You’ve seen the buzz on Twitter and all the gorgeous photos from the royal-themed red carpet premiere. You’ve watched the trailer on repeat. None of that means anything without understanding its cultural and historical significance. You don’t have to be an avid Marvel fan to follow the “Black Panther” storyline. However, to fully enjoy the movie going experience it would be wise to educate yourself on the history of T’Challa, King of Wakanda, and his legacy.
From the basics of the groundbreaking comic book to the movies’ creators, here’s a starter kit to what you need to know before you see “Black Panther.”
THE HISTORY OF WAKANDA
It all started when Marvel creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby implemented the first-ever black superhero in a mainstream comic book. Black Panther first appeared in the 52nd issue of the Fantastic Four in July of 1966. Kirby later gave Black Panther his own series in 1977. Sadly, it only lasted 12 issues after Kirby grew tired of focusing on the same character and wanted to branch out.
Although Black Panther was a much-needed character during the Civil Rights movement, the myth of his character being named after the renowned Black Panther Party is just that — a myth. Think of it like a beautiful coincidence.
The main elements from the Black Panther comic series you need to be aware of are as follows:
1. He rules over the most advanced country in the world.
2. The source of his power.
3. He kicks total ass.
Another great victory from the Black Panther comic series is that he defeated the KKK. #HappyBlackHistoryMonth
Based on the setup in the comic series, before man walked on earth a meteor fell from the sky and created a mountain of ore. This ore was the element Vibranium, which is used throughout the Marvel universe. For example, it’s what Captain America’s shield is made from. Vibranium is also what the Black Panther’s suit is made out of causing bullets to not ricochet, but fall when coming in contact with the material.
The ancient people of Wakanda founded the cult of the Black Panther in efforts to shield their mountain from outside travelers who attempted to pillage and steal their main resource. The leader of the cult obtained the powers of the Black Panther by eating a heart-shaped herb that had been mutated by the vibranium meteor. This ceremonial herb gave the chief of the Panther clan enhanced strength, endurance and reflexes.
The herb can only be digested by Wakanda royalty and acts as a poison for anyone who does not belong to the royal blood line. This went on for the next 10,000 years, as the protecter of the Wakanda nation would hold the title of Black Panther and defend their people as King.
T’Challa, the main character of Marvel’s movie, is the son of previous Black Panther T’Chaka. The title of Black Panther is handed down by generation, and children are trained at a young age in preparation to take on the crown. Once a year, anyone in the nation of Wakanda is allowed to challenge the current Black Panther for their title.
The Black Panther is well known for beating up bad guys who are immensely stronger and bigger than he is. In that regard, he is a bit like Marvel’s Batman, except $90 trillion richer in net worth.
When it comes to on-screen time, Black Panther’s only appearance was in Marvel’s “Civil War” movie. The major takeaway, other than the clear evidence as to why Black Panther is one of the top superheroes in the Marvel Universe, is where his story begins as the successor of his father’s legacy.
With the “Black Panther” movie, one of the best attributes is what lies beneath the surface of the project: the all-black crew behind the scenes, and the fact that this movie was made for black people by black people. It’s no secret the real stars of this film are the masterminds who created it.
THE MASTERMINDS BEHIND “BLACK PANTHER”
Ryan Coogler is the mastermind director of “Black Panther,” and has created visionary African American-centered movies like “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed.” Most likely, “Black Panther” will focus on introspective themes of self discovery, if it follows the pattern of his body of work. It’s young directors like Coogler who are paving the way for proper African American representation in media. In a time where racism is rampant, shining a positive light on African and Black culture is more important than ever.
Ruth E. Carter is the mastermind costume designer. Her credits include groundbreaking films like “Malcolm X,” “Selma,” “Marshall” and “What’s Love Got to Do It.” She took inspiration from many ancient African tribes, as well as Afropunk culture.
Camille Friend is the mastermind behind the hair design. You may be familiar with her work already, as she has worked on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Detroit” and “Captain America: Civil War,” among many others. Inspiration came from many places, like the images of tribal cultures compiled in Before They Pass Away by the photographer Jimmy Nelson, as well as the collection of Black hairstyles shot by the Nigerian photographer J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere. Friend employed a crew of 25 hairstylists along with a rotating team of braiders from Atlanta, where much of the movie was filmed.
And last, but certainly not least, Kendrick Lamar is the mastermind behind the music and arrangement of the official “Black Panther” soundtrack. Now, if you thought you were really about to go see this phenomenal piece of impeccable craftsmanship without listening to the entire album first, then you need to reevaluate your life right about now. Go on, I’ll wait…
I don’t care if you were holding out until the movie to be introduced to Kendrick’s best work to date, you should know while you’re swaying in your seat obliviously, every movie-goer around you will be singing along, hopefully, at the top of their lungs if they are truly educated.
None of the songs give anything away about the plot line of the movie — if anything, it builds anticipation like the steady climb to the top of a roller coaster. Every aspect of this star-studded piece of art Kendrick created, from the drums to the pacing to the socially-just lyrics, is musically flawless.
To highlight a few tracks from the project, I want to mention “Big Shot” and “I Am” as favorites. “Big Shot” has an eccentric switch up to Kendrick’s flow with the surprising-yet-perfect support of the flute.
“I Am” is one of the slower, more romantic songs on the soundtrack, and the intro is so moving. Each beat drop followed by Jorja Smith’s angelic vocal chords give that euphoric feeling of an eternal fall through the sky. Relax, take a deep breath, and let your body sink into her groove.
Just promise me you won’t even think about watching “Black Panther” if you have not at least indulged yourself in one of the deeply cultural aspects that created an instant classic.