The more I’ve watched “Black Panther,” the more I’ve come to appreciate how fantastic it is. (I’ve seen it four times now, about double my recent average for MCU films at this stage in their release.) I’ll acknowledge that the movie isn’t perfect. For starters, I really wish it was easier to see what was going on in that opening action scene. But I care less about perfection and more about how movies make me feel.
I’ve been a comic book fan most of my life, and I’ve been anticipating a Black Panther movie since I first started reading Christopher Priest’s run in 1998. As a fan of the books, I couldn’t wait to see how Wakanda and T’Challa would be interpreted. (“,” of course, gave us a nice appetizer.)
But “Black Panther” carried an even larger expectation for me as a black person.
A big-budget movie with a predominantly black cast set in a fictional country with the most technologically advanced society on Earth? All happening in what’s arguably — there is still, after all — the most popular current movie franchise? You wanna talk about stuff I’ve never seen before? Stuff I didn’t think I’d ever truly see? Stuff I’ve been dying to see on screen since I was old enough to realize it was missing from my life?
So, yes, the movie worked for me as a film — and as the ultimate fulfillment of this big-budget pop-culture representation I’ve been longing for.
Here are my favorite moments from “Black Panther” in the order they appear. There are at least 100 more moments that deserve to be on this list, but unfortunately the Time Stone is still tucked safely away in(last I checked), and I would rather prioritize seeing the movie another half dozen times right now.
1. Welcome to Wakanda
What happens: T’Challa, Okoye and Nakia fly into Wakanda.
Why it’s on the list: This is the first time we see Wakanda in the film, and in the MCU. And it’s worth the wait. As the sun rises on T’Challa and Nakia, powerful African vocals deliver Ludwig Göransson’s incredible score. Okeye proudly tells T’Challa and Nakia, “We are home.” The ship decloaks and flies over the Wakandan outskirts, revealing a deep majestic canyon and a taste of the film’s amazing cinematography by Rachel Morrison, an Oscar nominee for “Mudbound.” The ship then swoops through a valley where we see herds of animals rushing, almost as if welcoming the king back home. The herders themselves wave as the ship flies by. My favorite images from this scene, though, are the Border Tribesmen on horseback, racing along, signaling to the ship.
Drum beats reach a fever pitch, and T’Challa’s line, “This never gets old,” mirrors how I will likely feel about this scene even 20 years from now. Finally, the ship dives right into the hillside and climatically breaks through the holographic barrier to reveal Wakanda in all its glory as the horns come barreling into the score.
I shed very manly tears experiencing these first shots of Wakanda. The scene did not disappoint.
2. The Challenge Day ceremony
What happens: The Dora Milaje, the four tribes and T’Challa’s family festively dance and drain the river in preparation for T’Challa to arrive to his coronation.
Why it’s on the list: This scene, an instant classic, is the reason to see a spectacle film. Once again, the music is key. It’s festive at first and then builds to a majestic high (there’s a lot of majesty in this score) as T’Challa exits the ship to the sound of everyone chanting his name. T’Challa takes a moment to truly appreciate what a big deal this is as he looks around at his fellow Wakandans swaying and bobbing in celebration of their soon-to-be new king. This scene could have easily been ruined by a voiceover preemptively explaining the lore of the challenge, but the filmmakers are smart enough to just let a scene be.
I loved every aspect of this — from the symbolic shot of the spaceship leaving the frame to the effects when his powers are stripped away as everyone rhythmically shrugs their shoulders (god, I love that detail). This is also when you first get to see Ruth E. Carter’s incredibly vibrant, eclectic costumes penetrate the screen.
It feels like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
3. Shuri names her new invention
What happens: Shuri introduces new footwear to her brother.
Why it’s on the list: This whole Shuri as “Q” James Bond scene is one of the most entertaining, but my favorite joke is Shuri’s meta sneakers joke. No, not the “What are those?!!” one, although I quite enjoyed that one even before I knew it was a Vine reference. The other shoe joke about her new “sneakers.”
What sold me was not just Letitia Wright’s brilliant delivery, but‘s reaction and then her response to his reaction. It’s subtle and easy to miss. Watch both actors next time you see it. Their performances in this scene, and especially this moment, are brilliant.
4. Killmonger walks to the throne
What happens: Yes, literally just that.
Why it’s on the list: This is the best shot in the movie. Everything about it is incredibly expressive: the music, the crazy rotating camera angle, the acting (Michael B. Jordan’s stylish swagger as he heads to the throne is noticeably different from the way the other Wakandans carry themselves), the sandals he’s wearing. Wakanda has just been turned on its ear and this shot captures that perfectly.
