Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther is the Hero We Need (Minimal Spoilers)

I saw Black Panther yesterday and I can't get it out of my head. It's so good!

I'm learning the art of language and story, which I love by the way, but it means that I see the structure of stories more readily than I used to. Most movies I come across I can appreciate or even enjoy, but the whole time I'm picking it apart, vivisecting it to see how it works. That means I rarely love a movie anymore (or a book or a TV show). I think it's a danger of my craft that the better I get at understanding and telling stories the harder it will be for me to get lost in them (and I'm okay with that). But it also means that when something does come along and grab me, pushing aside all the scaffolding of my analytical cynicism, it is a joy to be savored.

Black Panther was that kind of rare joy for me. Here's what I wrote in my journal about it (and it might be the first movie to show up in my journaling, ever):
That movie was amazing, fun sure, but important and powerful. To see a black man celebrated as a kind and just warrior-king unflinchingly juxtaposed with the global and historical oppression and exploitation of Africa and her children by rapacious "colonizers" was sobering yet hopeful. They did not hold back on the evils the hero had to face, and he showed himself, and all people--especially black people--more than up to the challenge of facing down evil and winning. I openly wept at the end when the black boy looked up at T'Challa with admiration and respect. That was me seeing Superman as a kid and spending weeks jumping off the third step of my front porch into the lawn and pretending to fly, like I was him.
This movie isn't for me. It's not about me. And that's what makes it so beautiful to me. That's why I wept. I found that place in me that rang like a bell when Christopher Reeve saved the day. It was the place of hope. And Black Panther gave me a different experience of that same place in me. I felt that bell of hope ringing all around me, in young black boys and girls, men and women.

Black Panther poses a difficult question, as great art often does, and asks people of African descent all around the world: What would you do if your past didn't bear the scars of colonialism and slavery? What would you do if you were suddenly superior to those who presume they are superior to you? What would you do if the power structures of the world were turned upside down?

And the answer that King T'Challa comes up with is, as I said, kind and just. He fights evil, make no mistake about that, but not some moustache-twirling, criminally insane, megalomaniacal cartoon who is evil for the sake of being evil. No, he fights the evil of returning hate for hate. He fights the evil of unjust retribution. He fights the evil of his father's choices bearing fruit in his generation. And he does so with compassion, understanding, and always the offer of mercy.

For me Black Panther went beyond the bones of Blake Snyder and predictable, if entertaining stories that are visually pleasing (I'm looking at you J.J.). It went beyond the muscle and sinew of Robert McKee and the appreciation of the form of a story. It even went beyond Joseph Campbell and resonant archetypes recalling past stories. Black Panther is a modern myth in its own right. A beautifully constructed and formed story, fleshed out with fantastically written and acted characters, covered in the garb of the myths that resonate in all cultures, and given voice through the varied expressions of African culture and its diaspora.

I'm so glad that Black Panther wasn't made for me! 

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