Six Reasons Black Panther Deserves a Standing Ovation
Included with its killer soundtrack, mind blowing costumes, and breathtaking scenery, Marvel’s Black Panther also has the timeless superhero vs. villain story interwoven with themes of mercy, redemption, honor, unity, and the dignity of human life. If you haven’t seen it yet, this article does contain minimal spoilers, but you’ll enjoy seeing the film even if you have a heads up on some of the glorious nuggets that make it one of the best (if not the best) Marvel film made to date.
What makes it so good? Here are some reasons
Themes of Honor and Mercy
The theme of mercy shows itself in the opening scene when prince T’Challa and his ex-girlfriend spare a young boy who’s helping traffic women. This theme is continued when T’Challa spares a rival tribe who challenges him in ritual combat. T’Challa tells his challenger, “You fought with honor. There is no need for you to die.” This act of mercy is repaid later when the challenger saves T’Challa life. By then, the rival tribe has learned a thing or two about honor and mercy from T’Challa.
T’Challa’s sense of honor and respect for tradition is hard to question. He embraces his role as king and only doubts his own readiness because it means he will have to live without his father. There is no “I just can’t wait to be king,” on this panther’s lips. But he doesn’t shy away from his responsibility, either.
Throughout the film, there is a consistent pattern of honor trumping a persons’ feelings or preferences. An honorable royal guard seeks to overthrow an evil king, only when the king shows himself to be without honor. Until then, the guard is loyal to him out of honor. This pattern of a higher law than human desires is a law that ultimately honors the dignity of human life.
The Dignity of Human Life
Even the bad guys want a good thing. They want to see their people treated with justice. The battle between good and evil is a battle over the means to an end. There is also a battle over who should be treated with human dignity. T’Challa tells Erik Killmonger, the hate-filled villain, that his hatred has turned him into the exact thing he hates. While he seeks to oppress those who have oppressed his people, he has become like the oppressors. This, T’Challa says, is not the way.
A Complicated, Relatable Villain
Marvel has always had complicated characters, some with sordid pasts. But the main villains are so villainous they are ultimately unbelievable. The villain in Black Panther has a good reason to be angry at T’Challa’s father—and at the nation of Wakanda in general. His mission isn’t just revenge; it’s an attempt to right a wrong that was actually truly wrong. That his heart is blackened with hatred and that his desire for justice is tragically twisted only prompts our own hearts to cry, “This is not the way it’s supposed to be.” And it’s not. Which makes this villain all the more relatable.
Clear Message Free of an Aggressive Agenda
Every story has a message. But to write a story without an agenda is extremely difficult, especially when the film deals with some pretty heavy topics that are so close to home for our modern times. There were many nods to the racial injustices of our current culture and also nods to past racial injustices. One such nod was Erik’s father’s outcry that, “[our people] are over policed and mass incarcerated.” This he puts forward as his reason for stealing and selling Wakanda’s weapons illegally. T’Challa’s sister jokingly calls a white man “Colonizer” and Erik asks to be buried in the sea with his ancestors, “who believed it was better to die than to live in bondage.” There are also nods to immigration policy. In a speech to the UN, T’Challa says, “In chaos, the wise build bridges but the foolish build barriers.” T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend challenges T’Challa to open Wakanda’s boarders to refugees and provide aid to poor countries.
Most of the comments are presented as asides. The movie doesn’t dwell on it. It nods, then moves on to the next fight scene.
Repentance for National Sin
T’Challa’s respect for tradition does not prevent him from acknowledging the past sins of Wakanda. He says of Erik, “A monster of our own making sits on the throne.” He openly repents of the wrongs done to Erik and seeks to take his nation in a different direction. Erik may have been tragically misguided, but that doesn’t keep T’Challa from seeing truth in his words.
Women and Men Working Together Towards a Common Goal
I don’t remember the last time I saw mutual respect and encouragement between genders portrayed in such a positive light. Men and women clearly need one another and work towards a common goal. While there is a clear male lead, there is not a sole, male decision-maker. Both men and women made mistakes. Both men and women honored tradition and fought for their country. Both men and women made pivotal decisions that propelled the story forward.
While T’Challa pursued his ex-girlfriend, he also clearly respected her and did not ask her to change for him. The reason for their separation in the first place had to do with national policy and even though they loved one another, they did not end up together until their core values became more aligned. Again, honor and values superseded personal preferences.
“You’re a good man. It is hard for a good man to be king.” This is the ancestral charge of T’Challa’s dead father, who sees the difficulty of ruling when you have a conscience. T’Challa’s struggle is a struggle to do the right thing for his country. That struggle is complicated further when people he trusts have different ideas about what is right for Wakanda. In the end, it’s honor and the preservation of human dignity that wins out over personal agendas, and the desire for the best for Wakanda is the uniting force between the king and his people.
These are brief highlights of the reasons I give Black Panther a standing ovation. It’s the reason I saw it twice in the same weekend and have encouraged everyone I know to see it—just so I have more people to sing its praises with. This is good story-telling. Go see it, and let me know what you think.