Black Panther Marvel throne tribute

Black Panther: The Game Changer We All Needed

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Even though most of the comic book characters who have lit up the big screen were first created in the 1960s (or earlier), there’s no doubt that their cinematic recreations are reflective of our time. While dozens upon dozens of superhero movies have paraded across the screen, the ones that stick out the most have been the ones that have something to say—about society, about the world we live in, about the challenges facing us now.

For example, the first Spider-Man film came less than a year after 9/11, and felt like a direct response: no other film so captured the zeitgeist of that moment, the rallying together, the desire for union, most notably depicted when the New Yorkers join together to save Spider-Man from the Green Goblin, chanting, “You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!” Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, perfectly captured the sense of a “fall from grace” that happened within the U.S. almost directly afterward, as the “war on terror” began: the rise of patriotism was followed by a devastating fall, with a frail economy, polarization, and constant struggle. While 2002’s Spider-Man was bright and colorful, 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was murky, grey, bittersweet, and showed a Peter Parker nearly collapsing beneath the weight of bills, responsibilities, and unfulfilled dreams. Following this, the year 2008 brought us both The Dark Knight and Iron Man, two films that critically tackled the evolving views on the “war on terror.” The Avengers followed suit, re-approaching 9/11 about as directly as a superhero film possibly can (New York is devastated by an attack from the sky, people rally together against it). The Avengers put down the groundwork for the anti-corruption themes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  Last year brought us Wonder Woman, the feminist superhero movie that the world was waiting for, and also brought us Thor: Ragnarok, which mixed slapstick humor with a  biting satirical critique of colonialism. Then there’s the obvious political allegories of the X-Men films: these concepts were at their most potent in Logan, which portrays a Trumpian dystopia where mutant immigrants from Mexico flee to Canada for freedom, while the U.S. is mired in recession, automation, and corporate bureaucracy.

While most superhero movies are popular, the films listed above resonate because of how they tap into cultural fears, hopes, and dreams. As of February 16, 2018, a new film needs to be added to that list: Black Panther.

Black Panther mask Marvel

Black Panther is the sort of film that, for decades, Hollywood producers claimed would never work. It stars a black protagonist, shown as wise, commanding and noble, but also possessing human flaws like impatience, anger, and self-doubt. The director, Ryan Coogler, is black, and almost all of the supporting cast are also black. It’s set in Africa. Rather than showing the characters an an oppressed minority, it instead shows them as powerful figures, coming from a technologically advanced society that stands head and shoulders above “western” society in every way. There are no damsels in distress: most of the supporting characters are powerful women, such as Okoye and Shuri. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie is even titled “Black Panther.”

The film that Hollywood thought would “never work” is now on track to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, proving wrong everyone who ever doubted it. Contrary to all of its doubters, it seems like Black Panther is the movie people were waiting for.

Black Panther hasn’t even been out a month, but it’s already been the topic of numerous fascinating think pieces, analyzing T’Challa’s place in history. Marvel Studios head honcho Kevin Feige believes it’s the best movie they’ve ever made. Issac Bailey, writing for CNN, proclaimed that “Black Panther is for film what Barack Obama was for the presidency.” It’s been said by many that Black Panther is becoming a movement, not just a movie.


Here’s another thing: Black Panther might turn out to be the superhero movie of this era.

In recent years, the efforts of groups like Black Lives Matter have helped bring the topic of racial inequality roaring back into the headlines, forcing everyone to stand up and take notice of the widespread structural racism that still exists in the United States today. The U.S. has a particularly strange duality at play, when it comes to this matter: we’re living in an era where a black man become president of the United States, but we’re also living in an era where he was immediately followed by a white person with a sordid history of racist actions and proclamations. “Jim Crow” is a thing of the past, but systemic racism and mass incarceration are so deeply embedded into the country’s institutions (with even former slave plantations converted into prisons) that the situation has been called “the new Jim Crow.”

Obviously, as a country, and as a world, we have a lot of work to do to further the cause of true equality. But that’s the easier part to accept and realize. What’s equally critical—and what Black Panther taps into—is that society also needs to also reexamine our history, to challenge all rose-tinted views of the past, if we hope to rise into a better future.

