Black Panther ★★★★★

As regular readers know, I am not a fan of superhero movies in any way at all; in fact, when I tried last holiday season to finally watch every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie in a row for the first time, the entire project sputtered out around Iron Man 3, because it took me literally four attempts to sit through the intellectual's torture chamber known as The Avengers, and I was so dispirited by the experience afterwards that I simply gave up on trying to watch the rest. But yes, I too turned out not to be unsusceptible to the cultural siren song which is Black Panther, aka "The Little Film That Could," which as of this writing has become the 10th highest grossing movie in human history and is still raking in bags full of cash every week; and so a couple of weeks ago, I finally trudged my way through the snow and cold to go see it, in a theater that still continued to be packed with hundreds of black teenagers even on a Sunday afternoon a month and a half after it first opened.

And what I discovered is that Black Panther is no superhero film, or at least not in the way we've become accustomed to defining them; it is in fact the explosive birth of a brand-new genre the film world has never seen before, which might best be called "social-realism meets costume-drama meets political-awareness meets ass-kicking." So in other words, imagine if Merchant-Ivory adapted a John Steinbeck novel, reset it in contemporary Harlem, then added ninjas; that's essentially Black Panther, which is why people are going so freaking nuts for it, and why it's looking likely at this point to not just be a ridiculously lucrative film but the very flashpoint of a whole new wave in the arts, one that for lack of a better term might be called the "Millennial Cultural Renaissance." We've seen the start of this renaissance already, in movies like Moonlight and Get Out, The Witch and Creed, Green Room and Beasts of the Southern Wild, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, films by Millennial-aged directors that are unusually powerful and political while still being great pieces of simple entertainment, highly aware of racial and gender issues while not letting those issues get in the way of telling a great story; but Black Panther is where this trend suddenly became a national mainstream force for the first time, a juggernaut of a hit that is literally starting to redefine what we even mean by a "successful genre movie" anymore.

As a member of Generation X, this new Millennial cultural renaissance has had me looking back in shame at the cultural contributions we ourselves made in our youth; empty, masturbatory, crap-worshipping, cartoonishly violent bullshit like Clerks and Pulp Fiction, the kind of cotton-candy pablum that eventually soured my generation into a bunch of bitter, nihilistic Trump-supporting monsters in our fifties. I'm jealous and awed to see the next generation after me approach the arts in such a different and more substantial way; Black Panther is merely the cherry on top of a whole Millennial sundae of amazing movies in the last several years, films that wish to make a political point, that wish to make the world a little bit better of a place than it was before, even while cutting out the preaching and reserving a lot of room for ass-kicking ninjas. Black Panther floored me for these reasons, and I look forward to becoming a serial watcher of it in the future, just like the hundreds of black teens in their "Wakanda Forever" t-shirts who were with me in the theater the other day, cheering along and shouting the lines with the cast. It was a profound, emotionally moving experience, one I haven't had in a movie theater in decades, and I look forward to the day soon when I can experience it again.

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