The film is the sequel to the 2018 superhero blockbuster that transformed its lead actor Chadwick Boseman into a pop culture icon shortly before his death at 43. For anyone who relishes deep dives into the comics, the brief preview of the upcoming film is rich with references to the stories of the characters, their eventual foes and successors. It is also a reminder of a fictional country in which darkness is the norm, the standard as well as an emblem of success and power.
These two minutes of impressionistic narration are also a brief respite and seductive rebuke to a kind of sordid misogyny and incendiary ignorance that has become a rallying cry for some conservatives and extremists. The trailer is the most powerful and provocative pop culture: it manipulates our common knowledge to suggest alternative narratives; and they are irresistible.
‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ Trailer: The Five Biggest Takeaways
The teaser is dominated by black women: Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright. Sometimes they are sad; sometimes they are furious. They shake hands in solidarity. They smile. There are scenes of mourning, but also of birth as a kind of delighted and welcomed miracle. There are women patrons 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 seconds of lovingly lit fiction than in time-honored real-world history.
The film’s all-female fighting force stands ready with their shaved heads and strong physiques. The camera pans back to them multiple times as they proudly flex their power in a group formation on the ground, then as they soar through the air. They remind us that beauty and the feminine ideal should not be understood only through a Eurocentric lens or a white male gaze. The women evoke fraternity while taking into account the demands of their community. This is often what black women do on a daily basis.
There’s a lot going on in this trailer. But in the summer of 2022, there’s an awfully heavy burden of fearmongering and cruelty that this piece of pop culture manages to lighten a bit.
There’s a lot of pressure on black women and women in general — on a lot of people, really. In this dollop of distraction, no crass legislator argues for leadership by calling his opponents fat and ugly and inexplicably comparing them to “a thumb”. This is what Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz (Florida) recently did during a speech in front of young conservatives in which he attacks women who demonstrate in favor of the right to abortion. The Republican lawmaker has a history of provocative language and so his comments, while extreme even for him, weren’t out of line. They only add to the corrosive atmosphere of our time.
In the trailer, women are seemingly in complete control of their destinies and it’s a nice popcorn story to distract from the reality that our interconnected freedoms are under pressure. In a speech to the NAACP this month, Vice President Harris noted that in her Venn diagram of states restricting abortion rights and those restricting ballot access, 10 do both, which means that even if the question of access to abortion is being left to state legislators to decide, it is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens to have a say in the laws of their state.
For a few minutes, a black worldview is written big, not as an addendum to a more central narrative and not as a matter of controversy, suspicion or lawsuits. It’s not a debatable theory. It is not one of many stories. It’s the only story and it promises to be a story full of compelling characters, towering personalities and feats of bravery in devotion to the home – that is to say, it is a story of patriotism.
This little trailer for Ryan Coogler’s movie wouldn’t be so memorable if so many real-life extremists didn’t intend to ride on each other’s backs. It wouldn’t sound like a serenade to black women, thick women, athletic women, unsmiling women, unfeminine women if so many judgmental people didn’t insist on defining femininity on their own terms rather than leave that description up to the individual.
The teaser uses music both as a source of emotional connection and as a mnemonic device. “No Woman, No Cry” is a vintage soothing song from the 1970s. It acknowledges sadness. It allows fragility but refuses despair. It merges with “Alright,” the Kendrick Lamar song that has become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. The music evokes history, continuity and combat. It evokes an arc, not necessarily of justices, but of determination.
Harry Styles gets all the applause
There are times when pop culture feels like it shines a light on serious issues, when it exacerbates a problem instead of contributing to a cure, when it celebrates selfishness when generosity is what we desperately need. But sometimes pop culture has a moment where it seems to take stock of everything — or it all just seeps into a creative endeavor. And instead of becoming a mirror of our time, it becomes a window to a fanciful alternative, a more open future.
We know what we see is not real. But it reminds us how much better our reality could ultimately be.