Thursday, March 08, 2018

Black Man Talk: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, or Please, T'Challa Don't Hurt 'Em

by Steven Boone and Odie "Odienator" Henderson
(The following is a conversation between Big Media Vandalism founder Steven Boone and Big Media Vandalism's proprietor Odie Henderson. It is the latest in the Black Man Talk series. Other installments include American Gangsters, Tyler Perry, Django Unchained, 42, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Dear White People, 12 Years a Slave, Sidney Poitier and Get Out)

Post #1: Odie

Brother Boone,

Have all the Black Man Talks we've done in the past been leading up to this one?

Since its announcement, Marvel's Black Panther movie has had Black folks, to use Tim Curry's pharsing, shivering with antici...PATION. The optimism hit fever pitch when it was announced that Ryan Coogler would direct it. What a perfect choice for this material! With Creed, Coogler bent a beloved White creation at a right angle and refocused it on the character he rooted for as a kid. And he did it without diminishing Sylvester Stallone, the creator of the franchise. Coogler returned Rocky to the underdog status that made viewers shed tears for him back in 1976, yet he also made the movie a showcase for his own themes and characters within Stallone's universe. Here was a guy who had proven he could step into something and make it his OWN. BLACK. THING.

Had they announced that J.J. Abrams was directing it, Black folks would have still been dancing in the streets, but it would have looked like the two Black dudes in Billy Joel's Uptown Girl video instead of the wedding dance number in Coming to America.

What kind of fire are you starting with these Negroes, Billy Joel?

Speaking of Coming to America, ten years ago on this very site, I proclaimed that film "the Blackest movie ever made." I took a lot of shit for that, but I stood by my words. Now, methinks I must run a retraction. Is Black Panther the Blackety-Black-Blackest movie ever made? Let's discuss that!

Speaking of people named Abrams, you and our mutual pal Simon Abrams (no relation to J.J., verdict still out on affiliation with Colonel) did a Black Panther piece over at The Ho'Wood Reporter. I'm glad you got to jibber jabber with someone who knows about comic books and universes and all that shit. Because, as you know, I'm pretty clueless in this department. I was not allowed to read comic books as a kid. My mother said they were "only for stupid people" and had them banned from the home. The only superhero I can speak about with any historical context is Spider-Man, who was rather ubiquitous in our childhood era. He was on The Electric Company and in those cartoon reruns with the bomb-ass theme song. Spidey's comics were the only ones I snuck into the house for years. In fact, Spider-Man is responsible for one of the more memorable childhood ass-whippings I received. But that's a story for another time.

Since I'm digging back here in my chlldhood, let me show you a memory. When I was a kid, my male cousins and I would tuck my aunt's towels into the backs of our t-shirts and play superhero games. Unlike me, they had superhero Underoos, so their outfits looked more "realistic." My Mom said we were too broke for Underoos, and my therapist will tell you that my being deprived of said fancy kiddie underwear is why I'm willing to spend 90 bucks on a pair of drawers today.
I discovered that they make these for adults now. I'll pass.

Back then, I just had my towel-as-cape and my imagination.

Like all kiddie games, the ones we played had some wacko rules. The one that affected me dealt with the fact I wore glasses. When we played Superman, I was only allowed to be Clark Kent. "Superman doesn't wear glasses," my cousin Al once told me. The fact that all of the superheroes we portrayed were White never struck us as a reason we couldn't play them; it was a given that all superheroes and villains were White. I mean, as far as Blackness goes, we had the Verb guy from Schoolhouse Rock, and later, the Brown Hornet on Fat Albert. On the villain side, we had Eartha Kitt's sexy Catwoman--and the shoddy animation on The Adventures of Letterman made the turban-clad Spellbinder occasionally look like he might be a redbone. But we knew nothing of Black Panther, who'd been around since 1966 but had never been in a medium that trickled down to us.

I bring this up because a lot of responsibility has been thrust upon Black Panther in terms of representation. Coogler and his cast can't just deliver the standard issue superhero movie. Like Patty Jenkins before him, the director had to shoulder the burden of the hopes and dreams of those who finally feel their time in the sunshine had finally come. For Jenkins, it was all about women and for Coogler, it's Blackness. I don't think either of these added pressures were fair to the filmmakers or the movies themselves. Chris Rock said--and I used this same line in our Black Man Talk on 42--that we'll have finally "overcome" when Black folks are allowed to be as mediocre as their White counterparts.

