Native Nerd Movie Review: Black Panther Slashes at Colonialism

Vincent Schilling

Marvel hits a GRAND SLAM with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther.

A comic book brought to life with a culturally-sound superhero movie of epic proportions

Vincent Schilling • February 20, 2018

Truth be told, I ordered tickets to see the “fan night movie premiere” over a month in advance to be sure I could see Marvel’s Black Panther in all its IMAX 3D glory. Yes, I even arrived two hours early for a 6:00 pm viewing and was not surprised to see an impressive handful of audience members as excited as I was to watch a film featuring a full cast of actors of color.

As the all-too familiar Marvel Comics Studio graphics began to play on the screen and I adjusted my 3D glasses in the dimming theater. I was surprised by something I didn’t expect. The theater was completely silent. No food wrappers crinkling, no idle chatter, nothing, I was…like so many others, completely mesmerized by Ryan Coogler’s take on a superhero based in Africa.

Matt Kennedy Disney Marvel Studios

Chadwick Boseman stars in ‘Black Panther.’

For so many of my childhood years, I have been force-fed the history ‘That any civilization of color was the less than superior race of people.’ I have been taught that the colonizers were the ones that brought knowledge, technology, weaponry and skill-sets to bring other ‘inferior races of color’ into the modern age.

I have always been taught: brown skin means you are inferior. I have brown skin as a Mohawk man. I grew up in the streets of Compton, feeling inferior, just as so many of my friends did. I never dreamed there would someday be a movie, where a black hero could be something ‘superior.’

I wept as the movie started. Many of my brown friends never made it out of the streets. Many never got to see a black President, many never got to see a black superhero.

Then a black director – a man with brown skin, did something SUPERIOR. He made a BRILLIANT FILM.

This movie undid so much of that damage in my childhood mind, I literally wept with relief that: “Yes, world, people with brown skin can be intelligent, people with brown skin can be scientists, they can be strong women warriors, brown people can excel more than colonizers have done in history.

There was a lot about Black Panther that a comic aficionado like myself could expect. (Prince T’Challa is bound to become king, that much is already known as per previous incarnations of Marvel movies as seen before this one.) But Prince T’Challa’s process of becoming King is where the magic happens.

Let it be said, I do NOT speak for all Native American people, and I have coined the term “Native Nerd Review” because I was a skinny Native kid that love all nerdy things like science, comics, magic tricks, practical jokes and more. As a self-proclaimed Native Nerd, I’d like to think there are more Native nerds out there like me who get a kick out of Marvel and DC superhero movies, Zombies and so much more out there in this world so rich with geekdom.

The Fictional World of Wakanda

Before I go any further, it is worth noting that this is not my first draft of this review, as I learned soon after writing it that Wakanda has an identical pronunciation to the Osage Nation’s word for Creator or God. I wanted to learn more about this and spoke to a number of Osage Nation members to include a news editor, language teacher, language students and another fellow comic enthusiast.

From their perspectives, they were not offended as the place was fictional. This is not to say another Native person might not be offended, but I did want to pay my respect, temporarily unpublish this article – then come back after I had paid my respects to research the topic.

I must say thank you to the readers of Indian Country Today for alerting me to this initially, no matter our place in the world, we are always at a place where we can receive the blessing to learn something.

All said, the fictional world of the Black Panther is a beautiful one. I was thrilled to see such a lack of stereotype among so many different tribes, similar to their are a world of differences in Native tribes on Turtle Island.

Ryan Coogler introduces different tribes of Africa. He shows that each tribe has separate belief systems, cultural perspectives, types of dress and regalia and ways of life. All of this is compared and contrasted to the urban ways of America, a powerful sentiment that resonates throughout the film.

Photo - Matt Kennedy Disney Marvel Studios

Chadwick Boseman stars and fights with Michael B. Jordan in ‘Black Panther’ .

There will not be any spoilers in this review. But Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the Black Panther / Prince T’Challa was elegant, charismatic and profound perfection. Michael B. Jordan’s performance as Erik Killmonger was pure brilliance. Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia was fantastic, Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett were genuine and enjoyable as always.

Worth mentioning most of all was the other shining star in Black Panther. Watch for Danai Gurira as the female warrior, though it would be impossible to miss it. Her performance was powerful brilliance and the truest representation of the power of women. Every time her powerful staff hit the ground with an ominous ‘boom,’ the whole audience would gasp. I was among them, losing my breath with each magic moment.

-Photo Disney - Marvel Studios

Danai Gurira in in ‘Black Panther’.

The costuming of the world of Wakanda is nothing less than pure genius, I marveled (Pun-intended) at the flawless wardrobe, the female warriors and the intricacies of tradition infused with the most modern of technologies. The set design was a miracle of cinema as presented by Patrick Dunn-Baker, for at more than one occasion, I felt myself literally gasping for air at some of the cinematic works of art I was looking at at any given time.

The movie was an absolute blast. I enjoyed every slash of vibranium claws by the Black Panther and screamed with excitement with the overtaking of the bad guys. I also screamed with excitement when one character uses the word ‘colonizer’ as an insult.

I enjoyed every single solitary moment of this spectacular film! It is a MUST SEE!

As I left the movie behind, I did go through a bit of a grieving process as a Native American man. I am all too familiar with the term ‘colonizer.’ I am all too familiar with being called (first-hand) an inferior race, even though indigenous peoples invented such things as watertight wetsuits, syringes from quills and animal bladders, medicines and more.

I grieved because Native Americans don’t yet have a superhero as completely fantastic as the Black Panther. He has a suit that is impenetrable, and has claws with the strongest metal in the world, vibranium.

I have hope that one day we will have a Native superhero without an eagle or wolf friend standing at his side, one that doesn’t have super tracking abilities or anything else related to the elements.

But with the success of Black Panther, people in the film industry will see how people of color films make a TON of money, and more than anything else, that seems to affect change in an industry that is slow to do much more than give an academy award to another musical film filled with non people of color. This is certainly not an undermining statement to the talents of all actors and actresses in the industry, but statistics are statistics.

If the Black Panther is overlooked by the Oscars this year, I am going to give the biggest SMH the social media world has ever seen.