Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Well, that's just lazy writing": 7 notes on Deadpool 2

1) From now on, I'm only watching prequels, sequels, trequels, and origin stories for the rest of the summer.

2) My friend's response to Deadpool 2: "The first Deadpool was refreshing. Now, with the sequel, it's just more."

3) Never have I seen a movie with so many examples of a superhero's self-loathing. In the opening scene, he blows himself up, fragmenting himself into various crimson body parts. Later, in the midst of various action sequences, Deadpool gets mangled repeatedly like a red rag doll. He bleeds, suffers a metal bar through his head, and crumples unnaturally, his back bent, once he hits a metal table in a Supermax prison. As the blank white eyes of his mask break frame repeatedly, he makes self-aware jokes about the conventions of the movie as they happen: "Big CG-fight coming up!" or "Well, that's just lazy writing." If the movie has problems with originality, does it help us to know that the filmmakers know it too?  It's funny in the same uneasy way one may laugh as the confidence man exposes how he's tricked you out of your money. You still don't get your cash back.

4) As Deadpool works on finding enough younger people to create a franchise gang of superheroes, he hires on Domino (Zazie Beetz) an an African American super-heroine with luck as her special power. She proves to be a fine sidekick as they confront a top-security prison vehicle in order to save a young adolescent mutant Firefist (Julian Dennison). Deadpool makes jokes about "Brown Panther" in relation to his Indian cab driver Dopinder (Karan Soni), but one gets the feeling that Deadpool, as a deformed and frequently dead white guy, has already been antiquated by movies like Black Panther. He's an example of toxic ironic masculinity rotting away fast--a throwback in an industry that increasingly knows that.

6) Deadpool 2 has one very funny scene where the various would-be superheroes parachute to their gruesome fates. For example, one of them gets pureed by the blades of a helicopter, thereby satisfying any disgust with the well-worn conventions of superhero movies. Josh Brolin sneers as soldier of fortune Cable, I guess to remind us of his similar role as the heavy in Avengers: Infinity War. To satisfy the extremely short attention span of the film's jaded audience, minor characters get set on fire, suffer the fragmentation of machine gun fire, endure various knife wounds as Deadpool cheerfully refers to songs from Frozen or chants self-help bromides. At times, Deadpool 2 gives one the strong impression that the movie would only be happy if it could implode on screen. In an ancient legend, a daemon tells a king that "The very best thing is utterly beyond your reach: not to have been born, not to be, to be nothing." Deadpool would no doubt agree.

7) Yet, underlying all of the gore, the hyper-violence, and the terminal irony, we find that Deadpool really just wants to get in touch with his feelings and find his inner child in the most sickly, sappy, and sentimental way possible. For that reason, Cable carries a teddy bear on his belt as we listen to Air Supply sing "I'm all out of love, I'm so lost without you, I know you were right believing for so long . . . . "

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Time --a found poem

        --a found poem                                                 

“Time does not exist. We invented it.” --Albert Einstein
“Pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” --Horace

Tick away the moments that make up a dull day,1
. . . For I have known them all already, known them all--
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,2 then
called Harry’s attention to the present,
but he was absolutely
unaffected by the singularities of time and place.  
And by the middle of August I could not see what difference it made,
whether the pigs got kidney stones or not.3  
I’m tired of lying in the sunshine,
staying home to watch the rain.

(When you are young, life is long,4
and time is the longest distance
between two places.5 And then one
day you find ten years have got behind you
And no one told you when to run.6)

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.7
So, you run and you run to catch
up with the sun but it's sinking,
racing around to come up behind you again.

The sun is the same
in a relative way
but you're older
shorter of breath,
every year getting shorter,
never seeming to find the time,8
those long rainy afternoons
when an hour isn’t just an hour
but a little piece of eternity
dropped into your hands9
(And yonder all before us lie10--)
Can’t repeat the past?
Why of course you can.11

The great belt on the wheel of Time slips12
And the right time is any time that one is
still so lucky to have.13

What he heard was the ticking of his watch.14
you’d generally
get to somewhere else--if you run very fast for a long time,
as we’ve been doing.

It takes all of the running you can do,
to keep in the same place. If you want to get
somewhere else,
you must run at least twice as fast as that!15

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .16

(Life happens
while you’re busy
making other plans.17)

And the gatekeeper gives you a stool
and allows you
to sit down at the side in front of the gate.

And you sit
for days and years18
and tomorrow,
and tomorrow,
and tomorrow,

Creeps at this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time.19

It’s better to pass boldly into the future20
that year by year recedes before us.