So, the initial theory was that Black Panther would have to be absolutely perfect in its execution in order to satisfy all of the souls yearning for something like Wakanda. Which is why I welcomed you and Simon's carefully measured takes on the material. Specifically, I want to focus on this statement of yours:

For all its concessions to modern style, Black Panther is a very '60s movie whose hero may be royalty, but whose burdens and pitfalls are ultimately those of a Pan-African revolutionary. It leaves T'Challa and his genius sister right where Newton and Seale began: making plans to shepherd self-determination and innovation in America.

I love this and want to use this to begin our discussion of T'Challa's ideologies vs. Killmonger's ideologies. More than one White film critic has tried to position this as a Martin Luther King vs. Malcolm X "battle royal," which to me is not only rather ignorant but also forgivable because the schools don't teach Marcus Garvey (or either of the names you site in the above quote). How would you describe the differences between Killmonger's ideas of world domination and the Wakandian ideal of isolation and Swiss-like neutrality?

Please be as Black as possible and show all work.

Also up for discussion as our talk progresses: What interaction, if any, did you have with Black superheroes as a kid? Did Coogler's vision of Wakanda, made real by Rachel Morrison's ace cinematography (she knows how to light and shadow brown skin in ways that evoke Gordon Willis in The Landlord) and Ruth E. Carter's jaw-droppingly tactile costumes--did this vision speak to you both as a filmmaker and as a viewer? Whom would we side with? Killmonger or T'Challa? And most importantly, did the beautiful, smart and dangerous Dora Milaje make you wish for a kickass reunion of Zhane?

We should also discuss something The Hollywood Reporter piece went into at length, the film's battle sequences and its violence. I gave Black Panther four stars over at Roger's, but that doesn't mean I think it's perfect. I liked the scenes more than you guys did, but I'm gonna have to take Col. Abrams behind the woodshed for some of his ideas. And I'm sure you'll be taking me behind the woodshed for some of mine. It's gonna be our ass-whuppingest Black Man Talk yet! Let's break off some switches and get started, shall we?

Post #2: Boone 

I'm glad my tete a tete with Colonel Abrams at The Hollywood Reporter provoked such a rich response.

I'll get to the most important issue first: I never pay more than ten bucks for drawls (TM), but if somebody comes out with adult Wakanda Underoos, an exception shall be made. [Ed. Note: They got some Chewbacca Underoos for adults, but no Lando Calrissian ones, the bastards.]

You mentioned that Coogler and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins "had to shoulder the burden of the hopes and dreams of those who finally feel their time in the sunshine had finally come." I agree with this, though I still yearn for creators of color or underrepresented gender to take up an even heavier and riskier burden: make your own universe.  Now that Black Panther has put some heat and shine on Afrofuturism, let's have a renaissance. When I hit the lotto, I am going to give Andrew Dosunmu and Bradford Young $200 million to make a sci-fi epic out of whatever they damn please, with no supervision. If they go over budget, thas they problem. I'll slide Janizsca Bravo, Khalil Joseph, Hiro Murai (our great ally), Malik Sayeed, Shaka King, Arthur Jafa $10 million each to make something that, to their individual satisfactions, fits the description "next level." And I'll let Charles Burnett name his price for any lingering lost project or quixotic dream he wants to put onscreen. And I will fight to get them all in the multiplexes and on major streaming platforms.

Look, if politicians can make empty promises, why can't a random blog weirdo? But I do hope somebody who can move some cash around is listening. What I've learned during the past decade of Marvel Studios' ascendancy is just how vast is many grown black folks' knowledge of that companies' comic book properties. I've listened in on perhaps hundreds of passionate debates about Marvel storylines that tend to get as raucous as sports, politics and religion talks. And if you happen to praise any aspect of the Bryan SInger/20th Century Fox renditions of X-Men, brother, PREPARE TO GET CUT.

