Tag Archives: Africa

“BLACK PANTHER” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Long live the king.

Black Panther represents a watershed moment for African-American superheroes and Hollywood: a chance to really redefine what an action hero means to people and how they’re represented in mass media. It has all of the elements that makes any Marvel film a great one. It has passionate performances from its talented cast members. Smart character development that makes our heroes’ choices meaningful and consequential. Not to mention its spectacular action sequences that pretty much guarantees it an Oscar nomination year-in-and-year-out. But what makes Black Panther particularly special is the significance of its diversity; its emboldening of marginalized communities by giving them a platform to say what they’ve been trying to say all of these years. It’s one thing to be simply entertained by a superhero movie. It’s another thing entirely to be impacted by the experience and take it with you long after you’ve left the movie theater. Or in this case, Wakanda.

Taking place after the character’s debut in Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther now finds T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) as King of Wakanda, a hidden African nation housing the Earth’s largest deposit of a rare metal called Vibranium. After losing his father T’Chaka (John Kani) and sparing his killer at the end of Civil War, T’Challa believes that the worst is behind him and he can now focus solely on governing his people.

He is sorely mistaken.

For one thing, M’Baku (Winston Duke) and the Jabari tribe are in strong opposition to T’Challa’s rule, and he’s committed to challenging him for the throne at all costs. Weapons smuggler Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) rears his ugly head once again, as he has an violent history with Wakanda for constantly stealing plots of Vibranium from them. And a shady assassin who goes by “Killmonger” (Michael B. Jordan) has an eerie obsession with the Black Panther and a hidden agenda he has regarding Wakanda and its people.

Black Panther achieves so much on so many levels that it’s hard to pick where exactly to start. I’ll begin with the writer and director Ryan Coogler, who has achieved ground-breaking strides here both visually and aesthetically for this film. Coogler, who gained attention in his earlier years for helming the biographical picture Fruitvale Station and the Rocky spinoff Creed, creates a technically immaculate world in Wakanda, a highly-advanced society that feels removed and secluded from the rest of the world, but also possesses its own breath and heartbeat in the same sentence. The costumes and makeup evoke the feel and tribalism of the ancient Congo tribes from Africa, a culture which at least partially helped inspire the “Black Panther” comic books, while the production design evokes an Afro-futuristic setting that feels like its evolved years beyond any Western civilization could have in a hundred years. And the action? Spectacular. Whether Black Panther is fighting without his armor in a Wakandan waterfall, or pursuing Klaue through one speeding car to another, the action is fast-paced, enthralling, and engaging. I haven’t felt this excited in a superhero film since The Dark Knight in 2007. Yes, I am saying this with The Avengers and Captain America: Civil War in mind as well.

But it’s not just the production itself that’s so impressive: it’s also the story that Coogler crafts here, a humble fable about a king wanting to do the right thing, but is haunted by the sins of his ancestor’s past. One of my concerns going into this movie was how Coogler was going to handle the race element of the picture. Was he going to ignore it altogether and focus solely on the superhero aspect? Or was he going to put so heavy an emphasis on it that the movie became a social statement instead of an action blockbuster? The answer is neither. Like Iron Man, The Dark Knight, and Captain America: Civil War, there are heavy themes underlying the film’s subtext, but it is not what compels the film itself forward. What makes this film a great one is that it is a character drama first, and a social allegory second. The themes of institutional racism and prejudice is as a consequence of the character’s actions throughout the film. It is not the action itself. In making its point humbly, it allows the message to be seen at its most transparently, while at the same time not distracting from all of the superhero spectacle going on.

It would be a crime if I did not mention the film’s outstanding cast. They are the best of any MCU movie so far, hands down. Everyone is so spectacular in their roles, so humane and believable in their interaction with each other that I could dedicate an entire article to talking about each performer individually. I would easily campaign for the film to receive a Screen Actor’s Guild Outstanding Cast nomination, if the SAG Awards didn’t play so much to their bases to begin with.