5. M’Baku threatens Ross
What happens: Everett Ross, played by Martin Freeman, starts speaking, but gets cut off by Winston Duke’s M’baku.
Why it’s on the list: Winston Duke’s perfect comic timing is everything here. When Freeman starts talking, I cringed. I expected that tired cliche of the outsider explaining things to an antagonist in a way the main characters can’t, getting them out of a bind. “Mr. M’Baku I’m not from around here, but if there’s one thing I do know is that T’Challa…” UGH, no thanks!
But when M’Baku and the rest of the Jabbari basically bark him into submission, I was beyond relieved. And then, M’Baku threatens to feed Ross to his children. The implications of that line evoked too many “African savage” stereotypes for me. A big African black man threatening to feed the feeble white man to his assumably cannibalistic children?
But Ryan Coogler is a genius and I should have trusted him. He deftly subverted my expectation, and what followed was my favorite joke and delivery in the entire movie. It brings the house down every time I’ve seen it. Vegetarians, indeed.
6. T’Challa v. Killmonger 1
What happens: T’Challa and Killmonger fight for the throne of Wakanda.
Why it’s on the list: This is an incredible fight, though the first time I watched it, I wasn’t really feeling it. It didn’t hit me like a Winter Soldier kind of fight, which I guess is what I was expecting? But every time after that, it got better and better. I realized it tells a very specific story. The way the fight builds, T’Challa has a couple of chances to end it early, but instead shows mercy. As Erik gets the upper hand and you slowly realize T’Challa’s not going to win, it’s heartbreaking. The almost deafening score punctuates this.
The knee to the head, the punch to the gut. Killmonger’s taunting question: “Is this your king?!” Nakia getting the Queen Mother and Shuri away. If you’ve watched this scene and you thought the fight was boring, watch it again and pay attention to the small details. Incredible.
This tweet perfectly mirrors my feelings on it:
7. Killmonger’s vision
What happens: Erik Killmonger goes through the coronation ritual to become the new Black Panther.
Why it’s on the list: This is, full stop, the best scene in the movie, from the way it’s shot, again to the music, to the editing and writing choices. Namely the choice to use the kid version of Killmonger to talk to his dad. Erik has never gotten over the pain of losing his father. He’s still that kid who found his father murdered by the king of Wakanda all those years ago.
Full disclosure: I’ve never seen an episode of “This is Us,” but I’m now a huge Sterling K. Brown fan because of this movie, and mostly because of this scene. He kills it here and Michael B Jordan is impressive, but it’s child actor Seth Carr who makes this scene. His delivery of “People die … that’s just the way it is around here” is perfect. And as a guy who grew up on the west side of Chicago in the ’80s and ’90s, is something that’s incredibly relatable for me.
8. The Dora Milaje trap Killmonger
What happens: Three members of the Dora Milaje trap Killmonger to attempt to remove his suit.
Why it’s on the list: This moment speaks directly to me. One of the things I love in superhero comics is seeing highly skilled but otherwise regular humans believably keeping up with (and sometimes even beating) superpowered individuals. (See a depowered Storm defeating Cyclops for leadership of the X-men in Uncanny X-men #201).
In this scene, Killmonger has the powers of the Black Panther and one of his suits, yet three Dora (who don’t have superpowers, just powerful weapons and know how to work as a group) are able to trap him with their spears and nearly take him out. He ultimately uses the powers of the suit to break free, but this sequence made the Dora even cooler than they already were.
I also have to believe writers Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole are also wrestling fans, as this is textbook “looking good in defeat,” where a character comes close to beating another, stronger character, but is ultimately defeated, yet still having earned the fans’ respect.
The final scene
What happens: T’Challa and Shuri visit Oakland.
9. Why it’s on the list: T’Challa, forever changed by Erik Killmonger, comes to Oakland to start to slowly, thoughtfully help struggling black and poor people out in the world.
This scene impacted me in a way I didn’t expect. It speaks to the 14-year-old version of me who wrote my own stories about cool sci-fi stuff happening in my neighborhood. In my stories, the main protagonist, the guy with the coolest weapon and fighting ability, was always black, because I frankly didn’t see that enough in movies. Seeing this dramatized in a movie was like seeing a dream literally come true. It was an extremely emotionally complex moment. As the credits rolled, so did my tears.