‘Black Panther’ sequel: A rebuke of misogyny and racism in 2 minutes
Perspective by Robin Givhan, Senior critic-at-large
July 26, 2022 at 6:57 p.m. EDT
A film trailer is typically little more than an advertisement. It’s rarely a soothing balm. But the two minutes of soulful music, female empowerment and Black autonomy that serve as a teaser for the upcoming film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” comes freighted with emotion. And that’s a welcome relief. From everything.
The movie is the sequel to the 2018 superhero blockbuster that turned its lead actor Chadwick Boseman into a pop culture icon shortly before his death at 43. For anyone who revels in comic book deep dives, the brief glimpse at the upcoming movie is rich with references to characters’ backstories, their possible nemeses and successors. It’s also a reminder of a fictional country in which Blackness is the norm, the standard as well as an emblem of success and power.
Those two minutes of impressionistic storytelling are also a brief respite and an alluring rebuke to a kind of sordid misogyny and inflammatory ignorance that has become a rallying cry for some conservatives and extremists. The trailer is pop culture at its most powerful and provocative: It’s manipulating our common knowledge to suggest alternate narratives; and they are irresistible.
The teaser is dominated by Black women: Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright. Sometimes they are sorrowful; sometimes they are enraged. They clasp hands in solidarity. They smile. There are scenes of mourning, but also of birth as a kind of rapturous, welcomed miracle. There are boss women and women who shed tears. A full spectrum of emotions is glimpsed in slow motion. In some ways, Black women are defined with more nuance in these few lovingly lit seconds of fiction than in the real world’s enshrined history.
The movie’s all-female fighting force stands at the ready with their shaved heads and strong physiques. The camera comes back to them multiple times as they proudly flex their power in group formation on the ground and then as they soar through the air. They’re a reminder that beauty and the feminine ideal don’t have to be understood only through a Eurocentric lens or a White male gaze. The women evoke sisterhood even as they reckon with the exigencies of their community. So often, that’s what Black women do every day.
There’s a lot packed into that trailer. But in the summer of 2022 there’s an awfully heavy burden of fearmongering and cruelty that this bit of pop culture manages to lighten just a little.
There’s a lot bearing down on Black women and women in general — on a lot of folks, really. In this little dollop of a distraction, there’s no coarse lawmaker making his case for leadership by characterizing his opponents as fat and ugly and comparing them inexplicably to “a thumb.” That’s what Republican congressman Matt Gaetz (Fla.) recently did during a speech to young conservatives in which he attacked women marching in support of abortion rights. The Republican lawmaker has a history of provocative language and so his comments, while extreme even for him, were not out of character. They simply add to the corrosive atmosphere of our times.
In the trailer, women are seemingly in full control of their destiny and that’s a fine bit of popcorn storytelling to distract from the reality that our interconnected freedoms are under stress. In a speech to the NAACP this month, Vice President Harris noted that in her Venn diagram of states restricting abortion rights and those that are tightening access to the polls, 10 are doing both, which means that even as the matter of abortion access is being left to state lawmakers to decide, it’s becoming more challenging for citizens to have a say in the laws of their state.
For a few minutes, a Black worldview is writ large, not as an addendum to a more central narrative and not as a subject of controversy or suspicion or lawsuits. It isn’t a theory that’s a subject of debate. It isn’t one of many stories. It’s the only story and it promises to be a sweeping one filled with compelling characters, towering personalities and feats of bravery in devotion to home — which is to say, it’s a story of patriotism.
This little trailer of Ryan Coogler’s film wouldn’t be that memorable if so many real-life extremists weren’t intent on hoisting themselves up on the backs of others. It wouldn’t feel like a serenade to Black women, thick women, athletic women, unsmiling women, nonfeminine women if so many judgmental people didn’t insist on defining womanhood on their terms rather than leaving that description up to the individual.
The teaser uses music as both a source of emotional connection and as a mnemonic device. “No Woman, No Cry” is a soothing song of 1970s vintage. It recognizes sadness. It allows for fragility but refuses despair. It merges into “Alright,” the Kendrick Lamar song that became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. The music evokes history, continuity and fight. It evokes an arc, not necessarily of justices, but of determination.
There are times when pop culture feels like it’s making light of serious issues, when it exacerbates a problem instead of contributing to a remedy, when it celebrates selfishness when generosity is what’s desperately needed. But occasionally, pop culture has a moment when it seems to take stock of everything — or everything simply seeps into a creative endeavor. And instead of it becoming a mirror of our times, it becomes a window that looks out onto a fanciful alternative, a more openhearted future.
We know what we’re seeing isn’t real. But it’s a reminder of how much better our reality could ultimately be.