Like most of you, I had no idea Chadwick Boseman was even ill. And like all of you, it’s not an exaggeration to say I was shocked awake by the first headline coming from my radio this morning.
Black Panther was one of my favourite Marvel characters from a very early age – in fact, in an upcoming edition of It’s Good, Except It Sucks, you can hear me talking about how whenever the Fantastic Four took off in the Pogo-Plane, I was always excited in the hope that a visit to Wakanda was on the cards – and the issues surrounding the complexities of global politics and the struggle of balancing traditionalism with a need to embrace the present that came with the character fascinated me more deeply than I think I actually realised at the time. I felt a little bit of that same excitement when Wakanda was first mentioned in passing in Avengers: Age Of Ultron, and even more so when it was announced that Chadwick Boseman – who I had thought was fantastic in 42 and had also noticed in an episode of Castle – had been cast in the role. Past experience has taught me to always be wary when anyone tries to adopt a more complicated comics character into another medium – you have no idea how worried I was that they were going to mess up Doctor Strange and The Punisher this time around (they so seriously didn’t) – but that never felt even a momentary concern here. Someone somewhere was clearly thinking along the right lines, and his character development from an uptight and insecure prince thrust into kingdom who considers himself inherently ‘better’ than Hawkeye in his first appearance to the noble, benevolent leader with a sense of responsibility to the world and unflinching respect for his fellow superheroes from another continent was little short of mastery of his art. Some self-appointed ‘cineastes’ might well be scoffing at that, but seriously, go and watch Black Panther. It might even make you smile a bit for once.
For this reason, I have decided to bring the edition of It’s Good, Except It Sucks with Shanine Salmon covering Black Panther – which you can find at the foot of this post – forward. I will eventually re-publish it in its correct place and order and with a more stylistically aligned writeup, but making jokes about the film to promote it didn’t feel appropriate right now. Instead, I’d like to highlight Shanine’s powerful interpretation and understanding of the film’s exploration of AfroGlobal relations and their consequences for traditional and heritage and delight at seeing uncompromised Black Cinema reach a worldwide mainstream audience that enthusiastically embraced it (as well as some less reverent ‘appreciation’ of Michael B. Jordan). Even if you’ve not seen Black Panther, I hope you will listen to this. And then maybe go on to watch Black Panther.
What this terrible news means for the Marvel Cinematic Universe going forward – not least with a Black Panther sequel about to enter production – is probably a fairly irrelevant question and the last thing on anyone concerned’s mind right now, and my heart usually sinks at the sight of ghouls proposing how they would ‘rescue’ a franchise with their grand total of no years’ worth of experience in the film industry and shrieking car alarms droning on in their columns about how fantasy films are for children, not for grown adults like them et tedious cetera. That said, I think this is one instance where a touch of support and determination from a massive international fanbase would not go amiss. Shuri of course adopted the mantle of Black Panther from her brother in the comics, and at a respectful distance and if Letitia Wright sees matters similarly, a Marvel film with a young black female lead would be a fitting way of continuing what Chadwick Boseman began.
Many are of course sharing their favourite Black Panther moments by way of tribute, though mine is one I’ve not really seen anyone else mention so far. It’s in Avengers: Infinity War, when in the midst of reality-shattering battlefield chaos, he yanks a stricken Okoye to her feet demanding “Up General, UP! This is no place to die!” . Dignity, stoicism, respect, and a subtle but powerful reminder that in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, race and gender are irrelevant. That moment, and so many others, are a powerful reminder of what we have lost.
In four films across four years, Chadwick Boseman lit up the screen in what were frequently lengthy sequences set in partial darkness. Some may have scoffed that Black Panther and other films like it were a ‘theme park’, ‘not cinema’, devoid of ‘human beings trying to convey emotional psychological experiences to another human being’, lacking ‘imagination’, made ‘like hamburgers’, and swamping cinemas to the exclusion of ‘real’ films that ‘matter’, and all the time this incredible talent was right under their noses and they never appreciated that. I guess some people just don’t actually know what real ‘cinema’ is.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.