The nominations for the 2019 Golden Globes are out, and let me just say, there are some interesting choices. I was wondering whether I should pen this, since online lynch mobs are not my cup of tea, but it needed to be talked about in some capacity. Essentially, has the thought crossed your mind that perhaps Black Panther’s nomination comes from a contrived need for more diversity? This is not a bad thing, since the movie being nominated, even if it is to fulfill some quota or requirement, does still indicate that it carries enough gravitas to be considered in the first place.
There is an obvious trend at play here, with Crazy Rich Asians also nominated. So two of the most heavily discussed films this year involving representation are in the running, with crazy chances (I hope you spotted that pun) in taking home wins in the Drama and Comedy categories.
If you have been following my posts here on MovieBabble, you will know my erratic journey involving the movie Crazy Rich Asians — how I went from anticipating it to being immensely disappointed. Frankly speaking, I don’t think it deserves the nomination. You can fight me down in the comments, but read my post before you do, then we can go ahead with our online arm wrestle. Black Panther, on the other hand, is a different beast. I believe it absolutely deserves its nomination, and here are the 5 reasons why.
Compelling Female Characters (and the Women Behind Them)
T’Challa may be the main character, but the women who surround him play equally supporting roles in managing Wakanda, as well as contributing to the narrative of the movie. Shuri is a one-woman tech show, skillfully putting together Black Panther’s costume, designing various gadgets for him to use out in the field. She also represents the modernized version of Wakanda, the one T’Challa is not quite so eager to push for at the start of the movie. As for Nakia, she is not just limited to being T’Challa’s love interest. She enters the fray with him, fighting beside him, challenging him about his traditional and insular views on how the country should be run.
I am not trying to play favorites, but I have a special fondness for Okoye. Maybe because the actress Danai Gurira plays the role. I first became acquainted with her through the TV series The Walking Dead (she plays the character Michonne). She is initially this mysterious figure, the most notable thing about her being the two members of the Undead that she keeps chained to her person. Her katana is her main weapon of choice, and she deploys it with skill and ease.
Speaking as a person who might possibly just shrivel up and die should a zombie outbreak ever happen, I ardently admire Michonne’s grit and strength, and love the nuances displayed in her character. When we are invited into her backstory, we realize there is more to her than her ‘bad-ass’ skills with her katana. We learn of the loss she had to overcome, and despite the fears that come with making new relationships in a world overrun by the Undead, she is still brave enough to try.
You might not know this about Gurira, but she also writes plays. Her 2010 play Eclipsed stars Lupita Nyong’o, and grew the legs to walk all the way to Broadway mainly because Nyong’o’s name was attached to it. I know I should be elaborating more about Okoye’s character instead of going on quite a fair bit about the actresses’ who play these roles, but I think it is so important to know that the women who are a strong part of this film have done so much for the Arts and representation.
Gurira’s play is set in the midst of the Second Liberian Civil War, focusing not on the war or the masculine spaces, but on the women who usually exists in the periphery of such spaces. If not for actresses like Gurira and Nyong’O, who star in such movies like Black Pantherand gain popularity, we wouldn’t even be privy to such voices in the Arts scene.
I believe all film and art should not only be judged on its merits but also its societal contribution. That’s the whole point of film isn’t it — to offer us a magnifying lens of viewing the world, which these women and this movie have done.
Inspiration From Older Narratives (with Added Complexity)
If you are familiar with the Bard and his work, you would have realized the blatant similarities between Hamlet and Black Panther. Firstly, both begin the same way, with the son trying to process the death of their father. They both see their father’s ghost (T’Challa’s experience takes place on some spiritual plane, but still kinda the same) and deal with feelings of inadequacy as to whether they can live up to the title and expectations that comes with Kingship.
While the villains in Hamlet are quite, well, villainous, there is a more layered presentation in Black Panther. Yes, N’Jobu betrays his brother, but it wasn’t about a need for personal power. He was living in a country where racial oppression is a reality, and he couldn’t quite fathom why Wakanda was isolating itself when so many would benefit from the country opening itself to the world.
When his son returns to discover his father lying in a pool of blood, it is really no surprise that he seeks the path of revenge. This behavior is of course similar to that of Laertes, who came to duel with Hamlet because he believed Hamlet was responsible for the deaths of his father (Polonius) and sister (Ophelia), without knowing the whole story.
However, it must be mentioned that despite Killmonger’s role as the villain, he does win the fight against T’Challa fair and square, making his ascension to the throne a justifiable one. Hence, there is an innate honor to him and for all his misguided ways, we leave the movie feeling respect for Killmonger and sadness about his death.
At this point you are probably wondering why I have elaborated so much about Black Panther’s narrative inspirations. This is to show you that the movie possesses enough literary and dramatic qualities within it to deserve its nomination for Best Motion Picture (Drama).