It eluded us then, but that’s no matter--
tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out
our arms farther . . .
borne back ceaselesly into the past.21

Time past and time future,22
time keeps on slipping, slipping,23
into what might have been and what has been--
pointing to one end,
which is always present.24

1Pink Floyd, “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon
2T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
3Walker Percy, The Moviegoer
4Pink Floyd, “Time”
5Tennessee Williams, The Glass Menagerie
6Pink Floyd, “Time”
7Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
8Pink Floyd, “Time”
9Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
10Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
11F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
12Zora Neale Hurston, “The Gilded Six-Bits”
13Henry James, The Ambassadors
14Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”
15Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
16T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”
17John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”
18Franz Kafka, The Trial
19William Shakespeare, Macbeth
20James Joyce, “The Dead”
21F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
22T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”
23Steve Miller, “Fly Like an Eagle”
24T. S. Eliot, “Burnt Norton”

In the same vein:

Friday, May 4, 2018

"You kill and torture and you call it mercy": The Film Doctor's one sentence review of Avengers: Infinity War

After all of the glories of Black Panther and Wonder Woman, Avengers: Infinity War suffers from the constant need to outdo itself with PG-13 torture scenes, magic spells, portals, an orchestral score thundering to keep up with each grandiose epic collision, pretentious font on the bottom of the screen designating mythic places (Knowhere, Vormir, and Zen-Whobiri), dark purple backdrops with flames providing visual contrast, superheroes asking their loved ones to sacrifice them melodramatically to save the universe, flying donut space ships, Chris Pratt grateful to just get in the occasional witty remark edgewise since jokes in the movie are enhanced by the plot's turgid slog, Thanos (Josh Brolin) looking like someone's dim uncle bullying everyone and declaiming lines like "In time, you will know what it's like to lose" and "The hardest choices require the strongest willin his smug jock-gone-to-seed magic stone gathering way, his big boots lumbering, his fight scenes reminding me of the Rock-Em, Sock-Em robot climax of the original Iron Man (2008), his massive chin radiating grey cracks across his ponderous face, leaving me to wonder: is it worth it to have the entire Marvel Avengers franchise beat itself up apocalyptically just for him over two pseudo-final money-grubbing blockbusters, or could we bring back Erik Killmonger for his charm and far more genuine angst, or, I don't know, just let the wittier Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy just hang for awhile in New York City and idly chat among themselves?

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Rachel Kushner: "Spinoza with lipstick"

I'm very much looking forward to reading Rachel Kushner's novel out today entitled The Mars Room. Here's quote from Dana Goodyear's profile "Rachel Kushner's Immersive Fiction" from The New Yorker:

"Kushner, who is forty-nine and lives in Los Angeles, thinks of herself as a 'girl citizen,' asking questions, at large in the world. She uses the novel as a place to be flamboyant and funny, and to tell propulsive stories, but mainly as a capacious arena for thinking. In her work, Kushner draws on decades of American social life and European intellectual history, while remaining open to slinky aberrations—poemlike passages, monologues, lists, a slip into unadulterated fact. The Mars Room, for instance, contains excerpts from the Unabomber’s diaries. This takes swagger. Don DeLillo, a friend, is a tutelary figure. Like him, she is good at conjuring mayhem: a riot, a blackout, a bomb going off at the country club. Her reading taste runs to Marguerite Duras and Clarice Lispector—women who are brainy, sexy, complex, unmanageable. 'These are proxies for her,' Kushner’s husband, Jason Smith, the chair of the M.F.A. program at ArtCenter College of Design, says. 'That’s what Rachel’s into—Spinoza with lipstick.'"

Monday, April 30, 2018

Jaron Lanier on the "mass behavior-modification empire"

In this interview by Noah Kulwin for Select All, Jaron Lanier points out our current "mass behavior-modification regimes":

"Way back in the ’80s, we wanted everything to be free because we were hippie socialists. But we also loved entrepreneurs because we loved Steve Jobs. So you wanna be both a socialist and a libertarian at the same time, and it’s absurd. But that’s the kind of absurdity that Silicon Valley culture has to grapple with.

And there’s only one way to merge the two things, which is what we call the advertising model, where everything’s free but you pay for it by selling ads. But then because the technology gets better and better, the computers get bigger and cheaper, there’s more and more data — what started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. So you end up with this mass behavior-modification empire, which is straight out of Philip K. Dick, or from earlier generations, from 1984.

It’s this thing that we were warned about. It’s this thing that we knew could happen. Norbert Wiener, who coined the term cybernetics, warned about it as a possibility. And despite all the warnings, and despite all of the cautions, we just walked right into it, and we created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks. We did it out of this desire to be both cool socialists and cool libertarians at the same time."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Scott Pilgrim: Make Your Transitions Count

A student shared this excellent video by Nerdwriter with the film class after we studied Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I usually position between Citizen Kane and Casablanca during the semester. It's one of my favorites to teach.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Isle of Dogs / Cast Interviews

I like the incidental rats.

In the same vein . . .

