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Black Panther claws its way to the top

I arrived at the movie theater in Rocky Mount early. My goal was to avoid the typical opening weekend crowd by catching the earliest Saturday showing of Marvel’s latest superhero movie: Black Panther. This is my usual routine for almost all movies because the theater is usually almost deserted before noon, even for the big anticipated blockbusters.

Imagine my surprise when I stepped up to the ticket counter and was told that first showing was already sold out.

Luckily, I was still there early enough to snag a ticket to the next showing only a half hour later, so I didn’t mind. I was quite pleased actually to see how enthusiastic people were for the new movie. Much has been written and said over the last few months about how the film is important for black representation and also for portraying strong female characters, so I hoped the movie would do well at the box office to pave the way for more like it.

After seeing the film myself, I definitely think the movie lives up to all the hype.

The plot, while still hitting all the typical beats of a superhero film, was entertaining from start to finish. It didn’t exactly feel like the usual Marvel movie, perhaps because the story focuses more on character development and internal conflict than the flashy fight scenes and big explosions (though the flashy fight scenes and big explosions are fun too).

Honestly, what makes the film worth watching is the characters.

Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa, the Black Panther and new king of fictional African nation Wakanda after the untimely death of his father. Throughout the film, T’Challa juggles learning how to best be a leader while also continuing to do the right thing on top of dealing with a sense of loss. He’s such a well-developed character that anybody can probably find some aspect of his struggle to relate to.

T’Challa goes head to head with Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens (portrayed by Michael B. Jordan.) He, too, is a complex character with his own struggles, which moviegoers can probably find some aspects of relatable too.

Unlike most other Marvel films, the supporting cast are more than simple stock characters just thrown in to be love interests or comic relief. The women really hold their own in both the brains and brawn categories. And the best part? Nobody questions them based on their gender. The women can do anything the men can do in this movie, and it’s all portrayed so naturally.

People seem to enjoy this movie for many different reasons: because it injects much more diversity into the Marvel universe, because it portrays black characters as complex and interesting heroes to look up to, because the soundtrack is wonderful, because it introduces African cultural elements people can learn more about, because it makes you think deeper about issues that are prevalent in the real world too. And so on and so forth.

If I sound like I’m giving more credit than a simple superhero movie deserves, it’s only because I enjoyed the film so much and I want to see more like it. I hope Hollywood continues to bring to life on the big screen more stories that explore more diverse characters and situations.

It’s not hard to see how often our society is angry and divided over differences of opinions and ideas. These days it feels like it’s difficult just to even sit down and have a civil debate about things. That’s why stories can be so important. They can portray ideas in a way that makes us reconsider what we thought before. They can raise questions and pose answers in ways that a simple conversation cannot.

Even if you aren’t a Marvel fan, I’d recommend checking out Black Panther. I’m sure you can find something entertaining, enjoyable, and interesting from it.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.