A nomination for Best Motion Picture (Drama) is not the only one Black Panther possesses, with Ludwig Göransson receiving the nomination for Best Original Score. Göransson has composed for a variety of different things, like rap albums and movies, but Black Panther is his very first superhero movie. He has collaborated with Ryan Coogler for about 10 years now, having worked on movies Fruitvale Station and Creed with him.
Göransson knew that he would need to learn more about African music if he wanted to give the score the authenticity it deserved. His friend recommended he get in touch with Babaa Maal, a Senegalese Grammy nominated musician, to help him with the process. He then followed Maal on tour to get a feel of African music. One of the things he noticed was that Maal began his concerts with a kind of ceremonial out-call. He loved it so much he decided to incorporate it into the score. This is how we got the opening beats to “Wakanda”, which is the music the movie begins with.
The soundscape is one of main things I noticed while watching the movie, especially the change in the music when Killmonger overthrew T’Challa and took over as King. Killmonger’s theme music still possesses the traditional African beats and percussion in the background, which melds together with the hip-hop rhythms that exist in the forefront. The music is so reflective of who he is — the wrestle of belonging and estrangement that exists within him. All his efforts over the years was to get back to where he came from, yet there is no peace for him when he does.
This sense of dislocation is shown perfectly in the scene where he talks to his father on the spiritual plane. Instead of the setting we got when T’Challa conversed with his father, Killmonger finds himself back in the apartment where his father died. Symbolically, the space shows how he has never been able to overcome the death of his father, which leaves him stuck and isolated. This is why he makes the decision that he does at the end of the movie. With the ending image of him dying as the African sun shines over him, we all hope that death brings him the peace he so desperately needs.
Subversion of Colonial Narratives (and the Bright Hues of the American Dream)
Instead of the usual colonial treatment of the white man being the defender or savior of the black man, we see a different portrayal in Black Panther. Martin Freeman’s character is rescued and medically treated by the Wakandians, even though doing so could be detrimental to them, since he would know about their technology. He goes on to work together with them, with much emphasis on collaboration and equality presented here, not dominance and submission.
T’Challa also extends his help to Bucky, offering him asylum when his own country wants to prosecute him, recognizing that while the Winter Soldier contributed to the death of his father, it was not something he did of his own accord. This generosity is not something that Tony Stark shares, with both Tony and Steve going their separate ways after the revelation at the end of Captain America: Civil War.
Moreover, we note the contrast painted between Wakanda and America. America is viewed as the land of the brave and the free, a country that people would risk their lives to travel to, all in a bid to attain the sweet promise of the American Dream. But N’Jobu’s narrative reminds us of the suffering, the discrimination and oppression that African-Americans have to face on a daily basis. Wakanda is thriving, while their brothers and sisters suffer in a land that was supposed to bring them happiness and freedom.
If you have stayed with me until this point, then you would know this was naturally going to be my conclusion for this post. Representation is a word we have thrown out consistently in 2018. “We need more representation and diversity in films!”, we chant. Actors and actresses bring this point across in their thank you speeches during award shows. We come down hard on certain casting choices, like Scarlett Johansson’s role in Ghost in The Shell, or the choice of Tilda Swinton to play The Ancient One in Doctor Strange when in the comic books, The Ancient One was someone who came from Tibet. Need I even elaborate on the whitewashed nonsense that was the adaptation of Death Note?
We recognize that movie producers need big names to sell their movies, but in making decisions like this, they fail to see the bigger picture of why we have movies in the first place. Movies are born out of narratives, and narratives form the backbone of the human experience. Every single human experience is a story to be explored, a story to be told. This is a privilege that everybody deserves.
It can be said that relating to characters need not always come from a racial connection. That argument does have merit. I certainly believed it myself, since I could relate to characters penned by the Brontes, who wrote about White, English women. I didn’t completely understand until I traveled to Sri Lanka for a holiday.
Just to provide a little context, my mom is Sinhalese, and my dad is half Eurasian, half Indian — which makes me a confused entity. I live in Singapore, a country mostly made up of Chinese, Malay and Indian individuals. Because I possess a darker skin tone, everyone who encounters me usually assumes I can speak Tamil, and thinks I celebrate Deepavali. In reality, Mandarin is my mother tongue and I celebrate Christmas, not Deepavali, because I am not Hindu. Hence, I have always felt a bit out at sea, not being who people expect me to be and not really knowing who I am.
When I was in Sri Lanka, I finally understood why ethnic and racial representation is so important. I saw people who look like me, with the same coloring, the same distinct features, which helped me appreciate my Sinhalese roots. Seeing is so necessary to the understanding of one’s identity. If you think about it, we all get a better sense of who are by looking into mirrors. There is such desire to know how we look like, who we look like — all this brings us a little closer to understanding who we are. So isn’t it amazing that someone gets to see a superhero who looks like him? Or a fierce and strong woman General who looks like her?
Maybe you still disagree with me about the nomination, and that’s okay. All I have to say to that is: “Wakanda forever!”
Thank you for reading! What do you think about Black Panther’s nomination? Comment down below!
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