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Film Review – Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

FILM REVIEW
BLACK PANTHER: WAKANDA FOREVER
Rated PG
161 Minutes
Released November 11th

Director Ryan Coogler is a Homer for our generation, recounting our modern-day Iliad and Ulysses epic tales of journey, tragedy and heroism. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is heroic on two planes, its story of Wakanda and its tribute to the great Chadwick Bozeman that is threaded seamlessly through the story. This is a heroic tale where the heroes have flaws and the villains have empathy, a beautiful tribute to a fallen hero, as the story line follows Bozeman’s real-life struggle with colon cancer, a force too powerful to be overcome, even by the strongest and bravest.

To understand how a 36-year-old director could make a movie of this caliber and impact, here is background on this young cinematic genius. Coogler’s father was a juvenile hall counselor and the director himself has followed his father in that pursuit since the age of 21. Coogler was also an athlete, recruited into Cal State Sacramento and St. Mary’s on football scholarships. Note that football is a heroic sport. He had intended to major in Chemistry, but the players were encouraged to take Creative Writing and there Coogler found his calling. His BS was in Finance, but his writing was praised. After graduating, he enrolled in the USC Master’s program in Cinema. His first feature was Fruitvale Station (2013) starring fledgling actor Michael B. Jordan as a real-life innocent black man gunned down by police during a chaotic situation on the San Francisco BART. This film gave us a taste of what was to come from this passionate director and was the first example of Coogler’s keen eye for talent. Coogler uncovers and hires a genius, and those filmmakers and actors tend to stay with him.

Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson has been scoring Coogler films since they met as grad students at USC. Brilliant award-winning production designer Hannah Beachler began working with Coogler on Fruitvale Station. Wakanda Forever introduces a new member of the team, cinematographer Autumn Durald Arkapaw, who just became a member of the American Society of Cinematographers this year and has done an extraordinary job on this huge assignment.

Coogler’s returning cast from Black Panther, Angela Bassett, Zimbabwean actress Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o (raised in Kenya) and Letitia Wright are superb. Coogler introduces acclaimed Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta. Huerta has Aztec and Purepecha ancestry. He has artfully brought to life the antagonist “Namor” as a worthy adversary and a sympathetic and complex human being.

When asked which character he liked most in Black Panther, Bozeman picked “Shuri”  , his little sister, played by Letitia Wright. He had recruited Wright, known for her roles in British Indie films, for that role. Wright still grieves for Bozeman, and her pain resonates through her performance of this young princess who assumes the role of greatness thrust upon her after her brother’s death. Wright summons up a huge performance as a bona fide hero.

Wakanda Forever is a complex tale, and the colors and lighting in each scene, the epic scope of the location designs and the heightened emotions of the characters are instrumental in bringing an immediacy to the story. Even the crew of extras who played the soldiers and populace of the civilizations were choreographed in detail and endured months of exhaustive changes in costumes, fight training and long, challenging shoots – this according to my good friend, longtime Santa Monican Tony Todd, who has worked for months on both films in the franchise.

This film is driven by grief. Before the shoot, Coogler led some of his filmmakers to Boseman’s resting place in South Carolina, where they were joined by Boseman’s family members for a memorial, establishing their sense of commitment to their fallen star to make a valiant effort at creating this tribute to his memory. Boseman was larger than life, so through this film the world mourns with them. The most impactful revelation of Wakanda Forever is the portrayal of a world where slavery and colonialism never existed. It is history rewritten, in a glorious and uplifting saga.

Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which has been the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people.  She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. kboole@gmail.com

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