One of the things I’ve written about before is how important representation is in geek culture. The ability for anybody to look on the movie screen and see a hero that looks like them. Two years ago “Black Panther” gave that to the African American community and the world. The person who lived that beyond the movies was star Chadwick Boseman who died on Friday. There are few movie stars who took on the extra responsibility more graciously than he.
We live in the Washington DC area and Mr. Boseman is an alumnus of Howard University. As a result we got to see a lot more of him. What always struck me is he knew what an impact he had made in his portrayal of an African king of a nation that was technologically advanced populated with fierce warriors. He knew this was a new way for people who looked like him to see themselves. That meant once the cameras were off and the movie long gone from the multiplex Mr. Boseman still had to represent Black Panther.
Most actors would shy away from that responsibility. I watched Mr. Boseman lean into it time and again. Whenever anyone crossed their hands across their chest in the “Wakanda Forever” salute he returned it. I know this because Mrs. C and I were out walking around DC over a year after the film was released. I saw these kids making the arm gesture wondering what was going on until I turned around. Mr. Boseman was a few yards behind me with a big smile on his face as he returned the salute. There were no cameras or anyone to notice yet he lived the responsibility of his movie role in his life.
When I read that all of this came after he had been diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer it makes it even more beautiful. He was one of the few who knew he wasn’t going to be around to watch Black Panther grow old. He seized every opportunity to make sure it didn’t go by without notice.
He was a talented actor in so many roles. Yet it will be this portrayal of a comic book superhero that will allow him to live on for decades. He will inspire for as long as people watch. Truly living up to “Wakanda Forever”.
After all that writing about perfume it is time to list off my favorite non-perfume things of 2018. One thing I realized as I considered my choices was 2018 was a year where I turned to things to help give me a break from the stresses of day-to-day life. Perfume is a large part of that so are the things here.
Favorite Movie: Black Panther– As the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was heading towards the conclusion of its first 10-year story with the release of the Avengers films; there was a legitimate doubt. Who would become the anchor for the next ten years? When I walked out of the theatre in March of this year director Ryan Coogler had shown me the cornerstone to the future of the MCU. That it is going to be coming from the fictional African nation of Wakanda is another piece of creativity. If Chadwick Boseman can embrace being Black Panther the way Robert Downey Jr. did Iron Man, I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Favorite TV Show: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina– It was at New York Comic-Con a few years ago when I met this guy sitting behind a table as I was waiting in line to do something else. His name was Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and he was selling a horror twist on the Archie Comics universe called “Afterlife with Archie”. When I sat down to read it later, I was hooked on his vision. The film noir part has made it on to the TV show “Riverdale”. With The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, he has found a place to show the horror part. Having it on Netflix allows for it to be just enough graphic to power the chills. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa’s love of classic horror is scattered throughout in ways big and small. The second half of the season returns in April; you’ll find me on the couch binging my way through.
Favorite album: Hell-On by Neko Case– There is a section of my iTunes playlist called “Strong Women”. There are only a few curated choices I add to that. One of the charter members of the list is Neko Case. Her 2006 album “Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” is one of the best albums of the 21st century. She released her last solo album in 2013. In the meantime she continued her time recording as part of the group The New Pornographers and as part of a trio with k.d.lang and Laura Viers. At the end of the summer Hell-On was released. It seems like a much more collaborative album than in the past. What remains are Ms. Case’s distinctive vocals and lyrics. More than enough to add a few tracks to the playlist.
Favorite Single: Nobody by Mitski– I spend a lot of time channel hopping on my satellite radio. Over Thanksgiving weekend, I stumbled into this singer doing an a cappella version of her single. I had not heard of Mitski or her music. When I pulled into the driveway, I downloaded her album “Be The Cowboy” and put the song I heard, “Nobody”, into my personal heavy rotation. Mitski’s ability to wring different emotion and intonation from the three syllables of the word “nobody” in the chorus is amazing. It has been firmly lodged in my brain for the last month.
