Why The Black Panther Is The Best Superhero I've Ever Seen
Superheroes are great to admire from afar but living like them is a bad idea.
I don't fancy jumping over buildings in some American city trying to 'save' people while letting my personal life suffer because of it.
And truth be told, I can't fight against supervillains and think of quick comebacks to their evil proclamations at the same time. I usually think of solid comebacks 3 days after someone throws a sarcastic quip at me.
I wasn't expecting much from The Black Panther - just standard fare of superhero action and a few emotional turning points to move the plot along.
But, when I watched it a few weeks ago, I was impressed.
For all its flaws, The Black Panther gives us an immensely relatable superhero, King T'Challa.
This man, much like the actor who played him, radiates kindness and leadership, whether or not he's a superhero.
Spoilers ahead for those of you who haven't watched the movie already. Read at your own risk.
There were three separate points at which I thought T'Challa is a hero like no other in the best way possible.
He doesn't use his powers to become king
One of the first scenes in the movie is when T’Challa has his crowning ceremony. The way the ceremony works is his superhuman powers as The Black Panther are stripped from his body first to render him a normal human being. Then, the competing tribes are asked if anyone wishes to challenge him for the title of King. He is challenged by M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe. And they both fight each other to earn the right to be King. Regular plain fight - no CGI, no fancy weaponry, no pointless flexing. Very solemn and sober. A very human fight.
Growing up, one of the reasons I liked Batman was because he didn't have any superpowers. He was an unusually determined (and unusually wealthy) man who deployed his resources in the most optimal way, to change the world. He was more human than the other superheroes. His only superpower was his resolve.
With T'Challa, we get a superhero who knows the limits of the special powers he has and is sensitive enough to see his vulnerability without his superpowers. There's a depth to his character that most other superheroes don't possess. He calmly convinces his challenger to yield rather than die, staying level headed despite the unsavoury situation he's in. T'Challa isn't power hungry, nor unnecessarily self-righteous (looking at you, Superman). There's an undeniable aura of grace about him, which is rare for the flashy superheroes I'm used to.
He takes responsibility even when he is not to blame
When the Killmonger arrives at the gates of Wakanda and challenges T’Challa for the title of King, almost everyone writes him off as the evil villain.
T'Challa is able to make an honest assessment that it was his father, King T'Chaka who inadvertently created the Killmonger by murdering Killmonger's father (T'Challa's uncle).
He doesn't simply antagonise his cousin and follow through with his father's decision of eliminating radicalised Wakandans. He chooses to deal with the issue in his own way. He doesn't once think that he is being saddled with the burden of what his father has done. He knows that though the situation isn't his fault, it is still his responsibility as King to protect the kingdom and to right the wrongs of the past.
Again, it isn't some fancy holier than thou attitude that compels T'Challa to do this. It's a strong sense of responsibility. For someone who doesn't really care for power or authority, T'Challa shows he's also someone who would never abuse his title as King. He doesn't let his power corrupt his understanding of right and wrong. If that's not admirable, I don't know what is.
He doesn't fight hate with hate
When T’Challa and Killmonger fight for the right to be King, it’s very evident that Killmonger with his CIA special agent training and his former stint as a US Army soldier has a very clear edge against T’Challa sans his superpowers.
And true enough, T'Challa is defeated swiftly and almost killed. It's clear that Killmonger has been preparing to overthrow the King of Wakanda all his life. If anything, Killmonger is even more adept at war strategy and the art of combat than T'Challa himself. The only problem is that Killmonger is fuelled by hate, a deep, primal, indelible hate for the injustice he's had to suffer.
He's a villain with a meaningful backstory and some may say he's more an anti-hero rather than an outright villain.
T'Challa acknowledges this fully. Sure enough, the movie has a fancy fight scene between them and everything, but there's a depth that T'Challa brings to the verbal exchange they have during the fight.
Unlike other Superheroes who would rather throw sarcastic quips at each other to punctuate every blow, T'Challa talks about his ideology and his perspective as the King of Wakanda. So.much.maturity!
If anything, I think the superhero universe needed this level of gravitas. I’m tired of seeing overpowered, wealthy, privileged guys and gals trying to look cool and fight their battles in their fancy costumes. It’s about time we had a sensible hero who is level headed and balances his emotions and intellect while going about his Superhero business.
Special shout out to the treatment of women all through the movie - Okoye, Nakia and Shuri are more than just nagging side characters; they're powerful and have very strong personalities and ideals. They aren't afraid to challenge T'Challa when their views don't align.
T’Challa sees them as equals too - yet another thing I admire about his portrayal.
T'Challa doesn't really talk all that much throughout the movie and he even gets roasted a couple times by his sister when they're talking. And yet, his quiet, unassuming, confident persona still steals the spotlight. For an introvert like me, this is a very reassuring example of great leadership.
I think the idea of Wakanda itself, and the strong influence of culture and tradition interspersed with modern technology is delightful. It's something even governments can aspire to, to some degree.
I hope that there will be more offbeat superheroes like these introduced in the future. Kindness and collaborative leadership needs to be the norm with superheroes, not an exception.
Until then, let me just say, "Wakanda forever!"