I hate when films come with a cultural warning.
Black Panther came with such a label: if you don’t like this film, you’re a racist and you don’t want Black Americans to be successful in the film industry, which in turn means you don’t want Black Americans to be successful anywhere. That’s actually what I have been told by several Black Filmmakers.
That makes disliking certain films rather provocative. If a Caucasian American enjoys Black Panther but not Do The Right Thing, they’re racist. But if they enjoy Get Out but not 12 Years a Slave, they’re still racist.
This can be confusing and frustrating, and here’s why: when a film comes with a presupposed cultural warning about what your thoughts reveal about your prejudices only, then it’s not going to end well for anyone. Rather than watching the film and discussing its filmmaking techniques and its cinematic language, rather than analyzing color schemes and lighting cues, rather than praising performances and the score, rather than being able to actually discuss how various themes, motifs, ideas, and problems are explored cinematically, it really boils down to whether or not you’re a closet racist because you didv/didn’t like an “ethnic” film because it was/wasn’t your kind of thing. If you like a film because of one aspect of the film while disregarding all the other aspects, that doesn’t make it a good film.
So then, what should we do when a film comes with a cultural warning label?
Watch it any way and have a well founded and well articulated opinion.
Black Panther is an important film and it does a three things very well: the villain (who should have his own film), the color scheme (which was gorgeous to look at), and the music (the best composer/artist collaboration in recent memory). I thought the film was good, not great.
But important. The film has come at the right time. I also don’t think this films could have been made at the start of the MCU. It has been a smash hit critically and commercially.
But that doesn’t make it a good film. It is an important film and it should be given the same critique and criticism as 12 Angry Men, The Devil’s Backbone, 8 1/2, In the Mood For Love, Wild Strawberries, Howl’s Moving Castle, and An American in Paris. If you believe a film is great because it had a predominantly Black cast, that’s racist. If you think a film is great because it was the first big Black superhero film, that’s racist. If you claim that because
So, what is the best Black film I’ve ever seen? 1) I have no idea what that means. 2) If it means what I think it people want it to mean, that’s racist. 3) Ask better questions that actually provides a context for a better conversation: how did Get Out subvert the horror genre expectations, what were your feelings at the end of Do The Right Thing, how did 12 Years a Slave immerse the viewer in Solomon’s psyche? These are good questions – these are the right questions.
Don’t diminish the medium by asking about favorites; add to the conversation by asking why cinema is bettered by these films and filmmakers, and how they did it through the cinematic language of frame and cut and sound and movement.
Important films aren’t always great films. But sometimes important films just need to be good.
But seriously, we need a Erik Killmonger film now.