Centuries ago, a meteorite struck central Africa; an alien metal made of ‘vibranium’, was perceived to be a spiritual source of power. The influence of this meteorite affected the fauna and flora of the earth, including human nature, its presence causing a series of wars between five African tribes. One day, a warrior ingests a vibranium-affected ‘heart-shaped-herb’, giving him supernatural abilities that inspires him to form the nation of Wakanda. He becomes the first known Black Panther, who is the ancestor of this film’s protagonist: King T’challa (Chadwick Boseman).

From the beginning, the kings of Wakanda had kept a secret from the rest of the world, which was their use of vibranium to construct a technological advanced kingdom. Now, following his father’s death, T’challa is crowned as Wakanda’s king and super powered protector. T’challa has the responsibility of defending Wakanda’s isolationist policies from the rest of the world by posing as a king from a ‘Third World’ country.

Aside the story and narrative – which was an audacious adaptive effort by Ryan Coogler and J. Robert Cole – Black Panther exposes advanced skill in the areas of mise-en-scene, semiotics and cinematography. Coogler’s masterpiece depicts a conflict that exists between African Americans and Africans; two different schools of thoughts that are existent today in black politics. The movie demonstrates themes of African ancestral identity, Pan Africanism, and the question of realism and its relationship to ontology.

Coogler depicts a conflict in black politics that exists between African Americans and Africans

The first challenge day sequence reinforces a political belief that is common between the African-American and African school of thought (in the world of Wakanda). I chose to refer to this sequence because it symbolises historical accounts of African nations establishing economic systems before the colonial period. Coogler presents a Pan-African theme to create a solution to the conflict; this is underscored by the technique of semiotics.

Semiotics is defined as signs and symbols and its interpretation. Signs and Symbols that connote mythical, cultural or religious beleifs; semiotics takes a step further than mise-en-scene and refers to exterior meaning, whereas mise-en-scene refers to the interior material meaning. For instance, the sequence that depicts what the Lumiéres call a panorama of all the tribes of Wakanda present by the mountain, playing instruments, singing chants and celebrating the day a king takes the ‘heart-shaped-herb’. But look a little closer, we can identify waterfalls, green lands and mountains that create a Psalm 23 image. The African tribes on the mountain are positioned as separate tribes in a colourful union, similar to the African map. The African tribes represent African nations and the mountain represents the African continent. This theme is rarely recurred in black cinema, but what makes this insightful is how Coogler confidently portrays African history in a futurist African story, signifying that history repeats itself in pleasant or in unpleasant ways.

In a sequence set in an underground casino, a firefight breaks out between T’challa and arms-dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue escapes and T’challa and his team pursue. The cinematography here questions realism and ontology. Towards the end of the sequence, there is a long take divided into three parts and lasts for approximately 20 seconds. This is one of the most quintessential examples of cinematography in the history of film because it proves long shots can be included in action-packed sequences. Traditionally, Hollywood’s action sequences have utilized intensified editing styles, whereas this sequence uses a mix of both shot lengths. Coogler’s experimentation of cinematography is an influence to the medium of cinema since he surpasses industry conventions.

The 18th installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and rated as a global box office hit; Black Panther is a movie that challenges ideas of African ancestral identity, pan-Africanism and to a greater extent, a historical system of black oppression. Ryan Coogler’s fourth feature film has grossed over $1 billion worldwide; filmed on a budget of $200 million. This is set to be one of the highest grossing films of the year and the decade and is definitely worth the time and the money. In contribution to the movie’s success, the performance as a whole was believable; the lead and supporting cast execute the roles and personas of their characters with full effect.

 

Thank you to EXETER VUE for providing this screening

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