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In the film, this aspect is symbolized by the villain, Killmonger—a character whose relatable background evokes empathy from the audience, even if his means and end goal are destructive.  In his introductory scene, Killmonger speaks toward the history of black oppression… which is, in turn, the history of the contemporary world. As written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, the journalist for the Atlantic who has also written Marvel’s Black Panther comic book:

“The early American economy was built on slave labor. The Capitol and the White House were built by slaves. President James K. Polk traded slaves from the Oval Office. The laments about “black pathology,” the criticism of black family structures by pundits and intellectuals, ring hollow in a country whose existence was predicated on the torture of black fathers, on the rape of black mothers, on the sale of black children. An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.”

The great lie of colonial history, whether it’s British colonialism or the birth of the United States, is the default presumption of virtue, the idea that everything was built fairly. Are there certain things to admire about the United States? Yes, absolutely: democracy, republicanism, the push for greater freedom, the dream of giving every person the opportunity for life and liberty. That’s what the U.S. got right (ideologically, if not in practice), and those dreams are what American citizens should feel patriotic about — but as a culture, we also have to recognize that even while the founders were pushing for these virtuous goals, the U.S. left behind women, minorities, anyone who wasn’t a European-descended male, with policies that particularly harmed both Africans and the native North American tribes, whom the very land was stolen from.

(For the record, I do think patriotism is valuable. However, jingoistic chants of “America is great,” or “get out of the country if you don’t like it” aren’t true patriotism. Just like honestly loving a person requires that you understand their flaws, I believe that true patriotism requires acknowledging the evil actions that U.S. culture and the U.S. government have perpetrated upon countless other cultures in the past, and accepting that if we truly believe in the ideals of the United States, we need to address, repair, and make reparations for the harsh reality of these past actions.)

Now, Black Panther isn’t introducing these concepts for the first time, but what’s significant is that the film is a multi-billion dollar studio tentpole, a major film that people all over the world will see, think about, and recommend. It’s tapping into a deep vein that many people out there might have never considered. Black Panther is huge, and it’s getting bigger. That’s what makes it a game changer.


Dora Milaje Black Panther Wakanda Warriors Marvel

Black Panther poses the notion of an African nation, Wakanda, which was never colonized. And then, contrary to every prejudiced assumption on the books, Marvel depicts this uncolonized nation as NOT being a “primitive,” culturally backward, starving country: instead, Wakanda’s separation from the colonial world has made it BETTER than every other place on the planet. It’s a nation that was able to hold onto its old traditions, while also embracing the most advanced technology on the planet, and even developing more equal social norms (particularly when it comes to women) than most “first world” nations today.

This cuts right to the heart of the “manifest destiny” myth, repudiating it. But Black Panther doesn’t stop there and rest on its laurels. Once the movie has shown how amazing Wakanda is, it then uses the character of Killmonger to challenge the nation’s isolationism, further widening the film’s scope. Killmonger believes that Wakanda is responsible for the suffering of people around the world, because of its closed borders.

And here’s the rub: the villain is right, on some level. Sure, Killmonger’s end goal is wrong, as proliferating high-tech weapons around the world is never good for anyone, but the essence of his beliefs—that the great nation’s isolationism makes it guilty for the wrongs that happen across the world—is accurate, and over the course of the film, T’challa comes around to this point of view.



The final battle between T’Challa and Killmonger depicts both characters calling out one another’s hypocrisies. Killmonger tells T’Challa that by hiding in the shadows for centuries, Wakanda is complicit in the wrongdoings perpetrated over the course of history. T’Challa finally agrees with this, but argues—also correctly—that Killmonger’s desire for violent supremacy has made him into everything he hates.

As a film, and as a story, the depth of this conclusion is fantastic. T’Challa “wins” against Killmonger’s violence, but Killmonger also “wins” the battle of ideologies, convincing the hero of what he (or rather, his nation) has been doing wrong.

By the end, T’Challa learns from the mistakes of his father, and knows that Wakanda can no longer remain distant from the concerns of the world. Now, he must get involved. This is most explicitly stated by T’Challa himself in the film’s mid-credit sequence, set in the United Nations, which is easily one of the most political scenes in any Marvel movie to date:


“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Black Panther Marvel throne tribute

And so, T’Challa opens his nation to the world, brings Wakanda’s knowledge to those who need it, and offers help and guidance to everyone else who is struggling. He doesn’t do this naively. After Killmonger’s attack, he knows the risks. Opening Wakanda up to the world means the possibility of invasions, theft… you know, all the stuff that a Black Panther sequel will probably deal with.

