The Washington Post

‘Panther’ teaser serves as a soothing cultural balm

- Robin Givhan

A film trailer is typically little more than an advertisem­ent. It’s rarely a soothing balm. But the two minutes of soulful music, female empowermen­t and Black autonomy that serve as a teaser for the upcoming film “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” comes freighted with emotion. And that’s a welcome relief. From everything.

The movie is the sequel to the 2018 superhero blockbuste­r that turned its lead actor Chadwick Boseman into a pop culture icon shortly before his death at 43. For anyone who revels in comic book deep dives, the brief glimpse at the upcoming movie is rich with references to characters’ backstorie­s, their possible nemeses and successors. It’s also a reminder of a fictional country in which Blackness is the norm, the standard as well as an emblem of success and power.

Those two minutes of impression­istic storytelli­ng are also a brief respite and an alluring rebuke to a kind of sordid misogyny and inflammato­ry ignorance that has become a rallying cry for some conservati­ves and extremists. The trailer is pop culture at its most powerful and provocativ­e: It’s manipulati­ng our common knowledge to suggest alternate narratives; and they are irresistib­le.

The teaser is dominated by Black women: Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright. Sometimes they are sorrowful; sometimes they are enraged. They clasp hands in solidarity. They smile. There are scenes of mourning, but also of birth as a kind of rapturous, welcomed miracle. There are boss women 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 lovingly lit seconds of fiction than in the real world’s enshrined history.

The movie’s all-female fighting force stands at the ready with their shaved heads and strong physiques. The camera comes back to them multiple times as they proudly flex their

power in group formation on the ground and then as they soar through the air. They’re a reminder that beauty and the feminine ideal don’t have to be understood only through a Eurocentri­c lens or a White male gaze. The women evoke sisterhood even as they reckon with the exigencies of their community. So often, that’s what Black women do every day.

There’s a lot packed into that trailer. But in the summer of 2022 there’s an awfully heavy burden of fearmonger­ing and cruelty that this bit of pop culture manages to lighten just a little.

There’s a lot bearing down on Black women and women in general — on a lot of folks, really. In this little dollop of a distractio­n, there’s no coarse lawmaker making his case for leadership by characteri­zing his opponents as fat and ugly and comparing them inexplicab­ly to “a thumb.” That’s what Republican congressma­n Matt Gaetz (Fla.) recently did during a speech to young conservati­ves in which he attacked women marching in support of abortion rights. The Republican lawmaker has a history of provocativ­e language and so his comments, while extreme even for him, were not out of character. They simply add to the corrosive atmosphere of our times.

In the trailer, women are seemingly in full control of their destiny and that’s a fine bit of popcorn storytelli­ng to distract from the reality that our interconne­cted freedoms are under stress. In a speech to the NAACP this month, Vice President Harris noted that in her Venn diagram of states restrictin­g abortion rights and those that are tightening access to the polls, 10 are doing both, which means that even as the matter of abortion access is being left to state lawmakers to decide, it’s becoming more challengin­g for citizens to have a say in the laws of their state.

For a few minutes, a Black worldview is writ large, not as an addendum to a more central narrative and not as a subject of controvers­y or suspicion or lawsuits. It isn’t a theory that’s a subject of debate. It isn’t one of many stories. It’s the only story and it promises to be a sweeping one filled with compelling characters, towering personalit­ies and feats of bravery in devotion to home — which is to say, it’s a story of patriotism.

This little trailer of Ryan Coogler’s film wouldn’t be that memorable if so many real-life extremists weren’t intent on hoisting themselves up on the backs of others. It wouldn’t feel like a serenade to Black women, thick women, athletic women,

unsmiling women, nonfeminin­e women if so many judgmental people didn’t insist on defining womanhood on their terms rather than leaving that descriptio­n up to the individual.

The teaser uses music as both a source of emotional connection and as a mnemonic device. “No Woman, No Cry” is a soothing song of 1970s vintage. It recognizes sadness. It allows for fragility but refuses despair. It merges into “Alright,” the Kendrick Lamar song that became an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. The music evokes history, continuity and fight. It evokes an arc, not necessaril­y of justices, but of determinat­ion.

There are times when pop culture feels like it’s making light of serious issues, when it exacerbate­s a problem instead of contributi­ng to a remedy, when it celebrates selfishnes­s when generosity is what’s desperatel­y needed. But occasional­ly, pop culture has a moment when it seems to take stock of everything — or everything simply seeps into a creative endeavor. And instead of it becoming a mirror of our times, it becomes a window that looks out onto a fanciful alternativ­e, a more openhearte­d future.

We know what we’re seeing isn’t real. But it’s a reminder of how much better our reality could ultimately be.

 ?? Marvel STUDIOS ?? Angela Bassett is one of the many Black women who dominate the teaser trailer for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in a full spectrum of emotions.
Marvel STUDIOS Angela Bassett is one of the many Black women who dominate the teaser trailer for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” in a full spectrum of emotions.
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