Boseman, of course, kills it as T’Challa. He was great in Civil War a few years ago, and he’s just as great as he is now. Yet interestingly enough, my favorite characters from the movie are its antagonists, which serve as a sort of remedy to the villain problem Marvel has been facing for a long time now. Duke, for instance, succeeds in playing a dryly charismatic bear in M’Baku, and he’s so boorish that I would love to just give the guy a big hug, were it not that he could crush me in one muscle reflex. Serkis is so wild and over-the-top as Klaue, yet that just makes him all the more fun and fascinating of a character to watch. We usually have the most fun in Marvel movies seeing the heroes and villains duke it out over highly-rendered green screen action sequences. I find it interesting that Serkis was just as fun to watch ranting in an interrogation room as much as he was firing his arm cannon at his enemies.

The best of these performers, however, is Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger. Part of what makes his performance so mesmerizing is that you don’t really expect a villainous performance out of the guy to begin with. He was one of the super-powered teenagers in Chronicle, Oscar Grant III in Fruitvale Station, and Apollo Creed’s son Adonis in Creed. He’s not really known for playing cruel or malicious characters. Yet, that’s exactly what makes his performance as Killmonger so compelling. It’s the fact that he’s coming from a very human place with it, and his motivations against the Panther make sense and are relatable on a personal level. He is easily one of my favorite villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He would have been number one, if Tom Hiddleston’s Loki didn’t occupy my top spot.

Black Panther is a surprising masterpiece. It’s a stylish action movie, an important social commentary, and a theatrical character drama that hits all of the right notes that it needs to all at once. I’ve given four-star reviews for multiple MCU movies in the past, including Iron Man, The Avengers, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, and Thor: Ragnarok. I would recommend all of these movies solely based on how fun they were alone. Black Panther is the first to be truly profound outside of its Blockbuster value. It is the bridge where art meets entertainment.

No, Black Panther is not the first black superhero to be adapted to the big screen. That title belongs to Todd McFarlane’s Spawn in 1997. Like the Wakandan king himself, however, it seems destined to become the most significant from a long line of predecessors. And rightfully so.

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“ZOOTOPIA” Review (✫✫✫)

And don’t forget the Zoopocalypse.

Zootopia is a movie just about as good as a movie titled Zootopia can be. There’s animals, a cute bunny protagonist (although she doesn’t like to be called “cute”), an underdog story for her to go through, and a colorful city, of which the title derives its name from. Kids will love it, adults not as much. But Zootopia has enough uniqueness to distance itself from the rest of the competition, and make itself stand out in a long line of successful Disney movies.

The plot takes place in an alternate reality where animals have evolved from their primitive, savage states into civilized, anthropomorphic beings, allowing predators and prey to coexist peacefully in the same society. Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young rabbit who’s wanted to be a police officer ever since she was a kid, dreams of going to Zootopia, the heart of this new co-existing world. But as she soon finds out, Zootopia is not the city of paradise and tolerance that she had hoped. She quickly discovers that the big guys overpower the little ones on almost every block and street, and considering she’s just a wee rabbit, she quickly gets slapped onto parking duty in her district.

Enter Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sniveling fox that is so coy in his craft that he could give Gordon Gecko a run for his money. Wilde becomes a witness to a kidnapping that Hopps is suddenly thrown into investigating. As this unlikely duo burrows deeper and deeper into the investigation, they discover a secret that may impact the future of Zootopia forever.

A question I wondered while watching Zootopia: where are all the humans? The animals have been on the Earth long enough to evolve into a more civilized state. Where did they learn to be civilized from? Did the animals overthrow the human race in an epic revolution? Did the humans become extinct as the animals evolved? I thought of all of these possibilities while Hopps stared in awe at Zootopia, which may or may not have been built on top of piles of human corpses. Of course, these are probably thoughts only I would think of, and a mystery I’ll have to be content with being unsolved, just like with what happened to the humans in Cars.

How do you expect Zootopia to play out? Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is yes, it plays out like that. Like every other animal-loving animated movie out there, Zootopia is filled with cute, cuddly creatures and colors that will liven up a child’s day. Are the beats too familiar for those who are experienced moviegoers? Of course they are, but at least we can still have fun with it.