But in an increasingly globalized world, isolationism is not only wrong, but also dated and ineffective. Just as our real world is now menaced by threats beyond our easy comprehension—I.E., climate change, nuclear weapons, overpopulation, et cetera—the Earth of the Marvel Universe is now menaced by alien invasions, Infinity Stones, and lots of cosmic craziness that could wipe it off the map. If the Earth wants to survive, all of its nations must come together.

To summarize, I have to acknowledge that as a white male, I can’t speak on behalf of other cultures, or what this movie might mean to other people from different backgrounds: I can only offer a series of assumptions, from my own privileged position. However, I don’t want to close this essay on my thoughts, because when it comes to Black Panther, there are other voices that are more important than mine. The film definitely moved me, but I’m not the audience whom it will have the biggest impact on.

That audience, the one that matters the most here, are the black youth of today, and they deserve to be heard.  Writing for the New York Times, Kevin Nobel Maillard invited a group of seventh graders to a Black Panther showing, and recorded their responses. Here are a few:

“The film makes me want to start my own tribe and make my own inventions to help the world. It also makes me want to make my own Panther outfit.” – Gabriela Myles

“To see a black person control a whole country and creating all this technology made me feel I can do more with my brain.” – Jaheim Hedge

Black Panther will show people of the world how much more people of color can do.” – Scottia Coy


Who will be the next Spider-Man villain?


All right, so now that we know a new Spider-Man movie is coming out, who’s going to be the bad guy?

Some backstory: just two weeks ago, the internet cracked in half with the recent (and rather explosive) announcement that Spider-Man is going to be entering the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The idea that Sony would ever make a deal with Marvel seemed like a fairytale, but now the pieces have been set and Marvel’s Spider-Man is set to come out in just a few years.

For anyone unclear on what this means, it comes down to this: Spider-Man is now going to enter the same world as the now-iconic Avengers characters, meaning we’re going to see him interact with Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man, Chris Evan’s Captain America, and so on.  With that in mind, it seems like a sure bet that he’ll probably be joining the team by the time Avengers: Infinity War rolls around.

However, that’s all some ways off. For now, we’ll concentrate on Spidey’s first MCU solo outing, and try to make a guess at who the villain will be. Let’s survey our options:


1: A prior villain

So, let’s see. Out of our bank of previously-used villains, we have multiple Green Goblins, Doctor Octopus, Venom, Sandman, the Lizard, Electro and the Rhino. These are some of Spider-Man’s most well known, most interesting enemies, but…

They’ve all been on screen before – and we’ve seen Goblins up there three times already. Since Marvel is rebooting Spider-Man a third time, it seems unlikely that they’d use a villain that the audience is so familiar with, and thus draw more comparisons to the prior two continuities. I could be wrong, but I predict that we’ll be seeing something new this time around.


2: The Vulture

Why the Vulture? Well, primarily because the Vulture has come so close to getting into a Spidey movie, so many times, that he seems like one of the more obvious choices. Sam Raimi wanted the Vulture in Spider-Man 3, then wanted him in Spider-Man 4 and his flight harness was teased in Amazing Spider-Man 2.

In the comics, the Vulture was Spider-Man’s first supervillain, and he’s continued to menace the wall crawler ever since. Though often underrated and/or misused, I think that the Vulture would be best approached by emulating J.M. DeMatties Funeral Arrangements storyline, wherein the character is diagnosed with terminal cancer and sets out on a suicide mission to take down everyone who he blames for turning him into the embittered, caustic criminal that he is today.


3. Scorpion

For my money, I’d bet that this guy is near the top of their list, if not at the top.

Mac Gargan was the original anti-Spider-Man, created entirely for the purpose of killing the webhead, and there’s a lot of room to play around with his origin while not losing the key elements: Margan is a down-on-his-luck private investigator, he’s transformed into the anti-Spidey, and then he flips out.

Once the basic parameters are set, there’s a lot of potential to flesh out Gargan’s backstory. Though Scorpion has often been the victim of poor writing and lazy character development, the character himself has enormous potential to be one of the MCU’s most memorable villains.  Scorpion would also present an opportunity to show the public’s uncertainty regarding Spider-Man, if they stick with the general idea that Scorpion’s creation is bankrolled by a public figure (it doesn’t necessarily have to be J.J., I don’t think).