From Observations on Film Art, an analysis of Casablanca by David Bordwell

I've been enjoying Kristin Thompson's and David Bordwell's top-notch Observations on Film Art for years. Here's a quote from Bordwell's recent take on Casablanca:

"Learning from a classic

When historians want to explain changes in film artistry, they have some options. One possibility is to focus on the influential individual, the great artist who inspires successors. Charles Rosen makes this case in The Classical Style, which concentrates on Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven as prime innovators. Traditional film historians have singled out Griffith for this role; I’d add Ozu and Antonioni, in their respective contexts, as significant influencers.

A second option is to zero in on an individual work that became a prototype for other works. The Birth of a Nation, Potemkin, Citizen Kane, and The Bicycle Thieves have played this role in film histories.

A third possibility is to explain change through patterns of collective practice. Creative choices, disclosed in several (perhaps minor) works, propagate through a community and eventually establish norms. This seems to have been what happened with tableau staging and the system of continuity editing. They emerged in bits and pieces, as ad hoc practices that were forged into firm craft practice.

Without denying that some individuals, like Welles and Hitchcock, matter, and without denying that there are powerful models, such as Kane, my book was mostly committed to showing how narrative norms, pressured by competition and other factors, mutate across the 40s ecosystem. This emphasis on norms is one aspect of my research program.

So in re-watching Casablanca for my meeting with Lady P.’s podcast, I noticed some norm-abiding and norm-tweaking things I could have written about.

Classical plot construction (of course). Despite the legend of last-minute screenplay fixes, this is a tightly organized plot. Kristin’ s four-part structural template is in force. After shrewdly distributed exposition, Laszlo and Ilsa stroll into Rick’s at the 25-minute point. At the midpoint (about 50:00), Rick calls Ilsa a whore and she departs to meet Renault. The climax, I’d say, starts around 80:00, when Rick and Ilsa reconcile and he hatches his plan to rescue her and Laszlo.

The parallels are also well-carpentered. Rick is compared to both Laszlo (both have been activists) and Renault: both are in-between men, apolitical cynics who will convert to the cause. Ilsa is paralleled to Rick’s high-strung paramour Yvonne, as well as the Bulgarian woman who has concealed from her husband the fact that she traded her body for safe passage out of Casablanca.

Ticking the 40s boxes: Voice-over narration to open the thing? Check. Crisis structure that launches an explanatory flashback? Check.

Franker sexuality and Parker Tyler’s Morality of the Single Instance? Check-plus. When Ilsa comes to Rick’s apartment, they obviously do the thing. He later says they 'got Paris back last night.'

And of course it’s a feast of 40s character actors, including Rains, Lorre, Greenstreet (in a silly fez), Veidt, Kinskey, Dalio, and Sakall (aka Cuddles)."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Sorry to Bother You trailer

Here's the Sorry to Bother You trailer with Tessa Thompson and Lakeith Stanfield, due to be released in theaters on July 6.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"Destroyer of Worlds": The Facebook Files

---"Here’s Facebook denying that Russian propagandists bought ads from the company during the 2016 presidential campaign, and admitting, just a little while later, that they did. Here is Facebook admitting a little later still that, well, actually, the company distributed Russian propaganda to nearly 150 million people during election season. The company sold advertising to Donald Trump’s campaign much more cheaply than to Hillary Clinton’s (because Trump’s ads were so much more 'provocative' and, you know, algorithms). Advertisements which, by the way, could be so microtargeted that buyers could serve them up to groups of 'Jew haters.' But here’s Mark Zuckerberg, saying he considered the notion that Facebook had influenced the election in any way to be 'a pretty crazy idea,' a remark he later said he regretted." --from Mario Bustillo's "The Smallness of Mark Zuckerberg"

---"Facebook is the destroyer of worlds." --from Mike Shield's "Facebook's Algorithm has wiped out a once flourishing digital publisher"

---Facebook is “certainly right up to that line of practicing medicine not only without a license, but maybe without proof that what they are doing provides more benefit that harm.” --from Natasha Singer's "How Companies Scour Our Digital Lives for Clues to Our Health"

---"In many countries, Facebook is contending with a darkening reputation as a vehicle for disinformation and false news. The most recent example: Sri Lanka." --from Vindu Goel and others' "In Sri Lanka, Facebook Contends with Shutdown After Mob Violence"

---"Facebook is now so good at watching what we do online—and even offline, wandering around the physical world—it doesn’t need to hear us. After digging into the various bits of info Facebook and its advertisers collect and the bits I’ve actually handed over myself, I can now explain why I got each of those eerily relevant ads. (Facebook ads themselves offer limited explanations when you click 'Why am I seeing this?')

