Information about Black Panther was characteristically guarded leading up to its release. But the movie’s out now, and we have learned a whole lot while simultaneously having our minds blown. Behind-the-scenes glimpses at Black Panther have been particularly illuminating, as the creators have discussed in great detail their process for the development of the film. Their strong focus on culture, for example, makes the portrait of Wakanda even more vivid than what we saw in the picture.
Of course, the nerds among us wanted to find out how true the characters of the film would be to their comic book origins; mercifully, we now know. The Black Panther himself (played by Chadwick Boseman) has a long, rich history that is a long time coming to the big screen, but his appearance in Captain America: Civil War was just a taste – his first solo outing is one hell of a meal.
This seminal movie proved its desert as one of the most anticipated movies of 2018. Here’s everything to know about Black Panther. There are spoilers the size of Killmonger’s ego ahead.
In early April 2018, Black Panther hit a huge benchmark: it knocked Titanic out of its spot as the third-highest grossing film of all time(unadjusted for inflation). Black Panther earned more than $665 million at the domestic box office, which pushed Titanic and its $659 million gross into fourth place. As of April 2018, Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($937 million) and Avatar ($760 million) were still sitting pretty at #1 and #2, respectively.
Not only was Black Panther voted 2018's most anticipated comic book character to come to the big screen, but it was the second most anticipated movie period, behind Avengers: Infinity War, according to Fandango. In a normal year, Black Panther would likely be seated securely at the top of this list, but the biggest MCU crossover yet has understandably moved T'Challa down a spot. To be clear, this isn't a list of the most anticipated comic book movies; it's all movies in 2018. Third on the list is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. That's how excited people are about Black Panther.
There are nine comic book movies slated to grace the big screen in 2018, many of which showcase new characters or at least returning characters in their first standalone feature. A Fandango poll shows that above all others, T'Challa, King of Wakanda, was voted the single most anticipated comic book character in this category, with Jason Momoa’s Aquaman, Tom Hardy’s Venom, Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey/Phoenix, and Evangeline Lilly’s The Wasp filling out the top five, respectively.
Working with Anthony Tiffith, founder of Top Dawg Entertainment, Kendrick Lamar produced an album for the film, with tracks that are in the movie and others that are inspired by it. The most recognizable is probably "All the Stars," the first single to drop featuring Lamar and SZA. The song reflects the technological advancement of Wakanda as well as T'Challa's personal journey in his trying ascension to the throne. It's a new approach for the MCU that has either relied on classic rock, most notably in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and Thor: Ragnarok, or somewhat innocuous scores.
"When they call you and say, 'So you want to play Black Panther?' if you know what Black Panther is, there's no way in the world you're going to say no because there's a lot of opportunity for magic to happen,"
Chadwick Boseman said in an interview with CNET. Boseman believes this is the time for Black Panther, that "the world is right, the world is able to receive [it]."
"It's just this tremendous opportunity, not just for me but for all of us really to get out of our boxes. It's not just black people getting out of their boxes. Everybody is excited about the opportunity to do something that we should have already done. People are excited about seeing new stuff, but I think they're extra excited about seeing stuff they should have seen already."
Boseman was adamant that his character would not speak with "colonialism tainting" his accent, as he explained that white colonialism has so deeply and thoroughly affected the way society views people of African descent:
"People think about how race has affected the world. It’s not just in the States. Colonialism is the cousin of slavery. Colonialism in Africa would have it that, in order to be a ruler, his education comes from Europe. I wanted to be completely sure that we didn’t convey that idea because that would be counter to everything that Wakanda is about. It’s supposed to be the most technologically advanced nation on the planet. If it’s supposed to not have been conquered — which means that advancement has happened without colonialism tainting it, poisoning the well of it, without stopping it or disrupting it — then there’s no way he would speak with a European accent.
If I did that, I would be conveying a white supremacist idea of what being educated is and what being royal or presidential is. Because it’s not just about him running around fighting. He’s the ruler of a nation. And if he’s the ruler of a nation, he has to speak to his people. He has to galvanize his people. And there’s no way I could speak to my people, who have never been conquered by Europeans, with a European voice."
Letitia Wright plays T'Challa's sister Princess Shuri. Boseman describes her as a much more capable scientist than his own character:
"If anyone doesn't think there's a place for women in tech, it's completely demolished in this movie. [Shuri's] role is the most important. In the comic book, T'Challa is a scientist and a king, but my sister is the whiz kid. She is the one with that gift. She's the Tony Stark of Wakanda. She's witty, she's cool, she's funny. Now, T'Challa is good in science too, but she's the whiz. That's the way the story's been told forever. T'Challa is technologically sound. He's a scientist as well, but she's the minister of technology."
