2018 was a bad year for the world but a great year for movies. So I’m going to write about some of those great movies which I loved in 2018. To read my full introduction to this series, read this.
Not much more can be said about Black Panther, but here I am, saying more about Black Panther.
People get really combative about this movie and I still don’t know exactly why. Is it the fact that so many people see any award for black or female led films as mere virtue signalling? Is it the fact that it’s a blockbuster, and blockbusters these days can be pretty bad? Or is it the dreaded and long foretold of superhero fatigue?
No matter; this movie dispels all those notions handily. I wrote a bit before about Jurassic Park as a true blockbuster of the kind that doesn’t really exist anymore. Here’s an exception. The type of movie that builds a world without being too overstuffed with information or plot (something which I think tripped up Infinity War), Black Panther is a film that brings more to the superhero movie than just “good vs. evil”. It invited discussion about black wealth, female strength, and the African diaspora vs. African Americans who are the descendants of slaves brought here against their will. More than that, it made everyone aware just how rare it was to see, not only this many black people, but a huge range of black people who are darker than tan. The movie brought us Letitia Wright, Danai Guerrera, and made people FINALLY start appreciating Andy Serkis.
In fact, the opposition to this film is puzzling because it seems this, and Crazy Rich Asians, are the kind of movies we should WANT. In a time of folks asking “what will it take to get you to a theater?” the answer is clear. Bring back what made the blockbuster great to begin with. Give us good stories with diverse characters and a world we want a 30 ft tall screen to immerse us in and we’ll go. We will pay $15 a ticket and $6 a bucket of popcorn when you make it worth our while. It was a movie event on a scale rarely seen these days. The film was still showing in many theaters when Infinity War debuted ELEVEN WEEKS later. As it stands right now, it’s the third highest grossing film of all time, and far and away the highest grossing film of 2018, making more than $700 million domestically. Now with a Best Picture nomination and a SAG Ensemble win under its belt, it’s clear that popular film was never a category this movie required.
While I’ve obviously done a great job summarizing its importance, you might be wondering “well, just why is it YOUR favorite?” To me, movies are more than just its technical achievements (which I’ll talk about with a later pick.) Movies often shape our world in ways beyond the screen, and the world often shapes the screen. The Birth of a Nation led to a second revival of the Ku Klux Klan. The “cowboys and indians” genre of westerns is in part responsible for the complete lack of knowledge Americans have about Native Americans. And oftentimes, who we see on screen as the heroes and villains of stories is reflective of who we see as the heroes and villains of real life.
So how refreshing that black people are finally both in their own story. Few things caused more joy than seeing all of the children and adults alike dressing up as the characters for the movie. To hear the stories from people who have lived through so much in this country’s history and to be able to see themselves displayed so vibrantly on screen. For black folks to be able to grapple with the fantasy of “what would happen if we had a rich country for ourselves, as so many others do?”
I cried watching the movie. Killmonger’s death scene is one of the best of the year (and indeed, Michael B. Jordan’s performance is one of the greatest villain portrayals out there). It’s perfectly cast and well acted and its given a surehanded direction by Ryan Coogler (who, may I remind everyone, is only 31 and has decades worth of masterpieces in front of him). But beyond that, it’s baffling to me that you could reduce a movie this political and monumental to just “the visual effects aren’t that good”. OF COURSE it’s political. Few films are not. That’s why I can pursue politics as a career and film as a hobby. Oftentimes, their overlap is undeniable. They speak to each other, real life mirroring film and film mimicking real life. Movies either reflect real life or are a fantasy of what real life should or could be like. That’s what makes this movie so great to me, and perhaps that avoidance of this universal truth is what makes it so unbearable to others.
I for one, cannot wait until, in 25 years, I’m sitting in my underwater house with my children, probably hiding from our robot overlords. And I will show them Black Panther and tell them of a time where it suddenly felt, for the first time in a long time, that everyone could see themselves on screen. I’ll tell them of the jokes and celebrations and the funding drives that were put on to make sure everyone could see what was being viewed as a revolutionary, once in a lifetime event. And hopefully they’ll tell me with wide eyed awe “THIS was revolutionary?!”