Is Black Panther the blackest movie ever made? Naw. But it is the blackest mainstream fantasy film since The Wiz. (In my worthless opinion, Coming to America shares the crown with WATTSTAX.) It is indeed blackety-black, most def. There are many indexes of its blackety-blackness, but my favorites are the simple exhilarating closeups of African women with short, natural hair (or no hair), stunning all to silence with their beauty--the ecstatic truth so long denied. Images that answer centuries of slurs and falsehoods against the great wondrous wellspring of our people. Of all people. All this to say: Lupita I love you, we can be happy!!

Lupita responds "New phone. Who dis?"

So anyway, I'm with you on the Chris Rock-inspired notion that we will really have overcome when we no longer expect a director hired by a major corporation for a popcorn movie to deliver us to the promised land while tap dancing like the Nicholas Brothers and pounding the keys like Oscar Peterson. Coogler is indeed some kind of burgeoning genius, but let's let that brother breathe. Right now he could probably use the gift of a small, intimate film. It would be great to see all the international attention drawn by his association with a blockbuster lured over to some amazing, life-affirming story of an ordinary Black Life. Or whatever Coogler wants. We have to show this brother love by letting him be. I was going to say "setting him free" to make a corny reference but no: the whole point is that there is no liberator more powerful than one's self.

One of the interesting aspects of the Killmonger character is that his Field Nigga cynicism and siege mentality could have been harnessed for revolutionary muscle but it didn't "free" him. You are not free when you live in constant unresolved trauma and rage. And on the flipside, you are not any more or less a prisoner of a white supremacist system if you adopt non-violent resistance. Malcolm and Martin died the same way, and for the same reasons: they had reached a place of boundless mental freedom that, given their international influence, ran the risk of contagion effect. 

Garvey's Pan-Africanism, Huey's 10 Points, Kwame NKrumah's socialism, Elijah Muhammad's capitalism, Lumumba's reforms--all these efforts boil down to free men attempting self-determination and, acquiring, be it on the economic or diplomatic level, some standing in the international community. Garvey probably saw most clearly that the international community was no community at all but a collection of self-interested colonizers and exploiters. Like Killmonger, he preferred the relative honesty of his sworn enemies (Garvey's pact with the KKK; Killmonger's with Klaw) to the hypocrisies of "friends" who gave public endorsement to reforms while plotting coups and sabotage through their intelligence agencies. His beef with W.E.B. Dubois was a matter of approach (capitalism vs socialism, segregation vs "equal opportunities") and style (Garvey's brawling grandiosity, Dubois' "Talented Tenth" finesse).

T'Challa's Wakanda reminded me a bit of Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, only with sick tech. A proud, strong country that sets itself apart from the rest of Africa, astonishingly impervious to colonialism... yet, during the revolutionary era, more than willing to back up African nations resisting colonial powers.  At the end of this origin story, Wakanda is guardedly joining the UN, but mainly as a set up for its participation in the upcoming Infinity War. In the Marvel imagination, the impending threat to all humanity that Thanos poses makes all that colonial/slavery/tribal infighting/Jim Crow/redlining/COINTELPRO/Tuskeegee stuff water under the bridge.

But there are no neat parallels for the T'Challa vs Killmonger conflict. Each has attributes of legendary Field Niggas and infamous House Niggas. (And who is which depends on how one interprets their actions in the context of history and one's level of cynicism.) The film wants us to get past labels and remember that "our" conflict is a family conflict. In its climactic sequence, a few characters are suddenly seized by that awareness. They get woke to the simple fact that carrying out vendettas for wrongs within the family while the house is being robbed brings only the robber satisfaction.

As for the Dora Milaje and going behind the woodshed, I would... well, never mind.

Let me hear your thoughts on the movie's battle sequences before I do my usual obsessive "go-in" on technical matters that only me and three nerds somewhere even care about...

