The Black Panther leaped into theaters, breaking records from ticket sales to having the highest rating on Rotten Tomatoes for a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. And it proves that a predominantly black cast can sell a film.
I'm a huge fan of Ryan Coogler and have a man crush on Michael B. Jordan. Living close to Oakland, I heard about the incident at Fruitvale Bart Station. Seeing the movie Coogler wrote had an affect on me that I still cannot express in words today.
Going to school in the San Francisco Bay Area has taught me that all peoples are created equal. But this was a very intellectual idea, meaning I had yet to internalize this fact. It wasn't until I had started dating an Egyptian Muslim woman—read: highly conservative—that my eyes and heart were truly open. I had met her Arab friends, traveled with them, laughed and cried about their issues, and I came to know a truth. They want the same things that most hot-blooded Americans want: Happiness, security, friendship, love. They enjoyed great food, loved dancing, found the drink to be intoxicating, and even dove into sex freely. Though, many of them avoided eating bacon.
I loved listening to the Arabic language. To me it sounded lyrical. From what little my ex-girlfriend had taught me of her language, I knew it was rich with meaning and depth. I found it amusing that many of the men were named Mohammed. Apparently, so did they. I've come to love what little I've seen of the Middle Eastern culture and yearn to travel there and experience more.
All of this is to say that no matter what background a person comes from, anyone can relate to them if they wish. Whether they're good or bad. Really? Bad? Read: Segue.
One of the rare things that The Black Panther has in a villain is that he's relatable.
I've always talked about rooting a character to a reader. This means that the reader becomes empathetic to the characters, or, for example, they want that character to succeed. And they'll also feel the character's losses when she fails at meeting her goals. In other words, the readers have invested themselves in the story.
One of the biggest complaints about the MCU villains is their motivations. Or lack thereof. Often they want the world's destruction for no real reason. Save one. Magneto.
My writing workshop had pointed this out to me, describing a scene where Magneto was taken away from a concentration camp when he was a child. This demonstrated how humans are cruel, fearing someone who's different. And what better stage than The Holocaust? So Magneto forms his own group of mutants to defend against the coming war against humans.
In The Black Panther, the villain Killmonger dealt with his father's death at the hands of his own uncle. Then having to grow up in Oakland where black people, such as Oscar Grant, were either oppressed or killed by the white colonizers must have infected him with deep resentment. He's then highly motivated to force the nation of Wakanda to use their resources and arm the oppressed blacks of the world with advanced weapons.
Watching this develop in the theater, I found myself nodding. That surprised me. I'm against weapons of mass destruction, but having witnessed the many real-life injustices black people have faced, I couldn't disagree with the villain. I completely related to Killmonger's ideals. I smiled as I remarked on how my thinking was well led by the writing of Panther.
I also feel that when a writer roots any character to a reader, or viewer, there has to be an element of truth that we as humans can understand. For example, how can a writer show a schizophrenic character being jostled by the many voices in his head? If I write that the voices sounded like hundreds of ghosts screaming at him, then that might not hit the spot. Most people probably have not had this quaint experience. However, if I show that the voices sounded like his mother screaming, his father yelling, his little brother growling at him at every single moment of the day with no way to shut the door, then that might get closer. Here’s a great line from Magneto in X-Men: First Class (2011) that demonstrates this idea:
"You built these weapons to destroy us. Why? Because you are afraid of our gifts, because we are different. Humanity has always feared that which is different. Well, I am here to tell you, to tell the world, you are right to fear us. We are the future, we are the ones who will inherit this earth, and anyone who stands in our way will suffer the same fate as these men you see before you. Today was meant to be a display of your power, instead I give you a glimpse of the devastation my race can unleash upon yours. Let this be a warning to the world and my mutant brothers and sisters out there, I say this: No more hiding, no more suffering, you have lived in the shadows in shame and fear for too long. Come out, join me, fight together in a brotherhood of our kind. A new tomorrow that starts today."