A great film consists not only of a great cast, but also a great director, screenwriter, composer, cinematographer, and costume designer.
Black Panther is recieving critical acclaim, and here are some of the amazing people who made this film great.
Ryan Coogler is a visionary man. Just look at how he deconstructs a complicated fight sequence from the film in terms of both the action and the symbolism. Coogler is not merely making another superhero film; he’s using his platform to tell the story about a fictional African nation uninterrupted by colonialism, a stand-alone film not dependent on others in the Marvel cinematic universe, and a narrative about multiple strong, independent female characters in an action-focused film.
Like directors Damian Chazelle and Barry Jenkins, Ryan found his close collaborators from his film school days. Ludwig Göransson, who composed the film’s score, met Ryan at USC School of Cinematic Arts; Damian Chazelle met his La La Land composer Justin Hurwitz at Harvard; Barry Jenkins met his Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton at Florida State.
Before Black Panther, Ryan gained recognition for directing Fruitvale Station and Creed. Fun fact: Coogler grew up in Oakland, CA; his film Fruitvale Station is set in Oakland, and parts of this film is also set in Oakland.
The film’s lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, has built his portfolio up to this moment — portraying our protagonist T’Challa/Black Panther. His previous roles include Jackie Robinson in the movie 42, and Thurgood Marshall in the movie Marshall. He has strong motivations for this film as well, as indicated in an interview with Rolling Stones.
It is rare to have so many well-defined characters for a superhero film, but Black Panther made it happen with the casting of these amazing actresses. Letitia Wright portrays Shuri, the intelligent scientist/engineer/inventor and sister to T’Challa; Lupita Nyong’o portrays Nakia, Wakanda’s undercover spy to liberate enslaved women in Nigeria; Angela Bassett portrays Ramonda, the wise queen of Wakanda; Danai Gurira portrays Okoye, the fierce general of the Wakanda royal guards.
My favorite character in the film is Erik Killmonger, portrayed by the fantastic Michael B. Jordan. Jordan previously worked with Coogler on Fruitvale Station and Creed. He portrayed the villain as a complex character with motivations that could be sympathized by the audience. Every scene with him in it was a joy to watch, and I definitely connected with him more than any other villain from the Marvel cinematic universe.
Ryan, the director of this film, is actually one of the co-writers for the screenplay. I admire directors who work on films they’ve written. The other writer is Joe Robert Cole, is known previously for his Emmy-nominated work in American Crime Story: The People vs OJ Simpson. When reflecting on the impact of Black Panther so far, Joe said, “As a kid I played a lot of make-believe and I would change every hero to black, so instead of James Bond I was James Black; instead of Batman, Blackman…This is the movie I wish I’d had to look up to.”
In this screenplay, Ryan and Joe created the vision for Wakanda on the big screen: a technologically advanced nation free from Westernization and colonialism. Some coverage of the film even goes beyond to indicate the resurgence of Afrofuturism: Wakanda is a utopian nation in postcolonial Africa, embracing African traditions while simultaneously showing its scientific advancement. This term, coined by critic Mark Dery in 1994, refers to an aesthetic that infuses science fiction and fantasy with cultures of the African diaspora. Afrofuturism has been present both in recent films and also in music, e.g. Janelle Monáe’s “Dirty Computer”.
Ludwig Göransson composed the film’s score. You may know Ludwig from his work with Donald Glover (AKA Childish Gambino) on Camp, Because the Internet, and Awaken, My Love! Genius did an interview with Ludwig on the steps he took to make the film’s soundtrack.
Kendrick Lamar produced the film’s curated soundtrack, Black Panther: The Album, with Anthony Tiffith from Top Dawg Entertainment. You know a movie is good when its curated soundtrack has songs that gets more than 1 million hits on Youtube.
Rachel Morrison exceeded expectations again as the cinematographer for Black Panther. She was nominated for an Academy award to recognize her work in Mudbound, becoming the first women ever to be recognized in that category in the Oscars. In this film, Rachel delivered colorful, beautiful shots, capturing the vibrant costumes and landscape of Wakanda. She previously worked with Ryan on Fruitvale Station.
To fully appreciate the amount of detail in the costume design, you’ll have to do some background research before seeing the film. Academy-nominated Costume Designer Ruth Carter was recently featured in Time magazine for her work. Did you know she came up with more than 1,000 different conceptualized costumes for this film? Her motto is: “Make costumes that don’t look like costumes”
I’m probably going to see this movie again, this time to notice the small details: how certain scenes are filmed, the texture of their costumes, the juxtaposition of the music score with each act of the screenplay… Just as we’ve learned to appreciate beautiful art and catchy music, we must also learn to appreciate good film-making.