Post #3: Odie

I can just see you stepping to Okoye and she flings your ass over that waterfall. I love Lupita and Danai, but my science major heart belongs to Letitia Wright’s Shuri. Not only is she Wakanda’s resident Q from James Bond, she is as nimble with her brain as the Dora Milaje are with their weaponry. “Just because it works doesn’t mean it cannot be improved,” she tells her brother. Wakanda runs as smoothly as it does because her technology game is tighter than good cornrows. Her brother may be King, but it’s Shuri who’s keeping the lights on in Wakanda. Behind every great man there’s a great woman, as the saying goes. Behind every great Black man there’s a great Black woman—at least until he gets some money and decides to get a White girl.

But I digress.

Ain’t no White girls in Wakanda!

But there is a White dude in the kingdom, Martin Freeman’s CIA agent, Everett K. Ross. I like how his character was used—he got the Black role! That is, the guy who makes a difference but isn’t the hero. He’s thrown in as a token, but not a racial one. Ross is what’s tethering this beautiful, self-contained Ryan Coogler Universe to the much larger and more traditional Marvel Universe. We need to be reminded that Infinity War’s coming, y’know!

I got some hate mail that claimed I’d left Freeman and Andy Serkis out of my review because I was a racist who didn’t want to give any praise to White actors. If only I were that devilishly evil! I left them out because motherfuckers are always whining about spoilers and other bullshit I don’t believe in, and I was trying to err on the side of caution by not revealing too much. I start talking about Klaw, and then I have to explain that he knew where Wakanda was and how he ties in with Killmonger and Ross.

The letter writer didn’t point out that I also didn’t talk about Winston Duke or his character M’baku’s great line about vegetarianism. That, and Shuri’s “Colonizer!” line, are two of the best moments in the script. I also like that M’Baku’s people drown out with noise the people they don’t want to hear. They kind of sounded like the audience on The Arsenio Hall Show. We need to adopt that noisemaking philosophy the next time a GOP politician speaks, or when one of the relatives starts drunkenly talking shit at the cookout.

Your analysis of T’Challa’s philosophy vs. Killmonger’s was great (and you really took my “show all work” to heart—thank you!). So I want to focus on another aspect of their duality. Both of them undergo the same spiritual baptism when they become king, and both visit the fathers who have left this mortal plane for the afterlife. T’Challa’s visit to his Pa takes place in a land that, forgive me, looked like the origin story sequence of Paul Schrader’s Cat People. T’Challa yearns for wisdom while expressing his fears about his new role as successor. It’s a positive experience for the most part, fitting in with other comic book movie style visits to “a home planet.” (See the Christopher Reeve Superman movies for another example.)

"Ain't this a bitch? They sent me to the wrong goddamn Heaven!" -Richard Pryor

Killmonger’s vision, which takes place in the realistic setting of Oakland, is a scarier mirror image of T’Challa’s. He’s trapped at the scene of the most traumatic event in his life, the death of his father. This development haunted me, because it seemed to be saying that even at our happiest moments of achievement, we as Black folks still carry tremendous psychological baggage. It’s here that Coogler makes his most direct connection between the two characters who represent Africa and America. Both T’Challa and Killmonger know they are descended from royalty (as we all were), yet like the slave, Killmonger’s birthright was snatched away from him, leaving him to ultimately stew in poverty.

In his vision, T’Challa’s father tells him “a man who has not prepared his children for his own death has failed as a father.” That line resonates throughout Killmonger’s vision; he has not been prepared for this death, but his father’s true failure was making a deal with the wrong people. On his spiritual journey, Killmonger is visiting Hell, or at the very least, Limbo, whereas T’Challa is experiencing Heaven. This goes a long way in humanizing Killmonger, making him a very complicated villain worthy of empathy despite his vicious nature.

This brings me to Colonel Abrams’ comment about the film’s violence:

“Don't get me wrong: Coogler and his fight/stunt choreographers and second assistant directors arguably never really break the Marvel mold, but rather impressively build on it. But the one area that they deliver too much of the same ol', same ol'? The fight scenes.”

I don’t agree on this one. Granted, some of the scenes (like the Korean section) have characteristics of other Marvel (and DC) movies, but I could follow the action for a change. Coogler and his editors are nowhere near as good at clearly staging frenetic action as the master of this, George Miller, but their staging is far more coherent and interesting than the standard fare. Many of the battles are on a smaller scale, especially the fights for the throne. Additionally, I liked the way the climactic battle played out, with Coogler hopping from the epic attack on Wakanda to T’Challa and Killmonger fighting for dominance on a literal Underground Railroad.

