality movement. It should also be required viewing for the Republican politicians that are kowtowing to Trump even as his madness extends to advocating that teachers carry guns.

The film plays out the usual good against evil scenario, but this time the black guys win. Oh, there were two British white guys. The first, Andrew Serkis of Hobbit fame, was a short-lived but highly convincing South African villain. The other was Martin Freeman, the little fellow who plays Dr. Watson in the Sherlock TV series. He pops up regularly these days. This time he’s a CIA agent who sides with the good guys as represented by the leaders of Wakanda. Imagine: a CIA agent that helps save a country rather than trying to instigate a murderous regime change? Odd, I know, but it’s a super-hero movie.

As such, I found myself necessarily suspending disbelief. When we learn that Wakanda is an advanced civilization that has mastered the use of vibranium. We could compare vibranium to kryptonite, I suppose, but it is more akin to uranium. Think nuclear energy that science has developed to help rather than kill people. Avatar fans may also compare it to unobtainium

BP is garnering a significant audience, judging from Box Office receipts. And, like Wonder Woman, its makers deserve credit for exploiting the super-hero genre to make a film with much more substance than a Marvel comic book.

Also like WW, BP challenges the female stereotype that depicts women as defenseless victims by making the soldiers of Wakanda black females. They are formidable, smart and beautiful in their form-fitting outfits. Bonus points for using Rachel Morrison as cinematography. The Mudbound shooter also worked with director Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station.

In the end. . .WARNING: I could be entering spoiler-alert territory here. Ah, what the hell. In the end, the king of Wakanda a.k.a. Black Panther beats the evil street punk from inner city America and saves the world. As if you didn’t know that.

Full disclosure: I thought Wonder Woman was good, so was BP. But they’re still super-hero movies. They might deserve a special category at the various film awards, but they will never be Best Picture, Best Actor/Actress or Best Director quality enough for me.

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