Black Panther Guest Review by Sean E. Ali

Wow…

I’m still stuck in “WOW” as my first gut reaction to seeing BLACK PANTHER.

You’ll sit through enough reviews of this film some spoilers, some not so much, some in depth cultural analysis and such, some speaking on racial identity and filmmaking…

…and my contribution to those will be lost in the chorus.

But let me begin in the traditional greeting of Ryan Coogler’s Wakanda…

Welcome to Oakland.

You were expecting something else, right?

But seriously, to understand BLACK PANTHER, to REALLY understand it…

…you’ve got to understand Oakland, California.

No, not the news stories about crime and murder and the other BS that get disseminated in the news, builds to urban myth and becomes stereotyped as rappers and criminals and angry black radicals…

…it’s easy to dismiss us here by going to all the bad press…

But like Wakanda in the film, you need to look past your stereotypes, and the illusions of the city built on decades of overemphasizing negatives while ignoring the positives.

And Wakanda, as Ryan Coogler presents it, is an idealization of the good in Oakland. As much as Oakland’s stereotype at the beginning of the film carries over to the narrative of the rest of the movie…

…but as I’ve said, you must look deeper than the story you’ve been told.

There is a line Chadwick Boseman delivers in the film that resonates because it is the solution most often ignored by society as a whole, especially in places like Oakland, especially in places like the USA, especially now. He said: “…wise men build bridges while fools build walls”…

…Sure it’s a shout out to present day politics here, but again, you have to look deeper.

One of the Bay Area’s favorite pastimes is dogging out Oakland as early and often as they can. The crime rate, property damage in demonstrations by out-of-towners (answering the question: why do they tear up their city? – we don’t, check the arrest records on that), drug trade, vacating sports franchises…

We are the red headed stepchild of the Bay…

…but if we shut the Port down tomorrow, all the folks talking bad about us would miss it terribly the next time they go shopping. If we weren’t around in the 1940s in defense plants and naval yards, taking down the Axis in WWII would’ve been a damn sight tougher. We taught rap artists how to brand themselves, we gave you Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks and more musicians, actors, and prominent professionals than you can shake a stick at. Prince loved us so much he invested quietly in a lot of the social organizations trying to work at a grassroots level (probably because he almost married an Oakland girl: Sheila Escavedo)…

…and we gave you the Black Panthers as well as the Black Panther.

Trust me, without us, this would’ve been a whole different show.

See, Ryan Coogler is from Oakland. Oakland was the foundation of it all. When you watch BLACK PANTHER anywhere else, you’re getting half the picture…

….and it’s an excellent picture…

…but you don’t know that you need to look deeper.

This whole film is about impressions, and illusions. It’s about frustration and desire. It’s about family and lies. It’s about seeing more than what’s presented to you.

Take the image I’m supplying with this. This is the main theater at the Grand Lake Theater, one of Oakland and the Bay Area’s oldest movie theaters still in business.

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This too is Wakanda.

This is where I saw the first film in a theater that stayed in my memory: Disney’s animated Robin Hood. This is also where Ryan Coogler saw a lot of his films growing up. Makes me wonder how many times we passed one another in the aisles during a show. Opening night, he came here, introduced the 10 pm show and probably stuck around a bit to see if he brought to the people he came from a show worthy of them. See, you can play this film anywhere in the world and it’ll be hailed as masterpiece in its genre…

…but he had to see it where it started for him.

But now I’m ignoring my own advice: look deeper.

The film begins in Oakland. If that was a spoiler, sorry. If it helps, the Oakland on film is probably Atlanta, but that’s what we’re told in the first minute. The course of the entire film is set in Oakland. All of your conflicts and consequences begin with what goes down there. And here’s the thing…

…you see everyone’s side here. Usually films in the MCU work with villainous cardboard cutouts with few exceptions. Loki, the Vulture in SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, and now Erik Killmonger in BLACK PANTHER.

Yeah he’s the bad guy, but speaking as a mutt myself, I understand. Michael B. Jordan is a ruthless, cocky, hardcore killer…

…and I totally get where he’s coming from even if I don’t agree with his idea of a solution. He’s the extreme while the remainder of the cast are varying shades of the basic premise that informs Killmonger’s motivations and actions. He is the African American that doesn’t get Africans…

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…despite secretly wanting to be accepted by people who don’t see him as an equal.

Look deeper. “Good” and “Evil” are relative in this situation.

Meanwhile Wakanda is quietly watching its own facade break down from within in a way. As we see them interact, we see that even in a country that has survived the world by standing apart from it, it is impossible to ignore the world because we are all part of it. This film is very much Oakland. It’s very much a Black experience and it’s also a universal one.

What I loved most about this was the way women were portrayed as strong individuals with clear points of view and all the traits I come to acknowledge in the strong Black women that raised me. The community of Wakanda was both Oakland of childhood where we came together in crisis and the one that’s seemingly prevalent today where we’ve been pulled apart a bit but if there’s a strong reason we’ll rise together. In fact it’s almost as big a nod to the Black Panthers as more obvious moments if you’re looking deeper…

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Spoiler avoided.

So when you’re in line to see this, and you will be in line to see this film, I want you to do me a favor…

Look deeper.

When you’re in the marketplace, that’s the Berkeley Flea Market out by Ashby BART. It’s also the farmers market on Saturdays across the street from the Grand Lake. Shuri’s lab? That’s Silicon Valley. T’Challa’s throne room? Look at the image of the screen of the Grand Lake…

…and then look deeper.

So do I recommend you see this film?

If I had the money, I’d cover your ticket and then go back with you.

And if you can, see it at the Grand Lake.

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You really should be in the heart of Wakanda when you see the film.

Wakanda Forever…

…or, to use the traditional greeting of the locals:

Welcome to Oakland…

…and enjoy the show.

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