Breakdown: The Black Panther Trailer

Originally Posted 6/10/17


The challenge of any writer is to capture the depth of what people are feeling and express that for others to understand. At our best we are a pathway for empathy.   

I don’t know that I’ll be able to do that for you as I breakdown the Black Panther trailer and why it was so fucking lit, but I am certainly going to try.


The trailer opens with two white men talking about Wakanda and if that’s not a blatant metaphor for American media consumption, I don’t know what is. In the conversation, Ulysses Klaw (Andy Serkis) -tied up, disheveled and missing an arm -explains to Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) that his perception of Wakanda is way off and he highly underestimates the mysterious and very advanced civilization. The conversation sets up the backstory as this sort of scene does in any traditional blockbuster, but it also subtly sets up mainstream audience expectations. Whatever you may know about Black Panther, heard about the film before, or just simply assumed you knew based on the title needs to be thrown out the window because you weren’t thinking big enough. 


From that moment on the rest of the trailer isn’t about them, which is something that needs to be thought about for a minute. Even if the white male characters are supposed to serve as an “in” for white audiences, they aren’t going to be there long to hold their hands. The cast is huge and there are enough antagonists planned that a white outsider isn’t needed to further the story, a revolutionary idea for a Hollywood film this big [see Avatar, Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai et al].

Our heroes T’Challa and Okoye (Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira) watch these white men for some reason. They are in the position of power, able to observe, judge and render whatever verdict they deem appropriate. Also they are black as hell. Dark. He’s bearded with nappy hair, a style you don’t see in black male leads** often. She’s bald and focused, the fierce black woman if there ever was one, but she is still feminine in her jewelry and makeup, not worn for an overt and standard issue attempt at sexual appeal but seemingly for her own sense of beauty. This is their story and it’s not designed for the white gaze.

The trailer is still a superhero trailer, full of action shots to show off the country side, characters, (afrofuturistic) technology and fight scenes. There is the typical voice over that gives us our thematic conflict - a king that may have to do unsavory things to protect his land. But again, just like with Wonder Woman, the fact that these images exist with black characters in an authentically African backdrop is the revolutionary part. On top of that, the American-made films that are set in Africa, whether they are authentic or not, are never fun or fantastic movies. Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, etc all take place in a European*** setting. All are complex stories that depict a conflict with high stakes but aren’t depressing, joyless tales that are too realistic to be enjoyed like Hollywood films set in Africa tend to be. Again, it’s a subtle move but a meaningful one.

Blockbuster films like this are about escapism but even escapism needs to be rooted in some truth in order to resonate. Every image in this trailer has meaning. Women fighting expertly on the front lines in practical armor****. A clearly important man sitting on a throne in a teal suit that matches his lip plate. Various twist outs, fros, locs, fades, braids and shiny bald heads on every character. The truth of these seemingly small details are what engross us. 

This breakdown could obviously be summed up with the word “representation”, but representation for just the sake of it can fall flat. The excitement black people have taken to social media to share is based in the fact that this kind of representation already delivers in meaning. 

And to drive that point home, it’s coming out February 16, 2018, right in the middle of Black History Month.


*If you will let me get too into the weeds for a moment: the cool colors of the integration room give way to the warmer colors in the room T’Challa and Okoye are in and the rest of trailer stays warmer as we stay in Wakanda. Additionally, theorange and teal  found in most Marvel movies seems to fade away in Wakanda, or at least aren’t as apparent as it is in films like Age of Ultron. This is just a trailer breakdown and not a film theory essay, so I’ll leave it there. 

But still, peep that shit because it definitely was intentional.

**Note that the men listed tend to have low cut hair with the curls picked out, if they have any hair length at all. Same with the beards, if it’s there at all they are very short. Nan one nap to be found. And if don’t get why I point this out, start here and remember Google is a great friend.

*** “A European” Ugh, English is gross and annoying. 

****No shade to Wonder Woman and the Amazons, but there are major arteries in your thighs. They could all use some more armor. 

Bonus: Chris Pine and his eyebrows in the last piece I wrote. Evil Michael B Jordan in this one. I’m on a roll


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