Advertising is an important staple of the free internet, but the companies buying and selling ads are turning into stalkers. We need to understand what they’re doing, and what we can—or can’t—do to limit them." --from Joanna Stern's "Facebook Really Is Spying On You, Just Not Through Your Phone's Mic"

---"Facebook has no incentive to change its ways. The money is too great. The issue is too nebulous to alienate more than a few Facebook users. The more that Facebook saturates our lives, families and communities, the harder it is to live without it."  --from Siva Vaidhyanathan's "Facebook Wins, Democracy Loses"

---"Nothing about Facebook is intrinsically organized or self-regulating. Its terms of service change fitfully, as do its revenue centers and the ratio of machine learning to principled human stewardship in making its wheels turn. The sheen of placidity is an effect of software created by the same mind that first launched Facemash—a mean-­spirited ­hot-or-not comparison site—but then reinvented it as Facebook, an 'online directory,' to prevent anyone from shutting it down. The site was designed to make the libertarian chaos of the web look trustworthy, standing against the interfaces of kooky YouTube and artsy Myspace. Those places were Burning Man. Facebook was Harvard." --from Virginia Heffernan's "Who Will Take Responsibility for Facebook?"

---"It reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: a technology celebrated for bringing people together is exploited by a hostile power to drive people apart, undermine democracy, and create misery. This is precisely what happened in the United States during the 2016 election. We had constructed a modern Maginot Line—half the world’s defense spending and cyber-hardened financial centers, all built to ward off attacks from abroad—never imagining that an enemy could infect the minds of our citizens through inventions of our own making, at minimal cost. Not only was the attack an overwhelming success, but it was also a persistent one, as the political party that benefited refuses to acknowledge reality. The attacks continue every day, posing an existential threat to our democratic processes and independence." --from Roger McNamee's "How to Fix Facebook Before It Fixes Us"

---"What’s crucial to understand is that, from the system’s perspective, success is correctly predicting what you’ll like, comment on, or share. That’s what matters. People call this 'engagement.'" --from Alexis C. Madrigal's "What Facebook Did to American Democracy"

---How Facebook Steals Billions of Views

---"The Facebook Eye, Twitter, and Social Media Addiction: Thoughts on Jacob Silverman's Terms of Service"

---"Facebook calls this 'frictionless sharing', which is its euphemism for silent total surveillance." --from Adrian Short's "Why Facebook's New Open Graph Makes Us All Part of the Web Underclass"

---ZUCK: yea so if you ever need info about anyone at harvard
ZUCK: just ask
ZUCK: i have over 4000 emails, pictures, addresses, sns
FRIEND: what!? how’d you manage that one?
ZUCK: people just submitted it
ZUCK: i don’t know why
ZUCK: they “trust me”
ZUCK: dumb f---s

---"In real-world terms, a part of Facebook still sees itself as the bank that got robbed, rather than the architect who designed a bank with no safes, and no alarms or locks on the doors, and then acted surprised when burglars struck." --from Kevin Roose's "On Russia, Facebook Sends a Message It Wishes It Hadn't"

---"One of our big focus areas for 2018 is making sure the time we all spend on Facebook is time well spent.

We built Facebook to help people stay connected and bring us closer together with the people that matter to us. That's why we've always put friends and family at the core of the experience. Research shows that strengthening our relationships improves our well-being and happiness.

But recently we've gotten feedback from our community that public content -- posts from businesses, brands and media -- is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.

It's easy to understand how we got here. Video and other public content have exploded on Facebook in the past couple of years. Since there's more public content than posts from your friends and family, the balance of what's in News Feed has shifted away from the most important thing Facebook can do -- help us connect with each other.

We feel a responsibility to make sure our services aren’t just fun to use, but also good for people's well-being. So we've studied this trend carefully by looking at the academic research and doing our own research with leading experts at universities.

The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health. On the other hand, passively reading articles or watching videos -- even if they're entertaining or informative -- may not be as good.

Based on this, we're making a major change to how we build Facebook. I'm changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions."  --Mark Zuckerberg

---Zuckerberg Discusses Next Steps in Protecting Election Integrity

Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Black Panther Files

---"Despite the difference in style and practice of storytelling, my approach to comic books ultimately differs little from my approach to journalism. In both forms, I am trying to answer a question. In my work for The Atlantic I have, for some time, been asking a particular question: Can a society part with, and triumph over, the very plunder that made it possible? In Black Panther there is a simpler question: Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch? Research is crucial in both cases. The Black Panther I offer pulls from the archives of Marvel and the character’s own long history. But it also pulls from the very real history of society—from the pre-colonial era of Africa, the peasant rebellions that wracked Europe toward the end of the Middle Ages, the American Civil War, the Arab Spring, and the rise of isis." --from Ta-Nihisi Coates' "The Return of Black Panther"

---“'You might say that this African nation is fantasy,' says Boseman, who portrays T’Challa in the movie. 'But to have the opportunity to pull from real ideas, real places and real African concepts, and put it inside of this idea of Wakanda—that’s a great opportunity to develop a sense of what that identity is, especially when you’re disconnected from it.'