Kyle Buchanan of Vulture was one of the lucky few to view some early Black Panther footage in Spring of 2017. Presented by the co-president of Marvel Studios, Louis D'Esposito, the journalists present that day were given a lot of insight into the development of the film. It turns out director Ryan Coogler was initially apprehensive about taking the job, fearing he would be given enough creative freedom. According to Vulture,
"Coogler was wooed for months by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige before he accepted the Black Panther directing gig; in part... because Coogler wanted to be sure he could put his own personal stamp on the film. Many of the Marvel movies are shot, composed, and edited by the same in-house people, but Coogler wanted to bring over several of his own trusted collaborators, including co-writer Joe Robert Cole, composer Ludwig Göransson, and cinematographer Rachel Morrison."
Black Panther represents a lot of firsts for the MCU, least of which is the fact that Rachel Morrison is the first female cinematographer on any of the installments. Morrison previously worked with Ryan Coogler on 2013's Fruitvale Station, among other projects.
Speaking with Collider, Morrison addressed the criticism of visual "flatness" in MCU films, saying,
"If there’s anything consistent about my work, it’s not flat. The criticism of Marvel movies whether it’s in the cinematography or in the Digital Intermediate is that sometimes sort of lack contrast and saturation. That certainly isn’t true of my work from the outset, so hopefully the look we’re presenting will hold through to the end."
Ruth E. Carter has garnered two Oscar nominations for Best Costume Design for her work on Malcolm X and Amistad, so her presence on Black Panther is certainly felt. Buchanan of Vulture said,
"Whether T’Challa is spending his downtime in a dashiki or the Dora Milaje are marching in warrior suits of rich brown and gold, Carter has found a remarkable way to merge centuries of African culture with the particulars of superhero pop."
It's that attention to detail, as well as attention to culture that truly marks the unique visuals in Black Panther.
Hannah Beachler had previously worked with Ryan Coogler on Fruitvale Station and Creed; the dynamic duo lived up to their reputations with Black Panther. Beachler is also known for her stellar production design work on Beyonce's visual album Lemonade as well as the Oscar-winning film Moonlight. Beachler and Coogler wanted to build the fictional world of Wakanda out of the rich and diverse cultural tapestry that composes the continent of Africa instead of relying on a modern, colonial filter of Africa. Ahead of film production, they traveled to the continent in an effort to learn as much as possible about various peoples before integrating those identities into the film. For example, the scars on Killmonger's (Michael B. Jordan) body are inspired by the scar tattoos of the Mursi and Surma tribes.
Beachler told The Frame that in their extensive travels, they did a ton of research, connected with people, and took pictures of everything.
"We were in South Africa mainly... connecting with it, with the motherland. And understanding all of the tradition, all the different tribes, how they responded to each other, what things were important in their lives."
One of Black Panther's greatest foes in the comic book lore is M'Baku, the ruler of Wakanda's mountain tribe, who opposes T'Challa in the persona of "Man-Ape." Maybe that name could fly in the '60s, but it definitely doesn't now. Instead of relinquishing the rich character, however, Coogler resurrects him for the film, presenting those attributes that make him an impressive character while stripping away the racially problematic ones.
M'Baku is played by Winston Duke, maintaining almost all of the character's defining traits, including his and his people's worship of the mighty gorilla, paying well-earned homage to that majestic creature without straying into offensive stereotypes. He is imposing and dignified, but ruthless. This cultural awareness is a prime example of Coogler's paramount role in the making of this film. Coogler told Entertainment Weekly,
"M’Baku is a really interesting character, and I’m excited for people to get to see him." M'Baku will be vying for the throne of Wakanda, and is just one example of the secret African nation's heterogeneity.
“When you go to countries in Africa, you’ll find several tribes, who speak their own languages, have their own culture, and have distinct food and way of dress. They live amongst each other, and together they make the identity of those countries. That’s something we tried to capture. We wanted it to feel like a country, as opposed to just one city or town,”
Coogler told EW. The blend of strong cultural identities mixed with futurism makes Wakanda feel truly unique in the MCU. Perhaps the closest analogue would be Asgard, but even that advanced Alien kingdom lacks the diversity in culture and ideas present in Wakanda.