3. Mysterio

This character has already been rumored, which isn’t too surprising; he’s unique, visually distinctive, and he’s one of the Stan Lee classics. Mysterio, as the so-called master of illusions, offers a lot of special effects opportunities that would make for a very different – and unpredictable – Spider-Man film.

On film, Mysterio could be played similarly to a sort of less-horrific Freddy Krueger, constantly warping reality in bizarre and unsettling ways.


4. Morlun

Though Morlun is one of the more recent Spider-Man villains to hit the scene, having first appeared in 2001, he’s also one of the most cinematic.

A sort of immortal, vampiric supernatural force, Morlun is driven to feed off of the powerful energies produced by so-called totems – beings that have bridged the gap between man and beast, such as our poor part-arachnid protagonist. Though Spider-Man and Morlun have only fought a few times, each encounter has left massive devastation in its wake.

In a Spider-Man movie, Morlun would present a threat unlike any that we’ve yet seen: an unstoppable, seemingly godly force that is driven to destroy Spider-Man at all costs. It would give the filmmakers an opportunity to really demonstrate Spider-Man’s fierce strength of will, his endless perseverance against a force more powerful than he is, and his determination to do the right thing at all costs. Such a film could capture the same spark that made Roger Stern’s classic two-parter, Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut!, such a classic. Spidey is always at his best when he’s the underdog, part of why Spider-Man 2 is still the benchmark when it comes to Spider-Man movies.

It would probably be better to leave out the deterministic aspects of Morlun’s original storyline, and how it relates to Spidey’s origin; the spider bite that gives Peter his powers should remain an accident, not an act of destiny.  But what matters, really, is the idea of Morlun himself, and that Peter will have to put in everything he’s got if he wants to take Morlun down.


5. Jackal

Great character, but it’s not going to happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if we someday do see an adaptation of the infamous Clone Saga, in one form or another, but certainly not for Spider-Man’s reintroduction.

Sure, there’s a lot more to Miles Warren than the Clone Saga, but it’s his defining storyline. The second his name gets mentioned, it’s what people are going to expect.


6. Carnage

Also unlikely. Carnage, AKA the symbiotic alter ego of serial killer Cletus Kasady, has always been a character that spins off of Venom, and it would be rather strange to do Carnage before the Venom symbiote has even appeared.

That said, Carnage is another character oozing with cinematic potential. Kasady’s chaotic, anarchic philosophies are diametrically opposed to Peter Parker’s utmost focus on responsibility.  And—similarly to Morlun—using Carnage as  villain would also present an opportunity to show Peter overcoming a force far more powerful than he is.


6. Kingpin

Just a month ago, this would have been impossible, since Marvel has the rights to the Kingpin, and Sony has the rights to Spider-Man. Now, it’s a hot topic of conversation, especially since Kingpin is set to be introduced in the upcoming (and fantastic looking!) Daredevil Netflix series.

That said, while I wouldn’t be surprised if we do someday see Spidey and the Kingpin intersect, I wouldn’t count on it happening in this movie. Kingpin is more important to the Daredevil mythos than he is to Spider-Man, and I’d imagine that Marvel will want to keep all of his big character defining moments in the Netflix series…at least for a while.


7. Kraven the Hunter

One of the all-time greats, largely due to J.M. DeMatteis’ dark storyline, Kraven’s Last Hunt, wherein the hunter buries Spider-Man alive and assumes his identity. If Kraven is chosen, then Last Hunt is the story to adapt. It’s the story that brought Kraven from the B-list to the A-list.  Though not especially visually engaging, Kraven could present a more cerebral sort of enemy, incredibly different from any that we’ve seen so far.

Other possibilities:

Hobgoblin? What, before the Green Goblin?  Nah.

Hydro-Man? Wouldn’t count on it.

But on the other hand, there are many more options out there. Tombstone, for one. Shocker. Chameleon. Shriek. Mendel Stromm. Carrion. Smythe and the Spider-Slayers. Cardiac. Black Cat. Spider-Man has so many villains that the possibilities really are endless. Maybe they could even bring in the so-called Legion of Losers, comprised of such terrifying foes as the Spot, Gibbon, Grizzly and the Kangaroo…


Or maybe not.

In any case, the news is fresh and we still have a long way to go before any real news leaks. So in the meantime, we’ll just have to keep on theorizing.