Let’s run through the cast of characters, shall we? The rabbit is excited, energetic, and optimistic? Check. The fox is sly, slick, and wickedly sarcastic? Check. The Cape Buffalo is big, blunt, and a to-the-point, no-nonsense bovine? Check. Most of the animals you think of will fit their stereotypes, with one notable exception: Benjamin Clawhauser (Nate Torrence), an obese cheetah who works as a police dispatcher and has an obvious obsession for donuts. See the irony here? The fastest animal alive, now being the fattest animal alive. There’s a self-awareness to his character that makes him fun to watch and laugh at. Watching him makes you wish there was as much self-awareness in the entire movie as there is with this one character.

Still though, there are elements to appreciate with this movie. There’s a good reason why kids will enjoy it: it’s because the animation is vivid, detailed, and colorful. Not much of a surprise, considering all of the colorful worlds we witness in Disney movies like Tangled, Frozen, and Wreck-It Ralph. But the other thing I like with this movie is the creativity of its premise, in how vast Zootopia itself is and how different cultures of animals interact with each other.

In the movie, there is a big divide between the animals that are natural predators and prey. Watching this conflict draw out reminded me of the Black Lives Matter movement in today’s world, and the sharp disagreements that sprout in between black communities and the police force. You might find it funny how an animated movie can demonstrate a message of equality, but it pulls it off with immediate relevance while not straying away from its family-friendly tones. There was one moment where an animal shouted at a leopard to “Go back to Africa.” The leopard replies in shock “I’m from Zootopia.” I sadly wondered how many Americans have to repeat a similar conversation on a daily basis.

In its whole scope, Zootopia is a fun movie that is even more fun for the kiddies. I enjoyed it, but I wish it could have escaped from some of its conventions, and even further explored some of the deep ideas that it was already exploring. I guess I’m thinking too much like an adult though and not enough like a kid. Adults already have FOX and CNN. The kids can have Zootopia.

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The Philanthropist And The Entertainer: A Eulogy

Before I begin, let me start by stating the obvious: yes, I know that I’m late with reporting this. Everyone already knows about the following issues I will be tackling. The information provided in this article is no longer timely. I know that. However, given the gravity of the situations and considering that I’m also writing this from an essential perspective, I write and publish this in the hopes that people will have a changed outlook to similar occurrences in the near future, not that I’m looking forward to these things repeating themselves in any way.

On Saturday, December 5th of last week, Nelson Mandela passed away at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, succumbing to the respiratory infection he’s been struggling with for years now. He was surrounded by his friends and family when he died. The nation mourned, a memorial was held, and the world leaders all flocked to Africa to celebrate the life of one great man, including President Barack Obama and South Africa’s own Jacob Zuma. Mandela was 95 years old.

A week before, the world was ridden of another great man. On November 30th, two days after thanksgiving, celebrity and actor Paul Walker was killed in a fatal car crash that took him and friend Roger Rodas’ life on the road. The car burst into flames upon crashing into a light pole, which investigators believe the car was going 90 miles per hour in a 45 mph speed zone.

Regardless of the details of the crash, their deaths were tragic all the same. Rodas, who was a raceshop owner and Walker’s financial adviser, was survived by his wife and his two children, one of whom was his eight-year old son who saw him at the crash site. While Walker is most known for the Fast and Furious series, Walker was also known as an avid car lover, racer and a phenomenal philanthropist, founding a charity in 2010 called “Reach Out Worldwide” as a response to the earthquake in Haiti. Him and Rodas were coming back from a philanthropic event hosted by this same charity before they got into the fatal crash.

These three great men passed away under tragic circumstances, all of them leaving behind families who will love them and miss them forever. Two of them were known world-wide, and contributed to the health and well-being of mankind. One of them, however, changed a nation and inspired generations.

If you read that last part and were about to say Paul Walker, I’m going to slap you so hard you won’t be able to tell the difference between a Ferrari and a Volkswaggen. The day I was informed of Walker’s death was surprising in the least. At 24 years old I didn’t expect to hear that he had passed away, though admittedly I wasn’t surprised to hear it was a car crash. All of social media blew up with his death. My Facebook was crammed with status updates. There were too many tweets to count. And in the following days, so many publications were writing about his death he might as well have been Michael Jackson.