Favorite Comic Book: Rogue and Gambit– Superhero comic books are like television shows in that they want to create couples who love each other but they don’t want them to be happy in the long run. Even so there are usually small periods of time where they give them a kind of happy ending. This five-issue series, by Kelly Thompson and Pere Perez, does that for two of the longest running X-Men characters; Rogue and Gambit. That the happiness of the ending has, so far, carried over to the main story in the X-Men is all the better. Although I fear 2019 will find some way to derail that. For now, I’m just going to enjoy seeing these two beloved characters allowed to be in love.
Favorite Novel: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris– Charlaine Harris knows how to create woman characters who kick ass. In this first novel of a new series Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose lives in an America which fell apart after FDR was assassinated. She exists in a twisted version of the American West as a bodyguard. Who hires her and what happens sets up another satisfying world of urban fantasy. The next book is due in 2019 if its as good it might be on this list a year from now.
That puts a final bow on 2018. To everyone who enjoys this column thanks for reading all year.
I have mentioned in previous columns that I am always pleased when one of my geek touchstones is realized well on the screen. There have been extremely rare opportunities when what is portrayed on the screen not only exceeds my expectations it provides a new perspective; Marvel’s Black Panther has done this.
I have seen the movie three times now and the richness of the story Director/ co-writer Ryan Coogler uses continues to allow for me to find new things to enjoy on each showing. Mr. Coogler has poured himself into making this movie and his cast has joined him. I am not going to dwell on the plot very much but instead talk about some of the things which make this movie stand apart.
I will start with the nearly entirely black cast and main characters. This was discussed endlessly prior to release. After seeing the movie it is necessary to have this cast to tell this story. It is also refreshing to see Africans as the pre-eminent technological society in the world. Every character displays competence without speaking of it by performing their jobs. There is also a lovely inversion of movie tropes with the inclusion of the two white actors in the spots people of color occupy in most action movies; the low-level bad guy and the plucky sidekick. Played by actors Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman I saw them referred to as the “Tolkien White Guys”. Mr. Freeman’s CIA agent smiles and nods at the end completely in the background as hundreds of black sidekicks have done before.
(l. to r.) Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), Okoye (Danai Gurira)
The title might be Black Panther but the movie could also be called Women of Wakanda. There has never been a superhero movie with so many women characters who pop off the screen. The tech genius sister Shuri, plaved by Letitia Wright, as the film’s fierce intelligence. The ultimate warrior Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, always in control of the elite military guard of the country. The spy who is also the conscience Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o. These characters are as integral to the plot as the name in the title. Truth is, that I see them in the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War has me even more excited about that film.
Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger
The villain matters when he is given such incredible tones of grey instead of monolithic black. Erik Killmonger’s story could have resulted in the hero’s quest as easily as T’Challa’s but for one crucial decision. Killmonger’s motives have some reason behind them even some which are sympathetic. What makes him villainous is his method for achieving them; pure ruthlessness. By the end of the movie T’Challa stands victorious but Killmonger and his philosophy effects a change. So much of this is due to the performance of Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger his performance is the equivalent of Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.
Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa-The Future King of the Marvel Universe?
My final thought on the movie is this. When Iron Man was released ten years ago there was no Marvel Cinematic Universe. There was a movie taking chances with the style of telling a super hero story on the movie screen. Fueled by the charismatic Robert Downey Jr. That movie was the first cornerstone laid in what has become one of the greatest movie sagas. With Black Panther and an equally charismatic actor in Chadwick Boseman; the cornerstone, I hope, has been laid for what comes after the Avengers finish with Thanos. The next part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe story needs to be firmly set with Wakanda as its center and this rich vein of characters as the glue which unites the movies. Black Panther ends with a scene reminiscent of Tony Stark telling the world he was Iron Man at the end of the movie. That seems a good start to the next decade of Marvel movies.