You as a filmmaker have a better eye for layout and framing than I do, so can you sum up what bugged you about these scenes?

One more thing: Did you see that video of fans meeting Chadwick Boseman? Under normal circumstances, I’d never subject you to Jimmy Fallon’s late night show, but you gotta see this.

One guy bows to Boseman like Vondie Curtis-Hall does to Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. The importance these fans place on Black Panther is ingrained in the movie. That Coogler stages Killmonger’s youth and T’Challa’s outreach in Coogler’s hometown of Oakland speaks volumes about this; in a way, Coogler is aligning the Marvel Universe with the place where he probably played his own versions of the superhero games. He probably couldn’t afford Underoos, either.

Let’s talk about the performances and our favorite scenes. And since you think Coming to America still holds the crown for Blackety Blackest Movie, let’s do a Zamunda/Wakanda comparison! I might be leaning back in this direction, but I’m with you on Wattstax being #2. Convince me, bruva!

Post #4: Boone 

I'm sorry-- I want to get into my technical peeves, but the clip of Chadwick Boseman meeting Black Panther fans just short circuited my critical faculties. That video is what popular movies are all about, leaving people inspired and encouraged to dream. Not feeling left out of visions of the future. All the Coming to America parallels folks you've noted are quite apt: Both are fantasies that link African-Americans and Africans through sheer charm and imagination. Impeccable casting in both cases makes the films fly high above more mundane filmmaking concerns.

Yet all that collective charisma is why I yearned for better, less programmatic editing. (As I wipe tears and collect myself after the Fallon video.)  In the fight scenes, such is at least in line with contemporary hectic-affectless film editing practice. But in the intimate scenes and dramatic turns, such cutting feels like being rushed out of the restaurant while there's still coffee in your cup. T'Challa's return from the void at M'Baku's compound was a thrilling moment, but the filmmakers didn't juice it, build to it with all the patience and grace it deserved. It was just, Okay, Next!

Type "You Are the Pan" into YouTube to see a scene from Steven Spielberg's worst movie, Hook, that nevertheless drinks deep of a pivotal moment. Or even that scene in The Dark Knight Rises where Bruce Wayne finally climbs out of that goddamn prison tunnel thing, with all the goons chanting and Hans Zimmer's score building to a heart attackgasm. That silly shit was granted more room to unfurl than any of the lovely flourishes and grace notes in Black Panther.

Of course, this probably all reads as a typical Old Man Complaint, since, in the Age of Meme, folks are now quite comfortable with experiencing the Cliffs Notes/Last-week-on-Hill-Street-Blues version of screen events. But so long as humans are still capable of appreciating the deeper pleasures of time-based storytelling, there's always an opportunity to relate moments as something more substantial than a screenshot of same. The beautiful thing is, audiences remain so open and willing to engage with what speaks to them in the material that their enthusiasm often bridges the gap. It's like a relationship where the one who's in love does most of the heavy lifting. In this case, Black Panther would have had to be reeally poorly told in order to defeat the excitement the fans had going in. And with Coogler's own Oakland-kid enthusiasm at the helm, that wasn't gonna happen. I just wish the ghost of an African griot (or Sally Menke) had invaded the editing room.

I can't pick out favorite scenes from Black Panther but there are many, many images that stirred the soul. 

I was just out of high school when I saw luminous closeups of Tisha Campbell and Adrienne-Joi Johnson in the movie House Party. That was my first full-on view, on a movie screen, of what the Internet now calls Black Girl Magic. Maybe I'd had glimpses of it on TV, in blaxploitation clips, Josephine Baker or Carmen Jones dance numbers or a Grace Jones music video. But I hadn't seen the crush-inducing everyday black girl glamour I experienced in reality reproduced in a movie theater. Usually black girls were on the margins, bickering or sobbing. Not since House Party have I had as strong a revelatory big screen crush-jolt, not until Danai Gurira's bald, majestic profile in Black Panther. She and the bald Dora Milaje warriors, along with Shuri's (Letitia Wright) and Nakia's (Lupita Nyong'o) natural hair are an answer to hundreds of years of Eurocentric Fair Maiden programming. While it feels a bit harsh when Okoye (Gurira) calls the straight wig she's forced to wear during an undercover mission "a disgrace," the induced shame black women have had for what naturally grows out of their heads is indeed a disgrace, and its time is up.