Thor: Ragnarok opened to a $122 million weekend in November of 2017, but the initial tracking started just below $90 million. Months before its release, Black Panther was predicted to pull $90 million during opening weekend.
The God of Thunder was dwarfed in a big way. Black Panther pulled in $202 million on its opening weekend. The movie later broke into the top 10 of domestic releases when it crossed the $500 million threshold in the US, and has made over $700 million worldwide.
The last official synopsis of the movie was released in June of 2017:
Marvel Studios’ Black Panther follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
That, however, is annoyingly vague. T'Challa's rule is actually threatened by numerous factions: M'Baku tried to dethrone the newly crowned King of Wakanda, but the real threat comes from Michael B. Jordan's Erik Killmonger. Killmonger is Wakandan, the son of an exile, who teams up with Klaw (Andy Serkis) to weasel his way onto the throne. In short, T'Challa's has his hands full.
As far back as 1992, people were trying to bring T'Challa to the big screen. Unfortunately, Wesley Snipes spent more than a decade claiming to be in the process of producing a Black Panther movie (in which he would presumably star, as well). The attempts almost came to fruition, as there were numerous studio agreements and even scripts, produced. But Black Panther co-creator Stan Lee never approved these scripts, and maybe for that reason alone the movie did not get produced. David Goyer said in 2004 that Snipes playing another Marvel superhero (as he had directed the actor in Blade Trinity) would be "overkill." He was probably right.
Despite not yet being eligible for Oscars nominations, Black Panther still made its presence known in a big way at the 2018 Oscars. Nearly all the Wakandans were on hand, and from the moment they stepped onto the red carpet, they stole the show. "Filled with fashion risk-takers capable of pulling off the most daring looks," as Vogue puts it, all eyes were on the King of Wakanda and his compatriots. Sandra Bullock even approached the cast crying, who told Access Hollywood,
“I just was behind the Black Panther cast. I started to cry backstage when I was telling them how much the film meant to me as a woman, but (also) how much it meant to me as a mother. That says a lot about where we are in this world, and in the world of superheroes.
I’m so grateful to Marvel 'cause at about five years ago, my son asked me if there were any brown LEGOs," Bullock continued. "And I said, ‘Yes, there are,’ and I got a Sharpie and I turned Spider-Man brown, I turned the LEGOs brown, and I don’t have to turn them brown anymore.”
Almost immediately after its release the world began to guess how many Oscars Black Panther will be nominated for in 2019. Anne Cohen of MSN makes a good point that Black Panther likely has the best chance of any superhero movie to earn a Best Picture nomination, but because of its genre, it will still be an uphill battle. Plus, a February release is not usually a good omen for that category, but Get Out was nominated for Best Picture just this year, which also had a February release. Basically, the winds of change are blowing, so you really shouldn't be surprised if Black Panther earns a Best Picture nomination. In fact, what would be surprising would be if it didn't get any nominations, which almost certainly won't happen. Expect it to at least receive technical award nominations, along with costuming, cinematography, and probably Best Director.
The biggest knock on the MCU by far has been its one-dimensional villains. Loki has always been the exception, but he's not even truly a villain, at least not anymore. But he was considered the only success in that category until Black Panther. Killmonger has been heralded as the most realized villain yet - fraught, dynamic, and so tragic. He is a monster, but one created by an even more monstrous world, and Michael B. Jordan's performance makes that abundantly evident.
As David Betancourt of the Washington Post writes, "The bad guy almost always dies at the end in superhero movies, but Jordan’s performance will live on as an all-time MCU moment that established Killmonger as the new standard in Marvel movie evil." In fact, Betancourt actually compares Killmonger to Heath Ledger's Joker, the gold standard of comic book movie villainy. Enough said.
Black Panther has a 97% Rotten Tomatoes score, (though, it inexplicably only has a 79% Audience Score - hopefully there's not a racial component to that). To say the social commentary of the film is poignant is the understatement of the century - at times in the film, the tragedy of racism grips your soul with a frozen fist. It is powerful beyond belief, so much so you might physically experience your emotions in the theater. Some reviewers have said of it:
"Whether or not this is the best film Marvel Studios has made to date-and it is clearly in the discussion-it is by far the most thought-provoking" -Christopher Orr, The Atlantic
"When it comes to creative visuals, engaging action and likable characters, Black Panther stands confidently next to the best fare offered up by the Marvel Cinematic Universe." -Matthew Rozaa, Salon.com
"The identity politics provide a fresh spin to the genre's increasingly tedious narrative formula." -J. R. Jones, Chicago Reader