Combat, Couture, and Caribbeana: Cultural Process in Coogler's Black Panther (2018).

Author:Wynter, D. E.
Position:Ryan Coogler - Critical essay

Ryan Coogler's Black Panther lies firmly within some key modalities of postmodernism, namely visual spectacle, allusion, pastiche, wearing of masks, and the conflation of art and commercialism. More importantly, Black Panther has given cultural acknowledgement to a large segment of the world's population not serviced in such African grandeur since Eddie Murphy's Coming to America (1988). Its abundant African aesthetics and talent, arrayed in splendor and engaged in noble battle, is due to the powerful Marvel Cinema Universe and the film's late placement--the eighteenth film--in the franchise. Situated here, it earns acceptance into Bourdieu's "universe of [allowable] discourse" (254). In her contribution to the visual elements, costume designer Ruth Carter has created a Pan-African pastiche representing diverse places in which African descendants can find reflections of themselves.

In the story, Prince T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman), in a contest about his coronation day loses a ceremonial challenge to a violent interloper, a royal black sheep named Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). Abandoned by his uncle, King T'Chaka, in America's slums as a child, forged in the crucible of multiple military tours, Killmonger seizes the throne of Wakanda, an isolated and technologically advanced nation, plunging it into civil war to avenge his childhood abandonment. It is up to T'Challa and his people to rescue their beloved nation and its traditions from a madman hell-bent on destroying it.

As a first-generation Jamaican-American, a daughter of immigrant parents, I project onto Wakanda's isolationism resonances of Jamaica's historic Maroons, a West African warrior clan that won independence from the British through warfare even as other ethnic groups remained enslaved on the island. This brief reflection considers the third act civil war sequence that resonates with Maroon War dances and costumed rituals in the Jonkonnu festival of Jamaica that I saw as a child, focusing on the importance of the female in this sequence. Coogler's directorial choices in this sequence together with Carter's innovative melange of indigenous and Afro-futurist stylings produce a cultural processing toward reunification, mutual understanding and transcendent ideals.

Arrayed in Ruth Carter's visual pastiche of African styles, Black Panther's final battle sequence is an elegant, meticulously choreographed spectacle free of the vulgarity of bullets. This sequence gives new meaning to...

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