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CLAWS & EFFECTS: Black Panther a solid outing

CLAWS & EFFECTS Black Panther a solid outing

Reviewed by Chris Knight  Montreal Gazette, 

PHOTOS: DISNEY Ryan Coogler’s use of women in Black Panther — such as Danai Gurira as Okoye — is much more than window dressing for a Hollywood production, writes Chris Knight.

BLACK PANTHER

1/2 out of 5 Cast: Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright, Andy Serkis Director: Ryan Coogler Duration: 2h14m

It’s been 20 years since we saw Wesley Snipes fighting vampires in Blade and 10 since Will Smith’s turn as the foul-mouthed Hancock, which means it’s time for another superhero movie with a central black character. (No, Michael B. Jordan in the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot doesn’t count, because that movie doesn’t count. It doesn’t even count to four.)

Black Panther is that movie, but it’s something different too — a step up. For starters, it’s the first mainstream superhero film to feature a black director — I said mainstream, Meteor Man! Ryan Coogler was already a force, with his breakout debut feature Fruitvale Station in 2013 and his Rocky sequel Creed two years later.

It also has black writers: Coogler and Joe Robert Cole. And not only is the hero the leader of an African nation, (the fictional) Wakanda, he’s got a kick-ass allfemale posse backing him up.

It’s also more proof that the best movies in the increasingly crowded Marvel and DC cinematic universes are the ones that tell individual stories. Wonder Woman was much more enjoyable than the busy Justice League and give me a Thor-Hulk buddy movie over an all-Avengers melee any day.

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Black Panther: Marvel pushes a message of inclusion for women

Some fodder for MonSFFA’s Marvel vs DC debate?

HEAR THEM ROAR

Marvel pushes a message of inclusion for women

MATT KENNEDY/DISNEY Lupita Nyong’o, left, stars as Nakia and Letitia Wright is Shuri in Marvel’s highly anticipated Black Panther, a hopeful blockbuster that offers meaningful and powerful roles for women — both in front of and behind the camera.

It doesn’t take long into a rollcall of female characters in Black Panther to recognize a certain trend.

These women get the job done. There’s Okoye (Danai Gurira), the fierce head of an elite unit of female bodyguards who oversees intel and security for the technically advanced fictional African country of Wakanda and its new king, T’Challa, a.k.a. Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman). Her combat skills are equal, if not superior, to the titular character and she doesn’t need a custom-made vibranium suit to protect herself while using them. There’s also Nakia (Lupita Nyong ’o), a Wakandan spy and Black Panther’s former love interest who is also no slouch in hand-to-hand combat. She also possesses a sense of social justice far deeper than any of the men around her. There’s Shuri (Letitia Wright), Black Panther’s genius kid sister who is far more adept than her older brother when it comes to understanding, designing and explaining Wakanda’s advanced technology.

Finally, there’s Ramonda (Angela Bassett), Black Panther’s mother and queen mother of Wakanda who attempts to hold the kingdom together after her husband is murdered by terrorists.

As Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turner pointed out while hosting a news conference for the latest lavish entry into the Marvel Universe in Beverly Hills last week, the movie may be titled Black Panther but it could very well have been called The Badass Women of Wakanda.

“In African culture, they feel as if there is no king without a queen,” says Bassett, who joined the cast, director Ryan Coogler and producer Kevin Feige in Beverly Hills the day after the star-studded Hollywood première of the film. “In this story, it highlights the queen, the warrior, the young sister. I was so proud to have my daughter and my son there last night. Because in their faces and in their spirit, they were feeling themselves. And they stood taller after last night.”

Not unlike recent blockbusters Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Black Panther seems to represent a modern shift in thinking when it comes to the types of roles females can have in action-packed blockbusters. The film must be doing something right. Weeks before its release it became victim of a campaign by an alt-right group to sabotage its score on Rotten Tomatoes. The plan failed miserably, but not before it was revealed that it was hatched by the same basementdwelling trolls who attempted a similar tampering of The Last Jedi a few months earlier because they were disgusted by what they saw as the film’s “feminist agenda.”

There was no talk of a feminist agenda at the Beverly Hills news conference, which happened before the Rotten Tomatoes story came to light. But there was a sense among the female cast that the film deserved to be celebrated not only because it is the first time a black superhero has headlined a Marvel Universe movie, but because it also offered so many deep and meaningful roles for women.

The Walking Dead’s Gurira plays Okoye, both a general of the Wakandan armed forces and the leader of Dora Milaje, the royal family ’s ferocious baldheaded, tattooed bodyguards. In one scene, Okoye bitterly objects to having to wear a wig while undercover.

“Her joy and her pride is walking with that bald head and that tattoo on it,” says Gurira. “It’s so subversive and it’s so subversive in the right way to say you don’t have to have hair to be beautiful. I thought that was so fun. There’s so many great things I could say about how Ryan developed these women characters and allowed us to collaborate. I feel really blessed about it.”

The talent wasn’t just in front of the camera either.

Coogler points out that the film employed a number of women behind the scenes, not to be subversive but because they were the best people for the job.

That included executive producer Victoria Alonso, Oscar nominee cinematographer Rachel Morrison, costume designer Ruth E. Carter, production designer Hannah Beachler, co-editor Debbie Berman and first assistant director Lisa Satriano.

“This film had the involvement of brilliant women all over it, from start to finish,” he says.

All of which offers a strong message for audiences, says Nyong’o, an Oscar winner.

“Each and every one of us is an individual, unique,” she says. “We all have our own sense of power and our own agency and we hold our own space without being pitted against each other. I think that’s a very powerful message to send to children, both male and female.

“In this film, there is so many of us. We really get a sense of the fabric of Wakanda as a nation. We see women alongside men and we see how much more effective a society can be if we allow women to explore their full potential.”

Black Panther opens Feb. 16.