Chadwick Boseman

Black Panther

About three years ago, Marvel announced a solo Black Panther movie. The news was met with enthusiasm, but the energy was largely confined to Marvel fans. Fast forward a couple of years later as buzz builds towards a Black History Month release date, and the masses have been whipped into a collective frenzy – myself included. I said that regardless of my opinion, I would be honest in my review of Black Panther. I told myself that I wouldn’t succumb to groupthink, as I admittedly did in my final grade of Moonlight. I needn’t have worried about that, because Black Panther met every expectation, living up to the hype in a dazzling display of Afro-futurism that left me swelling with pride. And while the film will undoubtedly appeal to a broad cross-section of viewers, there is something uniquely dope about Black Panther that resonates with Black folks particularly.

Chadwick Boseman (Marshall) returns as T’Challa, heir apparent to the throne of Wakanda after the death of his father King T’Chaka. Although the throne would seem T’Challa’s birthright, he still must compete for it, if challenged. In two exhilarating scenes T’Challa competes in tribal battle as inspired Wakandans look on, their shoulders rising and falling rhythmically in ritual witness to the spectacle. Untouched by European imperialism and Western civilization, Wakanda is a thriving bastion of technology due in part to its rich natural supply of Vibranium. Mined from a meteorite that landed thousands of years ago, Vibranium is used for everything from powering transportation to advanced weaponry. In fact, T’Challa’s younger sister Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright, The Commuter) has harnessed its properties brilliantly, unimpeded by Western ideals about traditional female roles.

T’Challa is an empathetic and even-tempered leader. He seems almost reticent to assume the throne, fueled by a sense of responsibility rather than hubris. He has lionized his father his entire life, but as Wakanda confronts new threats, T’Challa must contend with the harsh realization that T’Chaka had moral shortcomings that would prove dire. Enter Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan, Creed), wayward son of Wakanda with questionable origins. He has aligned himself with Wakandan nemesis Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis, Star Wars: The Last Jedi), one of the few outsiders who are aware of Vibranium. Very few people know that Wakanda is a thriving epicenter of technology and innovation; most Westerners think it is a primitive, third world country, and it is that fallacy that has sustained Wakanda’s existence. People cannot colonize or exploit that which they do not know exists. But will T’Challa continue the path of isolationism that has sustained Wakanda until now, or will he step to the forefront of the global stage and reveal its greatness?

Black Panther was larger than life. I could fill page after page with praise for the entire cast, including writer/director Ryan Coogler (Creed), who gave the latest Marvel entrant an added layer of cultural significance while putting his signature Oakland twist on the story. He was my quiet favorite after his debut Fruitvale Station, but after pairing with Michael B. Jordan for a third time, the two are charting a relationship on par with DeNiro or DiCaprio and Scorsese. That may sound like lofty praise right now, but I think we are just scratching the surface. The film’s cultural impact cannot be overstated, and the power of film as a medium cannot be denied.

Marvel fans will enjoy the accurate interpretation of the Black Panther and his origins, while many Black moviegoers will recognize the film as a defining moment in the culture. The beauty, strength and power of African people was on glorious display throughout, and the film’s casting reflected a deliberate representation of beautiful, strong dark-skinned actresses like Lupita N’yongo (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Danai Gurira (All Eyez On Me) – a stark contrast to most mainstream movies. The film hinted at the greatness and untapped potential of the continent, and challenged its viewers with powerful themes that served as metaphors for the current state of our communities. At the risk of turning this review into a dissertation, I’ll conclude my thoughts by saying: Black Panther was flawless, and should be etched in the pantheon of Black cinema as required viewing.

Grade: A

Captain America: Civil War

Marvel is only competing with itself at this point. A favorite at the box office and in fans’ hearts – the comic titan sits alone atop the superhero landscape, and it’s not even close. I personally don’t care for each installment (Thor 2, Avengers: Age of Ultron were rather lackluster), but overall Marvel boasts the most compelling, cool superheroes – both on the small screen (Daredevil, co-starring Punisher and Elektra) and big screen alike. Captain America: Civil War assembles an assortment of our favorite superheroes in a unique way, and for once the plot was not bogged down with confusing, unnecessary details.

The film opens with the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan, The Martian), Captain America’s (Chris Evans, Avengers: Age of Ultron) familiar bestie/nemesis from his last solo film. The Winter Soldier’s brainwashing was neutralized when we last saw him, but he is easily triggered, or ‘activated’ into becoming a killing machine once again after hearing a sequence of certain code words. The movie flashes back to 1991, where we see him executing a mission involving the theft of what appears to be a chemical agent. We also see a brief scene involving a young Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr., Avengers: Age of Ultron) and his parents before their untimely demise, also in 1991.