The character emerged at a time when the civil rights movement rightfully began to increase its demands of an America that had promised so much and delivered so little to its black population. Fifty-two years after the introduction of T’Challa, those demands have yet to be fully answered. According to the Federal Reserve, the typical African-American family had a median net worth of $17,600 in 2016. In contrast, white households had a median net worth of $171,000. The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field—a scenario applicable not only to the predominantly white landscape of Hollywood but, more important, to the world at large.

The Black Panther Party, the revolutionary organization founded in Oakland, Calif., a few months after T’Challa’s debut, was depicted in the media as a threatening and radical group with goals that differed dramatically from the more pacifist vision of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Lewis. Marvel even briefly changed the character’s name to Black Leopard because of the inevitable association with the Panthers, but soon reverted. For some viewers, Black Panther may have undeservedly sinister connotations, but the 2018 film reclaims the symbol to be celebrated by all as an avatar for change.

The urgency for change is partly what Carmichael was trying to express in the summer of ’66, and the powers that be needed to listen. It’s still true in 2018." --from Jamil Smith's "The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther"

---"Analyzing the film’s antagonist is more complicated. Killmonger is written as pure rage, and it’s hard for a man written as pure rage, however justified, to be a good villain. What’s impressive about Black Panther is that it asks us to examine the grey area of that designator. Unfortunately, the Killmonger we see on screen is one who has read the Baldwin line 'To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage,' and ignored Audre Lorde’s 'The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.' The film is an ode to the exceptionalism of black American rage that, while singular, cannot speak for the majority of the diaspora. There is no precedent for worldwide liberation.

What’s more, Killmonger’s politics completely ignore the ways power structures overlap to oppress individuals. He is the type of man who would shoot down the concept of intersectionality if he met it in the streets. He kills his girlfriend. He brags about killing people of color in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his own brothers and sisters in Africa. He is quick to assault an unarmed priestess who questions his orders. He delights in killing one of the Dora Milaje. In truth, I can only see him as a sympathetic victim if I squint hard enough at the past that made him instead of his actions on-screen.
Regardless, from T’Chaka and W’Kabi’s isolationist approach, to T’Challa’s inability to choose between isolation and visibility, to Killmonger’s ruthless pursuit of power — one fueled by the belief that America was built on the rage of white men and that a better world might emerge from the rage of black ones — men were never going to save Wakanda. Danai Gurira is the most exceptional actor in the film, and it’s worth noting, to Coogler’s credit, how the majority of humor in Black Panther is performed by the women at the expense of the men, especially T’Challa. It is what makes the king’s relationship with the women in his life who ground him feel familial, a humbled framing of masculinity I wish more filmmakers would employ. T’Challa anchors the narrative, but it is the women he is surrounded by who anchor the film and save him from himself. Killmonger has no such luxury, and despite his desire for a global community of free black people, his end is a lonely one.

It is these quiet scenes that haunt me most throughout the film. The looks T’Challa, Okoye, and Nakia have on their faces when they see Wakanda from midair, which also serves as the audience’s first glimpse of the country. The awe with which T’Challa says, 'This never gets old.' It’s one of the most important scenes of the film: To not just know where home is but to have access to it, to know that they belong. Later, the desperate exchange between Nakia and Okoye after Killmonger defeats T’Challa is equally heartrending. These are women whose allegiances are subtly examined and confronted: Okoye’s to protocol, Nakia’s to Wakanda, and both to each other. The way Okoye, anguished, all but vomits the words, 'I am loyal to that throne, no matter who sits on it.' These actors do so much with so little while conveying incalculable pain in a matter of minutes. For all the talk of Black Panther’s technological accomplishments, it is important to remember that the film doesn’t just give us a star-studded cast but the full extent of their talent." --from Rahawa Haile's "How Black Panther Asks Us to Examine Who We Are to Each Other"

