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"Black Panther," reviewed




In "Black Panther" an outsider -- but one who has a legitimate claim on the throne -- takes over rule of Wakanda and immediately makes massive changes to the accustomed way of doing things. Some staff are shocked, but many come to find his gutsy moves legitimate and willingly execute his new philosophy. The plot, that is, bears some similarity to the like of "Spotlight," where an outsider -- in that movie, a bachelor Jew who doesn't like baseball -- helms the Boston Globe, and immediately purses a gutsy course always open to the Globe but which heretofore the Globe never pursued for it being outside their inclinations, and where the staff are at first shocked, but very quickly find themselves invigorated by intrusion of an authority that would prompt them to do something that might well alienate many readers but is a deeper source of good.

I bring this up because this sense of joy, of release, that one experiences as soon as we see the changes the new editor of the Globe, Marty Baron, will bring, one experiences in this movie when the outsider, Marty Killmonger, takes over as well, but it proves something the movie is hoping to persuade us to disown. Before Killmonger takes over, what I and perhaps other movie watchers felt in slightly identifying with the current king's situation, the ostensible sweet-spot of whom anyone would want to be, was a profound sense of being trapped, but denied any cause to claim your uneasiness justified. His wife-to-be is ideal. His father is ideal. His mother is ideal. His general is ideal. His kid sister is ideal. His kingdom is ideal. Everything is up-to-date according to the current preferences, so his wife-to-be is athletic, self-determined. His general is a woman, and martial beyond belief. His father is kind, as well as manly, but ostensibly allows room for the son to establish his own course by proving slightly retrograde. His kid sister is a scientific genius, cute... but also not seeming to be limited to that the rest of her life: she'll grow into a woman too. The kingdom is listed in the dictionary under "Utopia: be warned: don't change or adjust any single thing!" Everywhere the Black Panther, T'Challa, twists, he meets a perfect type. There is no one here to make adjustments to. He'll only ever play along. His whole existential existence will be one long slog of tipping-the-hat; one whole overlong episode of "the Love Boat": commercialized perfection, not to be tweaked.

Killmonger takes the throne and makes adjustments we can't help but be thrilled by, not because we're sadists who desire him to his execute his plan to wage war on the whole rest of the planet, but because we've seen what had parked in his spot before and found it stifling. Yes please, make a bonfire of the ancient vegetables that no one was allowed to touch. Yes please, take the resources Wakanda has always had and actually allow us to imagine a different course of action as a distinct possibility. Let everything be examined in depth, and if it's rejected it's not owing to some authority we dare not balk directing us along to any other path but this. Remove all the "do not go" signs. And yes please, when some of the staff are rattled at your really understanding the powers you have as king and your actually being ready to make use of them, challenge them on their depth of loyalty to the kingdom: if you're not for the powers allotted to me, then what you were for was conservative application, not the kingdom.

Basically what the movie does is takes what was heroic in "Spotlight" and make it mostly evil in "Black Panther." If the same spirit was put to work in "Spotlight," the focus would have been on the spiritual destruction, the crippling psychic disarray, of millions of good Catholics, by the weaponized use of truth by the Globe. The previous editors of the Globe, the ones who suppressed the weapons they had in their arsenal -- they'd long had the documents necessary to go after the Boston Archdiocese -- to do anything substantial against the Church, would have been called in to lament: "look at what you did... your truth was right, but was this really the course of justice? Or was it just your being a pissed-off non-Catholic, driven to revenge against the Church, and thereby relieving a few but effectively decimating the multitude?"
Killmonger is the course of genuine self-activation, the wildness, not elsewhere in the movie. But maybe in a sense we don't want to long be associated with him either. For he's also like Rose McGowan, someone who not only was denied, who was abused, but who never stops presenting us with the fact of what abuse actually does to the psyche. And as the online magazine Outline has reminded us, these types are exactly those we sense culture is -- that WE are -- trying to excise out, for we can't only appreciate them, and in fact are drawn to get angry at them for making us feel compelled to associate with them, because they're no longer mainstream: they are not people who twitter normally, facebook normally, participate in commercial culture normally, but those who are a persistent angry, disruptive face to all that... and we just aren't prepared to go that far, probably because we're using our collective support of the everyday to stop us from being forced to acquaint ourselves with exactly the sort of rage and hurt that the McGowans and Noami Wolfs scare us by drawing us in to feel.