Now experiencing the same shock and sadness with Nelson Mandela’s death, I find it interesting that the public’s reaction is mild at best and non-existent at its worst. Looking back at my twitter and Facebook feeds, I notice nearly everyone I followed wrote about Paul Walker almost instantaneously the day he died. When Nelson Mandela died on December 5th, about how many people do you think tweeted or facebooked on his death? On my feeds, I counted five.

Anyhow, back to Paul Walker. On one of the posts I was reading, a close friend of mine commented on the feed which stirred quite a controversy between him and other bloggers. On another friend’s post, he commented bluntly: “What war did he serve in? Oh yeah, that’s right…”

He later came back on Facebook, writing about Paul Walker’s death and criticizing all of the attention people were paying towards it. Obviously, people were angered and offended by his comments, but take a second to understand it from his perspective. My friend, who will remain anonymous out of respect, previously served in the military before going to college. He served in the Iraq war for eight years on two tours of duty. The experience of killing and seeing many of his friends getting killed impacted him deeply, and when he came back to the USA he was mostly alone, suffered from cases of depression and paranoia, and was homeless for many years of his life before a friend convinced him to go to college and change his future. He experienced the worst the world had to offer, came back from it and decided to make himself something out of it. I respect him with great admiration, as I do towards anyone who makes the sacrifices he does and comes back choosing to better themselves out of it.

But this isn’t about him. This is about Paul Walker, Nelson Mandela, and the media that popularizes them both. Answer honestly: in the days you heard about Walker and Mandela’s death, which one did you hear about quicker? Whose death was talked about more? Who’s stories were discussed more in the media? Do you even know who Nelson Mandela is?

If you don’t, here are the bullet points: Nelson Mandela was born into an apartheid and racially segregated Africa. From 1950 to 1962, he protested against his government and the racial evil they advocated, and because he spoke out he was thrown into prison for 28 years of his life. When he finally was released from prison in 1990, he ran an election for presidency over South Africa, and was the first black president ever to be elected into office. During his time as president he brought an end to apartheid, advocated human rights for all African citizens, and unified a country during a time of great tension.

That’s just a summary of his career, but Mandela has done so much more. After his retirement, Mandela focused on charitable foundations and poverty. He communicated to the NAACP on the economic assistance of Africa. He focused on world-wide issues through an organization called “The Elders” founded by himself and others in 2007. And when his son Makgatho died of AIDS in 2005, Mandela lead a campaign aimed towards the improvement of treating and preventing AIDS among other hurting families so they don’t have to go through the same things that he did.

Point being: Mandela changed a nation. For Pete’s sake, he changed the world. There were some things that people were critical of him towards, including his violent protests at the beginning of his career or his condescending views of the United States during the Iraq war. Beyond that though, look at what this man has done. He has taken hardship, unfairness and tragedy, turned it around, and made everything better for an entire nation. I only saw a few facebook updates for this wonderful man, yet Paul Walker looked good and drove sports cars for a living and the internet basically exploded at the mention of his death.

I end mentioning one notable scene from this year’s 12 Years A Slave. In one sorrowful scene, Solomon Northrup is begging to a Canadian carpenter named Samuel Bass, played by Brad Pitt, to write and deliver a letter to his hometown so law enforcement can bring his citizenship papers and free him from his life as a slave. While at first intimidated and afraid at the notion, he eventually comes to resolve, standing up and saying to him:

“I will write your letter, Solomon. If you indeed find freedom, it will not have only been my privilege. It will have been my duty.”

Mandela too recognized freedom from oppression as his duty over of his privilege. And yet we pay more attention to the death of an entertainer over that of the carpenter who freed them.

-David Dunn

Post-Script: Everyone, no doubt, has seen the Fast and Furious movies, because that’s what Paul Walker was most known for. I encourage you then to seek out Clint Eastwood’s phenomenal 2009 sports-drama film Invictus, which not only shows Nelson Mandela’s impact of a nation, but also of the hardships he’s had to endure along the way. Also, Morgan Freeman is in it.

SOURCES: The Guardian, WORLD Magazine, The Huffington Post, NelsonMandela.org
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