---"Africa—or, rather, 'Africa'—is a creation of a white world and the literary, academic, cinematic, and political mechanisms that it used to give mythology the credibility of truth. No such nation as Wakanda exists on the map of the continent, but that is entirely beside the point. Wakanda is no more or less imaginary than the Africa conjured by Hume or Trevor-Roper, or the one canonized in such Hollywood offerings as Tarzan. It is a redemptive counter-mythology. Most filmmakers start by asking their audiences to suspend their disbelief. But, with Africa, Coogler begins with a subject about which the world had suspended its disbelief four centuries before he was born. The film is a nearly seamless dramatic chronicle of the threat created when Killmonger travels to the African nation he descends from. Yet some of the most compelling points in the story are those where the stitching is most apparent. Killmonger is a native of Oakland, California, where the Black Panther Party was born. (In an early scene, a poster of Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Party, hangs on a wall, next to a Public Enemy poster.) In an impeccably choreographed fight sequence, T’Challa and General Okoye, the leader of Wakanda’s all-female militia (brilliantly played by Danai Gurira), alongside Nakia, a wily Wakandan spy (played by Lupita Nyong’o), confront a Boko Haram-like team of kidnappers. At the same time, it is all but impossible not to notice that Coogler has cast a black American, a Zimbabwean-American, and a Kenyan as a commando team in a film about African redemption. The cast also includes Winston Duke, who is West Indian; Daniel Kaluuya, a black Brit; and Florence Kasumba, a Ugandan-born German woman. The implicit statement in both the film’s themes and its casting is that there is a connection, however vexed, tenuous, and complicated, among the continent’s scattered descendants. Coogler said as much in Brooklyn, when he talked about a trip that he took to South Africa, as research for the film: after discovering cultural elements that reminded him of black communities in the United States, he concluded, 'There’s no way they could wipe out what we were for thousands of years. We’re African.'"  --from Jelani Cobb's "Black Panther and the Invention of 'Africa'"

---"At least as far as its origins are concerned, though, Wakanda may not be where you think it is, and its forgotten religious roots tell a story with as many twists and turns as any comic book.

Trace the word back several generations — before comic writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby at Marvel applied it in 1966 to a hidden kingdom of scientist-warriors whose technological capabilities make it the most advanced civilization on the planet. The nativity of Wakanda becomes very curious, and suggests the name of the fictitious land in the beginning was in no way African, but thoroughly American.

Among the Plains Indian peoples — the Omaha, the Kansa, the Ponka, the Osage and others — Wakanda was (and is) a name for God. And like the Wakanda of Black Panther, this was a divinity whose hiddenness was inseparable from its power." --from Peter Manseau's "The Surprising Religious Backstory of Black Panther's Wakanda"

---"These scholars, sometimes referred to as the 'Howard School' of international relations, include a number of luminaries typically overlooked in white histories of world politics: philosopher Alain Locke, scholar-practitioner Ralph Bunche, and Merze Tate, the first black woman to receive a PhD in international relations. These thinkers clustered around Howard University in the 1930s and ’40s, hence the name. Howard School thinkers had a diverse and complex set of interests, but one core thing that united them was deep study on the role race and racism plays in global politics — which sheds light on some of the IR of Black Panther.

In 1943, Tate published an essay titled 'The War Aims of World War I and World War II and Their Relation to the Darker Peoples of the World.' In it, she argued that Americans did not truly understand the implications of their sweeping rhetoric about defending democracy and freedom — that a war against Nazis, waged on the grounds of principle, calls into question global white supremacy (in the forms of both European colonialism abroad and Jim Crow at home).

'Those Englishmen and Americans who envision plans for and approach the problems of lasting peace have an egocentric view of the world and think primarily in terms of Europe, the Western World, the balance of power in Asia, and appear to take for granted a return to something akin to the pre-war African and Asiatic status quo,” Tate writes. “They think and write entirely too much in terms of saving European civilization, ignoring the fact that that civilization is a partial and secondary culture serving a minority of the peoples of the world.'

Indifference to the question of not just victory in the war, but what a peace settlement would look like for the world’s nonwhite peoples, would be more than immoral in Tate’s eyes — it would be impossible. Colonized and oppressed people everywhere, from Africa to East Asia to the United States, would not permanently agree to their own subjection. If they were not freed, they would fight.

'Will the white man and the colored man now find a basis for cooperation as equals? [The] alternative is an inter-continental war between the East and West, the greatest war the human race has ever seen, a war between whites and non-whites,' Tate writes. 'That war will come as a result of the white man’s unwillingness to give up his superiority and the colored man’s unwillingness to endure his inferiority.'

Erik Killmonger is Tate’s warning brought to life. His plan, to distribute advanced vibranium weapons to members of oppressed groups around the world, is essentially to spark the kind of global race war Tate warned against." --from Zack Beauchamp's "What Black Panther Can Teach Us About International Relations"

---"even I can admit that certain beats of Black Panther fall a little flat. That it also has to hit some paint-by-numbers beats in the course of executing a giant Marvel blockbuster. Or how, duh, I too have seen better shot action in X or Y movie. But if there’s anything the popular response to Wonder Woman has taught us, it’s how little those kinds of minimal, surface-level complaints actually matter.

Not next to the heights of what it has to offer.

