We’re just ONE MONTH out from what Black Twitter has already declared the greatest movie in the history of moviedom.
And while y’all know I typically abhor blind hype, call me Ray Charles because THE HYPE IS REAL.
Hyperbole aside, Marvel’s Black Panther stands to be a landmark moment for black cinema. As a fan of superheroes growing up, I very rarely saw leading heroes that looked like me. The closest thing we got were jive-talking side characters like Roadblock from G.I. Joe.
I mean, I guess if you squint real hard, He-Man kinda looked black.
Black Panther was different. Even though he was a C-list hero at best, he was the star of the show and the majority of his cast were dark-skinned warriors who never suppressed their culture. Best of all, they weren’t just street-smart goofballs. They were politicians, scientists, elite athletes – and royalty.
So yes, I’m sure social media has told you that you should be ecstatic for a majority-black cast to bring the world of Wakanda alive on screen. But before you confuse Black Panther with Coming to America in spandex, allow me to give you a little bit of history on the world’s first black superhero and the major players that will make this film unforgettable.
It’s a safe assumption that you’re probably somewhat familiar with T’Challa, thanks to Chadwick Boseman’s phenomenal portrayal in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War. But that merely scratched the surface of this incredibly complex character.
T’Challa is the ruler of the African nation Wakanda, which is quietly one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet (more on that later). Due to his nation’s vast wealth and resources, T’Challa is fiercely protective of his country – almost always putting the needs of Wakanda over everything. And I mean everything. He’s allied with many heroes, including the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and even serving as an Avenger, but his loyalty is first and foremost to his country. That has often put him at odds with his fellow heroes, whom he’s quick to leave out in the cold if their motives conflict with his nation. That devotion to Wakanda even doomed his marriage to X-Men stalwart Storm.
The name “Black Panther” is a rank given to the chieftain of the Wakandan Panther Clan. In the comics, that designation also comes with a link to the Wakandan Panther God and the right to eat a special herb that grants him superhuman abilities.
T’Challa is a skilled politician, a brilliant inventor, has a PhD in physics, a master of various African martial arts, is one of the richest men on the planet and due to his connection with the Panther God, has the strength and knowledge of every past Black Panther before him. Bruce Wayne ain’t got nothing on this guy.
Wakanda is such a fantastic concept that it’s almost a living, breathing character itself. Most outsiders see Wakanda as a poor, third-world stereotype – the kind of country a racist president would write off as one of those “s***hole” countries that’s not nearly as sexy as Norway.
There’s much more to Wakanda than meets the eye.
Generations ago, a massive meteorite made of an element called vibranium crashed in the country. T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father, mined the valuable resource, selling off small amounts and helping to make the nation among the richest in the world. That vast wealth has made Wakanda a virtual paradise, filled with futuristic technological wonders that can’t be found elsewhere on Earth.
And personally, that’s what made me fall in love with Wakanda – here’s a country tucked away on a continent constantly written off as a backward land of savages that’s more advanced and powerful than any other on the planet. It’s a great narrative.
T’Chaka, fearful that his country would be plundered by outsiders, essentially shut off his country from the rest of the world. That strong nationalistic pride is what influences T’Challa to this day.
The Dora Milaje – or, the “adorned ones” – are T’Challa’s troupe of female bodyguards who also serve as ceremonial wives-in-training. The women are selected from various tribes across Wakanda in an effort to promote unity. The women are fiercely devoted to the throne, and even more fierce on the battlefield. The three most notable members are Ayo (portrayed by Florence Kasumba), whom you may remember as the sister who mean-mugged Black Widow in Captain America: Civil War; Okoye, who will be played by Danai Gurira in the upcoming film and Nakia, who will be portrayed by Lupita Nyong’o.
Keep a close eye on Nakia – if the film follows her comic roots, her fanatical devotion to T’Challa will cause major problems down the road.
Shuri is T’Challa’s brash younger sister. She’s faithful to the throne of Wakanda but very ambitious and even a wee bit arrogant. Living in the shadow of her overachieving brother puts a huge chip on her shoulder, and her constant jealousy has come back to bite her several times. But despite the sibling rivalry, she adores T’Challa and is fiercely loyal to him. And in the comics, she eventually ascends to the throne and acquires the mantle of Black Panther. She’ll be portrayed by Letitia Wright.
The Joker to T’Challa’s Batman, Ulysses Klaw – or “Klaue” as he’s now called in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – is one of Black Panther’s oldest and most enduring adversaries. In the comics, Klaue is an evil physicist who invades Wakanda to steal vibranium to make a sonic weapon. He murders T’Challa’s father in the process, making him a lifelong enemy of the throne. We’ve already been introduced to Klaue in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: He debuted in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron as a black-market arms dealer played by Andy Serkis.
Another of T’Challa’s major foes, M’Baku is a member of Wakanda’s White Gorilla Cult, a tribe that worships the gorilla. M’Baku is an incredibly powerful warrior led by a “might makes right” mentality. He considers T’Challa too soft and Americanized to rule Wakanda. In the comics, M’Baku is known as Man-Ape and wears the skin of an albino gorilla but since this is 2018, I seriously doubt we see a black man dressed like a giant monkey on screen. Somewhere a H&M T-shirt designer weeps with disappointment. M’Baku will be played by Winston Duke.
The interesting thing about the villainous Erik Killmonger is that he and T’Challa are two sides of the same coin – Killmonger is what Panther may have been if his life veered down a slightly different path. In the comics, Killmonger’s family was strong-armed into helping Klaue attack the throne. Killmonger’s father was killed in the battle and his family was exiled. Erik studied and trained in America (just like T’Challa) and when he was finally welcomed back to his home country of Wakanda, he led an uprising to rid the nation of the white Western influences he claimed T’Challa forced upon the country.
T’Challa and Killmonger’s relationship mirrors that of Professor X and Magneto’s from X-Men lore – two men doing what they think is right for their people but in constant conflict with each other. Killmonger will be played by Michael B. Jordan.
And for more history on Black Panther, check out this video I recorded in the weeks leading up to his debut in Captain America: Civil War.