That Black Panther Trailer Was the Best Thing I Saw All Week
“Tell me something,” a raspy voice whispers, “What do you know about Wakanda?” The scene opens to Andy Serkis, as Ulysses Klaue, grinning creepily. Klaue is talking to Martin Freeman’s Everett Ross and looks deranged as the camera pans out and reveals he is missing an arm. Klaue and Ross are sitting directly across each other in an interrogation room. Ross shrugs and answers Klaue’s question with a stereotypical description attributed to many African countries:
“It’s a third world country. Textiles, chickens, cool outfits.”
“All a front,” Klaue responds. Then he describes how he’s the only one to have seen the true Wakanda and lived to tell his story. While Klaue relates his story, there are shots of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther in action, and it is badass as hell. To the uninitiated viewer, the rest of the Black Panther trailer might just come across as unapologetically black and cool. Which it is. But there’s more to the nearly two-minute long promotional than that. Of course, since I’m an unapologetic black nerd, I’m about to break it down for you.
Let’s start with the only two white people featured in the trailer, Klaue and Ross. In the comics by renowned writer and black nerd, Reginald Hudlin, Klaue goes by Klaw. The only difference is the “w” at the end of his name. That may seem lame, but it’s actually a reference to Klaw’s signature bionic arm. Interestingly enough, in the trailer, Klaue does not have his bionic arm, but given that a team breaks him out of the interrogation room, it’s not far-fetched to think he might get it later in the film. Then there’s Ross. In the comics, Everett Ross is a U.S. State Department official who’s basically the only expert on Wakanda and the Black Panther. This makes Ross’ reply to Klaue’s question very odd. Is it that this version of Ross doesn’t know anything about Panther, or was he lying just to see how much Klaue knows? These are questions that need answers.
Then there’s the color palette and costumes. NYT Bestselling author and recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award, Ta-Nehisi Coates is the latest writer to tackle the comic adventures of Black Panther. Under Coates’ narration, readers are presented with a Wakanda that is a synergistic mixture of ancient and modern. While Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the Marvel universe, everything from the clothing Wakandan citizens wear to their weapons and buildings express a nation that is firmly proud of its identity. The colors used in the graphic novel are extremely vibrant, with an assortment of reds, yellows, and greens combined with silver and black technology. These colors were visible in the trailer, giving me reason to believe that the film may be taking some cues from the comic. The costumes in the trailer were a wide range of warrior armor and royal attire, setting up the expectation that the film will be visually rich, as it shows off the wide range of aesthetic that is unique to Africa.
Coates’ series depicts an internal conflict within Wakanda, as there are many tribal factions that make up the state. The Black Panther is simultaneously the chieftain, king, high priest, and protector of Wakanda and has to negotiate the many, factious interests of his people. Which makes me wonder, how will the Wakandan people take to T’Challa’s ascension to the throne? In Captain America: Civil War, T’Chaka, the previous king, was killed by a man posing as the Winter Soldier. T’Challa, as heir to the throne, assumes the mantle of Black Panther and briefly explains to Cap that he’s both Wakanda’s guardian and head of state, making him a very dangerous man.
The Black Panther is a symbol derived from the Wakandan people’s worship of a panther deity. This makes the Wakandan people a very spiritual society. In the trailer, there are blink-and-you-miss it shots of what looked like priests, giving the impression that the film will feature T’Challa’s spirituality. In Civil War, T’Challa explains to Black Widow his people’s belief in the afterlife but, like his explanation of the role of the Panther, it was extremely succinct. I expect the film to elaborate on this given some of the quick glimpses the trailer provided of Wakandan society.
Finally, there was the soundtrack. The music was a smooth drum snare and bass as the vocals chanted, “Step into the spotlight.” This was layered underneath Klaue’s voiceover as he warned, “The world is changing. Soon it will be conqueror and conquered.” I don’t even have to try too hard to perceive the colonial implications in his statement. In the comics, Wakanda is the only country in Africa to never be conquered by an outside entity, especially the Europeans. Despite this, America gives it a shot and of course loses. Wakanda is just too badass. The trailer implies that until the events of the film, Wakanda has been isolated from the rest of the world, but now T’Challa is “stepping into the spotlight” as there was a shot of him speaking at a press conference.
In this age of Trump and resurgence of white supremacy, it is more pertinent than ever to have a superhero blockbuster that is so unapologetically black. I’m still a little bitter because Black Panther was so supposed to have been released about three years ago, but Marvel Studios decided to produce Guardians of the Galaxy first. They deemed it more marketable and delayed Black Panther until next year. However, based on the ensemble all-star cast, the director, and the promotional poster, it is apparent this film will be worth the wait. If this film will be anything like the comic, Black Panther will be bold and hold no punches. It will be unabashedly biting in its socio-political criticism of colonialism and neoliberalism. While the trailer said the film is “coming soon,” it has been previously announced that the film is releasing in February 2018. That’s perfect, as it will kick off Black History Month with the appropriate level of panache that it deserves. This will be black excellence to the fullest. I. Can. Not. Wait.
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