Not next to the sincerity lying under those same beats. Not next to the innumerable scenes full of life and joy and hilarity. Not next to those cool as hell action beats I’ve never seen before (The spear through the windshield, then stopping the car! The fun hilarity of rhino armor!). Not next to the incalculable value of the aforementioned representation, like the fact that the smartest tech whiz in the world is a young African princess who quotes vines and could probably run laps around Tony Stark. Not next to the range of characters and motives and perspectives rarely seen in any films, let alone within a cast of ten (TEN!) amazing black actors who are getting to headline a major studio superhero film. Not next to the gorgeous and loving expression of African culture and afrofuturism. Not next to the sheer litany of little brilliant details of characterization that make the film sing in every nook and cranny (notice how much Klaue usurps not just Black resources, but Black culture). Not next to the sheer competence of storytelling where my concern for the layers of informational prologues ended up mattering so damn much to the emotional pay-offs. So no, those surface complaints don’t matter much not next to all of that." --from filmcrithulk's "Black Panther's Right Thing."

---"There are glimpses of these sobering realities in Black Panther as well: in an especially moving scene, Erik Killmonger relives the death of his father in their Oakland apartment using the radioactive elixir of the Heart-Shaped Herb, and when asked why he isn’t moved to tears, his young self shrugs and says 'Everybody dies. It’s just how it is here.' At the end of the film, Killmonger makes another statement about living in imprisonment and bondage that gestures toward the turbulent life experiences that fuel his angst. That the film confronts these issues head-on, without the crutch of allegory, is rare in itself, but what makes Black Panther truly unique is that this 'dystopian' present is juxtaposed with a (stunningly staged) utopian vision that is also wholly steeped in the black experience—in its history, iconography, and culture. In doing so, Black Panther gives blockbuster science fiction its new vocation: a grounded and inclusive reflection of reality that isn’t closed off by mass spectacle, but instead—in the tradition of Afrofuturism—allows for radical reimaginings of both the past and the future." --from Devika Girish's "Out of This World"

---"The comic, as first introduced, was not the least bit radical in the political sense — and not even self-consciously black — but it had a genuinely radical subtext. The Black Panther’s alter ego was T’Challa, a highly educated king of the mythical African kingdom of Wakanda, which had never been colonized by foreign powers and was the most technologically sophisticated country in the world. (To underscore the country’s prowess, King T’Challa introduces himself to the Fantastic Four by giving them a vehicle that runs on magnetic levitation.) This portrait begs to be read as a critique of both the western slave trade and the prevailing attitudes of superiority through which Westerners have long viewed Africans." from Brent Staples' "The Afrofuturism Behind Black Panther"

---"With its fully realized, finely detailed vision of the technologically advanced, never-colonized African republic Wakanda, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther is notable for being one of the purest expressions of Afrofuturism rendered on film to date. The term, coined by the academic Mark Dery in his 1994 essay-cum–interview collection 'Black to the Future' — which features insightful perspectives from authors Samuel R. Delany, Greg Tate, and Tricia Rose — has come to connote a flexible artistic aesthetic, and a framework for critical thought that’s applicable to multimedia work focused on imagined and alternative global black experiences, often laced with strong political undercurrents. As the author Ytasha Womack writes: 'Afrofuturism combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-western beliefs.'" --from Ashley Clark's "What to Watch After Black Panther: An Afrofuturism Primer

---"In Black Panther, the future is female. Sure, the titular hero is the man-king T’Challa, but his bodyguards, advisers, and chief technologist are all women. Same goes for the crew behind the camera: The design of the movie’s setting—the fictional African nation of Wakanda—mostly comes from production designer Hannah Beachler (Moonlight, Beyoncé’s Lemonade) and costume designer Ruth Carter (Amistad, Selma). 'The challenge was imagining how something futuristic looks in Africa,' Beachler says. 'What would Africans have done given reign over their own culture, without having been colonized? How would their cultures have mixed together?' The answer is a future that Tony Stark never could have dreamed of." --from Angela Watercutter's "Behind the Scenes of Black Panther's Afrofuturism"

---"We, as Black women, are marginalized and underrepresented — especially when it comes to cinema. Seeing yourself reflected in media can shape who you are.

With Black Panther — brimming with female heroes like T’Challa’s personal guard the Dora Milaje, played by some of the biggest stars on the planet — a generation of young women with ravenous appetites to see themselves on screen now look to Wakanda to feed that hunger. For little girls everywhere, who will soon see Black women as tech-savvy, loyal-hearted, kick-ass heroes in a blockbuster film — a medium that rarely depicts us that way — this will mould who they become."

---"For many, it seems radical to show women leading without apology, technology reshaping and fundamentally helping society and tradition as clarifying the future rather than as a funny mirror to a false glorious past. My mother, Dr. Achola Pala, who writes about pre-colonial, colonial, and neo-colonial African society, was the first person to call me a radical because of an ability to suss out the root causes of things.

In many Western spaces, the word radical conjures negative or destructive images. But before that framing could affect me, my mother taught me the real definition of the word: to grab a problem at the root and remove any trace of the original defect. Or rather, that in order to make progress, the status quo must be challenged straight on—even if that means something must be lost to move forward.