So we co-operate with the film as it brings in what we must feel is a commercialized substitute for the real thing. We pretend that the gigantic cave-dwelling M'Baku is an alternative source of Killmonger's own "useful rebuttal" to the throne, an alternative dissent, pretend enlightenment, and welcome Killmonger being dispatched off: the Black Panther doesn't seem anywhere near as interested in using science to save him as he was in saving Everett Ross, and we would have been okay welcoming any reason Killmonger came up to desist in agreeing to medical rescue, even if it wasn't so apropos as the "slaves welcoming death rather than servitude" he ended up using.

Speaking of slavery, no one in Kawanda has ever known it. They're "Olympians"; ever-pure. I couldn't help when watching this film to feel this as so desirable that identifying oneself as a victim of slavery, as a victim of colonizers, was something of a false move, for it alienates you from the Utopian state of the Kawandians: you're broken for doing so; corrupted; diseased. Doing so, you look to be making the traditional means of showing support for Black people, but you're actually digging a hole for oneself that others will happily let you continue doing, for it helps distinguish you from they. Kawanda is the wellbeing, the mindfulness, the Hygge, the "care for the soul," opposing the dialogue of trauma incidences, of #MeToo, of 99 vs. 1 percent, in our culture. One movement is drawing you to think of your spiritually pure state, the other a prompt to learning that your doing so may be your way of distancing yourself from the actual damage very much still living in you.

It is very significant that the Vibranium asteroid landed in Kawanda way before Westerners colonized/raped Africa. If it had been revealed to have actually landed circa eighteen hundred but that this memory had been scrubbed, the movie would have confronted us with the situation that confronted Rey in "the Last Jedi": "your ancestors were actually poor and enslaved; the lineage of princelings and princesses in your past, was a fabrication... can you find way to be okay with that? If no, then what does this say about your real intentions towards anyone who blatantly reminds you of something you cannot under any circumstance find yourself associated with, the weak, the mentally disturbed, the previously enslaved?"

It's also significant that Vibranium was allowed to be sufficient in and of itself for producing the great kingdom of Kawanda. The movie doesn't allow the hypothetical situation of it also dispersing into other parts of the globe, perhaps some actually into South America -- the out-of-luck, denied-the-best-first-round-pick-in-a-generation, of this movie -- but that what special about Kawanda is that it consisted of people who knew what they could make of it, and promptly did so. It should seem strange to us, that is, that the movie is so comfortable saying that it was the luck of resources that enabled their civilization, for it's never something associated with, say, Western civilization, which in fact we normally associated as something mostly denied resources and so, ostensibly, the whole reason for colonizing. Why would it seem something so right to present yourself as simply passive to fortune? You're special, not for anything you did that others couldn't have done, but because of proximity to a grand mystical rock? It's like as if proximity to a supply of ample oil fields, somehow by itself makes your special... something I used to feel as an Albertan, but which is ridiculous. What are "we" projecting into the Vibranium so "we" feel good, not in even in believing it chose "us," but just by being the closest people to it, something that would somehow have been worked against if its greatness was only ever something "we" identified as from the start, easily readily matched or bettered by "our" own?

The last thing I'll note is that the Black Panther is not distinguished here, as he was in his first appearance in films -- "Captain America: Civil War" -- as feline. He doesn't scratch people here, whereas in "Civil War" there's cat scratches into everyone and everything. The emphasis here is not on the minuscule claws on his hands, but on the grand talons around his neck, which are large enough to store whole compressed suits. His threat isn't his scratching, but his stabbing, his goring. Significance?: the movie is averse to the delicate, is my guess. One senses this also in the portrayal of Everett Ross, who is characterized by nothing more in this film than by his being a bit too refined for the necessities of the situations he finds himself in, though he survives by his discretion, and by being open to what others would have him be in this film, which is essentially someone useless who could be readily edited out without a difference being made if some disgruntled "king" was ever in mood to do so, making it the first instance on record where fans feel inclined to edit out a middle-aged white man as the Jar Jar Binks spoiling a movie.


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