In the present day, half of the Avengers thwart a plot to steal biological weaponry in Nigeria, resulting in significant but inevitable collateral damage. This has become a disturbing recurring theme with the Avengers and other superheroes, and the U.S. government and other global nations are fed up. The Secretary of State (William Hurt, Race) proposes to Stark that the Avengers and other individuals with special abilities submit to the control and discretion of a United Nations panel which would govern when and where they could execute any life-saving missions, surrendering their autonomy in an effort to avoid unnecessary casualties. Stark particularly feels guilty about his role in the inadvertent killing of a promising young student in Sokovia, so he’s primed to be on board with the Secretary’s demands. Captain America, however, doesn’t want to be hampered in his efforts to execute his patriotic duty and save whomever he can, whenever he can.

The stage is set for a civil war, as Iron Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Spider-Man, and Black Panther agree that the UN should hold sway over them and other superheroes. Diametrically opposed are Captain America, Falcon, Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man. I mentioned Black Panther, who makes his debut here. When the African nation of Wakanda is threatened by an act of war in response to their efforts to curtail the Avengers’ deadly global overreaching, a new superhero is thrown in the mix. Chadwick Boseman (Get on Up) emerges as T’Challa, also known as Black Panther. He swears vengeance on whoever is responsible, aligning himself with Iron Man in pursuit of the Winter Soldier.

The common themes running through Civil War were vengeance, loyalty, and guilt. It was guilt that drove Iron Man to vehemently advocate for what Captain America believed to be a dangerous chilling effect on their collective autonomy and his own very raison d’etre. It was vengeance that fueled Black Panther and Iron Man, in an explosive final act. Finally, it was loyalty that was either doggedly adhered to (Captain America and War Machine) or painfully questioned as new allegiances were formed. We don’t often see this plethora of ‘supes’ in one film, and of course there is just an initial WOW factor as this bomb ass hodgepodge occupies the same space. The humor injected into the dialogue was well timed and not forced. The introduction of new characters like Black Panther and Spider-Man (I’m referring to new actor Tom Holloway as our friendly neighborhood arachnid) was seamless. The storytelling was simple, yet strong. In short, Captain America: Civil War lived up to the hype – and what more could we ask for? Grade: A.


A few days ago I had the pleasure of watching 42, the historical account of Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball in 1947.  Robinson is a central figure in Black History, but he was an American hero whose story can be championed by all.

The movie starts without a single opening credit, with director Brian Helgeland (The Order) providing an account of the historical context of American life in 1947 and by extension, baseball.  Segregation was the law of the land, but Brooklyn Dodger president Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, Cowboys & Aliens) had the progressive inclination to add a Negro player to the team.  Robinson (played by newcomer Chadwick Boseman) possessed a blend of athleticism, youth and pedigree that made him the clear choice over other talented Negro League players, like Satchel Paige.  Although Robinson is a legend, it took a visionary like Rickey to provide the platform for change.

Robinson faced profound and insidious discrimination.  When he stepped up to home plate he was jeered by fans as well as opposing teams.  Opposing pitchers threw at his head, and while playing first base during his first year an opponent intentionally speared him with his cleats.  Throughout this abuse, Robinson maintained his dignity and composure.  One couldn’t even say that a lesser man would have retaliated, because any man would have.  Rickey carefully explained to Robinson that he would never be able to react to the abuse or else the “experiment” would fail.  He bravely served as baseball’s test case to end segregation, enduring ceaseless racism at every turn.

Despite my overwhelmingly positive thoughts about the film, I do have a few minor criticisms.  Harrison Ford’s portrayal of Branch Rickey was very blustery.  He could have pulled back a little bit; but maybe that’s how Rickey really behaved.  If so, I should give him credit.  But if that was Ford’s own interpretation; I found it annoying.  Another minor quibble is that the filmmakers started the movie with a recitation that some may find boring.  I was interested, but it did come across as something you’d see on PBS or some other educational channel.  I do think it was important to set the appropriate historical context for the movie, but it felt like a perfunctory start.

42 balances the ugliness that occasionally marred Robinson’s baseball career with the warmth and purity of the love he shared with his devoted wife Rachel (the talented Nicole Beharie, Shame), a young woman he met while enrolled at UCLA.  Rachel kept Jackie grounded and was a source of peace and solace in an otherwise tumultuous world.  Despite the abuse that Robinson suffered, his time on the diamond was characterized by great triumph as well.  On the most fundamental level, Robinson was an outstanding athlete who wanted to be judged on his merits rather than his skin color.  This simple tenet is the cornerstone of our democracy, but 66 years ago Robinson struggled to receive the most basic allowances that we take for granted now.

Robinson portrayed himself in his own biopic decades ago, but this is the first dramatization to give proper attention and dramatic effect to his story.  Boseman’s big screen debut ostensibly came with lofty expectations, but I think he more than ably captured the humility and quiet strength that Robinson personified.  I think all Americans should see this movie about one of the most transformative figures in our shared history.  Grade: A-