If Black Panther is indeed is a radical tale, its $387 million global opening weekend and currently $500 million in sales worldwide is indicative of a world hungry for a radical story—a story where, for a change, women lead, black people set the tone, and the whole is bigger and more important than the sum of its parts." --from Agunda Okeyo's "Wakanda: A Nation Without Chains"

---"Indeed, Black Panther offers a radical vision of what black national power and internationalism could look like, if we trusted, respected, and elevated black women — especially in male-dominated fields such as the military and international diplomacy.

In Black Panther, as in real life, black women be saving ev-ery-body, white or black." --from Karen Attiah's "Forget Killmonger: Wakanda's Women Are Black Panther's True Revolutionaries"

---"That T’Challa opens up to 'good' globalization but is also supported by its repressive embodiment, the CIA, demonstrates that there is no real tension between the two: African aesthetics are made seamlessly compatible with global capitalism; tradition and ultra-modernity blend together. What the beautiful spectacle of Wakanda’s capitol obliterates is the insight followed by Malcolm X when he adopted X as his family name. He signaled that the slave traders who brought the enslaved Africans from their homeland brutally deprived them of their family and ethnic roots, of their entire cultural life-world. An inspiration for the Black Panther Party, Malcolm X’s mission was not to mobilize African Americans to fight for the return to some primordial African roots, but precisely to seize the opening provided by X — an unknown, new (lack of) identity engendered by the very process of slavery. This X, which deprives black Americans of their ethnic tradition, offers a unique chance to redefine (reinvent) themselves, to freely form a new identity much more universal than white people’s professed universality. (As is well known, Malcolm X found this new identity in the universalism of Islam.) This precious lesson of Malcolm X is forgotten by Black Panther: to attain true universality, a hero must go through the experience of losing his or her roots." --from Slavoj Zizek's "Quasi Duo Fantasias: A Straussian Reading of Black Panther

---"This is not to say the politics of Black Panther should escape scrutiny; its professed solution of outreach programs and UN speeches is not exactly a middle ground between complete isolation and Killmonger’s agenda, and any familiarity with the United Nations might lead you to snicker at Marvel’s weird optimism. Wakanda is still, at the end of the movie, a country ruled by a monarchy (and one rescued in part by a CIA agent, at that). But even so, Black Panther is the most coherent political statement these blockbuster franchises have yet produced, an unapologetic argument for sweeping change that doesn’t blink in the face of the crowd-pleasing action that got people to buy all that popcorn. It instead holds our gaze, and argues the duty of the powerful to the disenfranchised. In this, it succeeds where so many films created within the cinematic universe system have stumbled, and it clarifies what such films can be if only they are allowed to step beyond their usual pacifying constraints."  --from Steven Scaife's "Superhero Films Will Have to Work Harder After Black Panther"

---"The Wakandan technology I would want to get my hands on is both the most cutting-edge and the most subtle; Shuri simply refers to it as her 'sand pit.' Like an Afrofuturist iteration of 3D printing, a black sand (perhaps granular vibranium) coalesces into inhabitable shapes—a car, a plane—that remotely navigate real vehicles. (Fittingly, the token good white guy, a CIA agent, pilots a drone-like one to bomb other fighter planes.) At one point, armor appears to grow out of Shuri’s sand pit. At another, black sand seems to be the basis for 3D video calls, creating a sculptural hologram of the person you’re speaking to in the palm of your hand. The opening sequence of the film, in which we learn the founding myth of Wakanda, uses an analogous form of graphic animation. Shimmering black grains rise and fall from a bed of volcanic sand to form transient pointillist figures and architecture. Adaptive, improvisational, and interactive, black sand mediates between nature and tech, the ancient and the futuristic, the simple and the complex, the individual and the collective.

It is an apt figure for Black Panther’s aesthetic. Movies often flatten real African cultures into two-dimensional imagery—stereotypes in stereo, a quilt of clichés. But Wakanda, as everyone keeps reminding us, doesn’t exist. This gave Ryan Coogler free rein to create a country in the subjunctive mode: what if…? Given a blank canvas, he chose to sculpt and embroider various materials, genres, and tones. Black Panther is Shakespeare meets Shaka Zulu, Too $hort in Timbuktu. The film mingles myriad cultures, fashions, geographies, and (a quibble) accents from across the black diaspora. But even my skepticism about the casting of non-Africans fell away in the face of this glorious Pan-African cornucopia: actors with heritage from Guyana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, the US, and the UK. Audience reactions have been equally diverse, not only in location but also in feeling—the critical debates as lively as the joy. The politics of representation in Black Panther’s diasporic casting and audience may be more powerful, in the end, than its shortcomings in theorizing a truly representative democracy." --from Namwali Serpell's "Black Panther: Choose Your Weapons"