Of course, we can't forget Gurira's appearance in the wondrous Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George, an Africans-in-America film whose use of skin and fabric color must have been a reference point for Black Panther's night interiors and royal court pageantry. If Coogler ever taps out of the Black Panther franchise, Dosunmu and his cinematographer on George, Bradford Young, have my vote for next at bat.

As for M'Baku's Dog Pound, I'm just waiting for the inevitable supercut of it alongside Arsenio's, Snoop's, She's Gotta Have It's and Baha Men's Dog Pounds.

Anyhow, friends of mine are already calling this film a Black Classic for all time. But where do you place Black Panther in the short long history of Black Fantasy? Or is it silly to draft that history at this early stage? 

Post #5: Odie

Ah yes, House Party! The subject of the first piece I ever wrote for our Black History Mumf series here at Big Media Vandalism. The cinematography in that was by David Lynch’s cin-togger Peter Deming, who made those beautiful ‘round the way gurls glow. He made them look the way my heart felt when I gazed up at them from my theater seat. Rachel Morrison has taken this a major step further: Her lighting of the Dora Milaje conjures up all sorts of emotions, from conflict to joy to excitement to, aw hell, I’ll say it, full on arousal. The way Okoye is lit when she decides to adhere to tradition no matter what the cost is different from the way she’s lit in any of her action sequences. If only Pam Grier had these cin-toggers to highlight the halo around her ‘Fro!

I hear you about wanting more patience within scenes. I didn’t really give it much thought while watching Black Panther, but you do have a point worth considering. It made me think about how much slower movies of our generation (and before) were. For example, I recently watched WarGames, a movie I adore, for the first time in years and was struck by how long it takes to get to its central plot. Director John Badham takes his time letting the viewer get to know the characters, to live with them for a bit before they get in trouble. We had much longer attention spans back then—MTV and Nintendo hadn’t yet started short-circuiting attention spans. Whatever crimes  of pacing Black Panther commits, they are sins that cater to the impatience of today’s audiences.

Hell, I’m willing to congratulate folks who have made it this far reading this conversation. I’ve had people complain that these pieces are too long. My response is “bitch, you don’t have to read it all at once!” So thank you if you've made it this far. I’m tempted to give you a reward!

So here’s a Jungle Fever cookie!

You said:

“I can't pick out favorite scenes from Black Panther but there are many, many images that stirred the soul.”

I agree about the soul-stirring imagery, but I can think of a few scenes I loved. The scene where Okoye removes her wig of oppression and uses it as a weapon in the casino; any scene with Winston Duke; Killmonger’s final scene; the arrival of those kick-ass rhinos in the climactic battle. And lest I forget, the moment we first get a glimpse of the spectacle that is Wakanda.

Seeing Wakanda realized onscreen immediately made me think of the opening credits of Coming to America, when images of the Kingdom of Zamunda were accompanied by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It was the first time I ever wanted to just climb into the screen to live--can somebody give us an IMAX screening of Coming to America? I was too chicken to mention Zamunda in my Black Panther review, so I’m glad Kam Collins mentioned it in his. These are two places that live in Black viewers' hearts, places that evoke such joy and freedom because the Black folks there aren’t worrying about racism in any form (colorism might be another story, but that usually doesn’t get you shot). 

So I gotta ask you where would you rather be? Zamunda or Wakanda?  I’m too old and out of shape to be on Wakanda, so unless I can get a job as one of those rhinos, I’ma have to ask King Joffee to adopt my Black ass and get me some royal bathers.

Come visit me at my new address, y'all!

