Column: We need a ‘Black Panther’ sequel now more than ever
“Black Panther” was my quarantine movie. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen it in total, but I’m sure it’s north of 100. Sometimes I would just have it playing on mute in the background, as if it were more art installation than cinema. It was comforting, and in 2020, comfort was in short supply.
One of my favorite scenes takes place in Shuri’s lab after T’Challa becomes king. Not just the striking set and lighting, but the iconic salute between those two characters: right arm over left, a mixture of West African sculptures and the word “love” in American Sign Language. It’s a vibe steeped in the very Blackness that Hollywood long said would never be profitable.
LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.
In the end, “Black Panther” took in nearly $1.35 billion worldwide after its 2018 release, with 48% of that coming from international ticket sales. It also delivered Marvel Studios’ first and only Oscars. Needless to say “Black Panther” was good for business, and the sequel coming Friday, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” will probably be as well.
But in a conversation about either film, dwelling on industry benchmarks misses the point.
In 2018, seeing “Black Panther” felt like being part of a celebration. In 2020, the film provided much-needed material for my life raft. In 2022, the sequel opens in the shadows of a midterm election that could further wound our already limping democracy.
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With a cloud of uncertainty hanging overhead, it’s nice to have shelter. I’m sure for a lot of you, “Black Panther” is just another CGI-and-Spandex cocktail, the sort that moviegoers have been forced to guzzle by the gallon.
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The original didn’t become my go-to film in 2020 because of box office success. It was the look Okoye gave that dude before hitting him in the face with the wig. The Tim Hardaway name drop. There’s a language being spoken in “Black Panther” that normally isn’t heard in large-scale films, and I’m not talking about Wakandan. When T’Challa visited Shuri in her lab, and she mocks him for wearing open-toe sandals, they are speaking in that language.
“Black Panther” was my pandemic movie because it spoke to me in my native tongue at a time when it felt as if nothing else made sense.
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While I was covering the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, that film and its soundtrack became a part of the way I took care of myself.
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I used to chuckle thinking about Chadwick Boseman checking his feet to make sure they weren’t ashy before shooting that scene with the sandals. A few years ago I almost went on television with ashy ankles. I was being lazy and just didn’t feel like reaching all the way down to moisturize my feet.
“Who is going to notice?” I thought.
The answer: Black folks.
When I got on set, the producer, Lisa L. Wilson, saw my ashy ankles in her shot and sent lotion to me before we started taping. We’ve been friends ever since. In October, Tone Bell, host of Netflix’s “Drink Masters,” posted a pic of himself getting his dry skin addressed on set with “#NoAnklesLeftBehind” in the caption. And poor Kevin Durant. The man’s ashy legs became a ruthless meme.
So, yeah … I wondered how long it took Boseman to get over his ashphobia before the sandals scene, because I could tell from the manner in which Michael B. Jordan said, “Hey, Auntie,” that somebody on set would be checking for it. That makes me smile in a very specific way.
Boseman joined the ancestors more than two years ago now, taken from us by cancer. We were not acquaintances, but I wept as if I’d lost a friend. I am sure it is going to be difficult seeing Wakanda on the big screen without him. It will undoubtedly feel like a homegoing service for the actor.
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“Chadwick was all about pushing things forward while being aware of [what] took place behind him,” director Ryan Coogler said during the premiere. “To watch his movies is to only know a piece of him. We felt so fortunate to know the whole guy, and we’re trying to honor him on this one.”
Tears will surely flow again when I see the sequel. Some from loss, some from joy. They were all just waiting to be spoken to in the language they best understand.
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