Black Panther takes Eve and I back into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and to the African nation of Wakanda. In this incredible land we learn the origin of the Black Panther, protector of the tribes of Wakanda and superhero newly come to the world stage. Within the fantastical story lies a surprisingly Christlike examination of what it means to be family, tribe, and neighbor. Join us as we join King T’challa in deciding, “Who is our neighbor?”
Scratching the Surface
Since the Black Panther movie is fresh in theaters, we want to provide some feedback that is spoiler free. Most of the juicy, discussion worth content is thick with spoilers, though, so go see the movie!
Language, violence and sexual content for Black Panther are all on par with the other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). There is some coarse language, but not a lot, the violence is there, but nearly bloodless or implied, and the sexual content is chaste. If you would like a more detailed breakdown of the positive and negative elements throughout the movie, be sure to check out the PluggedIn review of Black Panther.
With Black Panther, there are actually two different soundtracks. The original score by Ludwig Göransson contains all the wonderful instrumental music that you would expect, but there is also Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By, but fair warning: every single track of Lamar’s album is flagged as containing explicit language.
Black Panther has gotten a fair bit of hype, not only for being among the most successful Marvel openings in the history of the franchise. It it also crosses fan bases, drawing in black Americans who might never have interest in a superhero movie. The creative team took a page from the Hamilton playbook, which makes particular sense given the subject matter. The director and cast are all talented black professionals, with the exception of Martin Freeman, who seems about as caucasian as they come. Moreover, the movie deals with some very real and very pressing issues that are particularly impactful to black communities.
Of course, there is no shortage of misguided people in the land of the internet who claim extreme positions on both sides of the isle. Some claim that white people aren’t qualified to review or—in some cases, even watch it. Others claim a directed campaign from the far left to undermine the American way of life.
Both Eve and I really enjoyed Black Panther and heartily recommend it. For my part, I felt that the writing and direction was more natural and felt more real than probably any other Marvel movie to date. They took on some incredibly deep issues and really brought it home. Most importantly to me, they presented all of this in a way that allows you to dwell and come to your own decision rather than just having your opinion given to you.
We Need A Hero?
One of the themes that seems to be taken out and waved about with the release of Black Panther is that it gives young black boys and girls a much needed hero that they can look up to, something they have not been able to do before (or at least, enough). While there is some truth to the heroic actions and attitudes of many of the characters in the movie, it is important that we don’t relegate the true heros of Black America to the Memory Dump of the American conscience. On AYJW, we’ve looked at several movies that focused on the life and times of real life heroes: Jackie Robinson from 42, the Tuskegee Airmen of Red Tails, Katherine Johnson and the computers of 1960’s NASA from Hidden Figures, or even lesser known role models like Chris Gardner from Pursuit of Happyness.
These are just the ones that have had movies made AND that Eve and/or I have tackled for AYJW. There are thousands more out there that we could not possibility even list. People like Colin Powell, Ben Carson or Condoleezza Rice—regardless of if you agree or disagree with them politically—they have overcome incredible odds and done mind-boggling things with their lives. Most importantly, the strong faith of these people played an important part in their success. This is the kind of example that we need to be setting. One in which success if of the whole person, through hard work and hard faith.
Sins of the Father
Black Panther opens with a scene from 1992 in which the fathers of the protagonist and antagonist set the stage for the conflict to come. Both T’Challa’s father, T’Chacka, and Erik’s father, N’Jobu, have noble ideals: T’Chacka wants to protect the people and way of life of Wakanda while N’Jobu sees the oppression of black people and communities and commits to change. N’Jobu, radicalized and angry from his time undercover in America, seeks change through force and to use the secret technologies of Wakanda to commit acts of violence in the name of racial justice and equality.
Indeed, it is in anger that N’Jobu pulls a gun on once-trusted friend Zuri, and T’Chacka kills him in defense. As Erik grows, he embraces his father’s angry, radical nature, almost more as an ends than as a means to an end. Without the guidance of a father figure, Erik’s entire worldview is skewed violently. In contrast, T’Challa is raised by an imperfect man who seeks earnestly to be a good king and father. The result of there fatherhood failures and successes, at least in part, drives the conflict of the movie.
“Fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
I’d never thought of this particular verse in terms of “Fathers, don’t raise your kids to be angry.” It means so much more than don’t tick off your kids. In fact, to raise your kids to be angry brings to mind another scripture:
” It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)
Rather, Paul tells that we are to bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord, which results in equipping them to conquer their own personal anger when they face it.
Another fatherly take-away from Black Panther is the importance of the presence of the father in general. What are you likely to think of our Heavenly Father if your only experience is a deadbeat dad who ran away from his responsibilities as your father when you where just barely old enough to remember? The Bible reminds us that the role of the earthly father is to be a reflection, however pale, of our Heavenly Father:
“Furthermore, we had natural fathers discipline us, and we respected them. Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?” (Hebrews 12:9)
Whom Do We Worship?
We could not do a honest job discussing Black Panther from a Biblical, critical thinking standpoint, if we did not address the giant elephant, or rather PANTHER, in the room. Black Panther overflows with heathen worship of both animal spirit-gods (Bast from Egyptian mythology is extremely prominent) and ancestor worship. While they present as flavor and background material, portions of the target audience contain impressionable young people. We need to be extra careful to address these presented beliefs biblically. Worship of these things is directly contrary to God’s will and purpose for us, as Paul points out:
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans [1:22]-25)
This kind of content does not lure many who will watch this movie, but it is one that we Christians should always be aware of—if for no other reason than it provides an excellent stepping off point to discuss God the Creator of all things. It is in mankind’s nature to seek a target for our worship. We know that there is something greater than us (though it seems more and more people are trying to deny this innate knowledge through the lens of humanism). Throughout history, societies have sought out the object deserving of worship. The final truth, though, is revealed only through the will of God through general and special revelations, such as in the Ten Commandments:
“Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
Members of the Tribe
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew [22:34]-40)
Just as we are called to love GOD and not his creations, we are also called, as the second most important commandment, to love our neighbor as ourselves. The final resolution of Black Panther is presented in the mid-credits scene, where T’Challa appears before the United Nations to speak to the importance of working together:
. . . we will no longer watch from the shadows . . . [we will be the] example of how our brothers and sisters should treat each other . . . we all know that there is more that connects us than separate us . . . The wise build bridges. The fools build barriers. . . . We must find a way to look after each other, as if we were one single tribe.
The truth behind the greatest impact of sin in the world is that we are a people divided by our sinful, selfish desires, not united by a calling to bring glory to the Creator. Christ reiterates this with His parable of the Good Samaritan. After telling the story of the man who was robbed and beaten, then passed by respected members of society, Christ poses the question:
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” (Luke [10:36]-37)
This was a lesson that is reinforced through T’Challa’s actions throughout the entire movie. Though he struggled with it, as in when he was on the verge of killing Ulysses Klaue, he kept coming back to the way he was raised, to treat others with respect and to help where needed. Indeed, we are even given glimpses into how that desire conflicts with the militantly strict policy of Wakandan isolationism. In fact, the anger consuming Erik Killmonger also prevents him from seeing the truth in his passion to help his brothers and sisters around the world. He saw it as “us versus them” when really it should just be “us” (and GOD). After all, there are only Christians and non-Christians, not blacks and whites, Jews and Gentiles, men and women:
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians [3:27]-29)
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
This is the Black Panther take way for the critical Christian: our unity and the only hope for unity in the world is Christ, through the Father and by the Holy Spirit, not through anger and bitterness:
All bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians [4:31]-32)
Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
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