You asked where Black Panther place on the Black Fantasy and/or Black Classics lists. I’m not sure yet, but I will say it’s perhaps the biggest game-changer we’ve had in Black cinema. But while we’re on the subject of Black Fantasy movies, I saw A Wrinkle In Time at an advanced screening held by the Walter Reade. Disney hyped the hell out of this movie, which I think will hurt it. The reviews have been less than kind (some have been outright racist and hostile), but I really liked it. It’s a kids’ movie, to be sure, but Ava DuVernay cast a strong young Black actress as her lead. Storm Reid is excellent here, and will surely inspire some young girls to get into science. And it has a gigantic Oprah, whom I’m sure will stomp the shit out of Mister’s son, Harpo when she finds him.

There’s a scene in Wrinkle that’s as subversively Black as anything Disney has done (those crows in Dumbo don’t count—those muthafuckas were RACIST). Reid’s character, Meg, is being tempted by an evil force that wants her to succumb to the dark side. The temptation takes the form of Meg being transformed into a more “popular” version of herself. Her naturally kinky hair gets straightened out and her dorky attire is replaced by more revealing clothing. The evil force tells Meg this new look will make her the top dog at school. My jaw dropped. “The Devil is giving out free ULTRAPERMS!” I thought. Meg’s rejection of this image of herself sends the same message Black Panther does: Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud. And I ain’t changing.

I would love to see Bradford Young work with Coogler on a small scale movie, or with Wendell Harris if he ever decides to come out of retirement. Just don’t make it science fiction. Young shot Arrival and that looked like shit! Of course, he got an Oscar nomination for it instead of Selma or Mother of George. Shit, now I’m starting to sound like you!

Did you notice that Stan Lee’s cameo was a huge swipe at his image? At the casino, he takes the winnings won by a Black character in a franchise he helped create. They do all the work and he gets the money. Talk about symbolism!

Enough of me! If you could influence Black Panther 2, which I’m sure Coogler will direct, what would you suggest? And can we live with T’Challa being sent back to supporting character status for Avengers: Infinity War? Wouldn’t it be fucked up if he were just the Sidekick Negro in this?

Take us home, bruva!

Post #6: Boone

In his cameo, I half expected Stan Lee to say something like, "Lemme bet on black this time around"--or whatever folks say when they "always bet on black" ((C) 1992, Wesley Snipes).  And then lose his shirt and start yelling at his black assistant. But that would have slowed the movie down.

Speaking of slowing down (oh brother, Jeezus Crys, Boone, shut up!): I fundamentally, respectfully disagree with the "attention span" defense of modern film editing practice. But lazy editors get away with it cuz it goes down easy and studios/producers don't know the difference between holding an audience's attention vs. superficially averting potential impatience by simply cutting around to shit. And when relatively slow-burn films like No Country For Old Men or Django Unchained or Sicario manage to keep folks engaged, it gets chalked up to some mystical auteur magic rather than the director and editor simply giving the story room to pull us along of its own momentum rather than superficial inducements. We're so many years into this status quo that this is largely my problem, not the world's. 

Mr. Boone, after the aforementioned editing status quo drove him insane

I do agree that old school first acts now tax the patience of even codgers like me! That's where modern screenwriting has actually improved some things. We no longer need to spend a half hour establishing the "norm" that will be uprooted in order to begin Act Two. In Black Panther, we get arguably the most elegant and mesmerizing expository passage in Marvel movie history in that opening flight through Wakandan tribal history. As you say of the film's first landing in Wakanda later in the film, it reminded me of the soothing, soaring approach to Zamunda in Coming to America. Can't front: the first Wakanda approach put a lump in my throat. Metaphorically, it is the "promised land" and the view of it that T'Challa grants Killmonger as he dies is from "the mountaintop."

Where would I rather live? I was with you on voting Zamunda, with its fairytale charm, until I thought about what it must be like for the lower classes there, as opposed to in Wakanda. The regular folk in Wakanda seem to have at least a decent amount of leisure time and disposable income, judging by the occasional cutaway to a Wakandan marketplace. In Zamunda, everything is lovely if you're the prince. But I doubt my broke ass is getting rose petals and Victoria Dillard Executive Cleaning Service (TM) over there.

I guess we are stuck here in America for the time being, bruhman. As long as I can say "we," anyplace is about as good as any other place. That's the Wakanda that we've learned to fold up and take with us, through all our troubles. If we can keep laughing together and dreaming together, we'll be alright.

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