Crazy Rich Panthers

Black Panther was one of the movies I had very high expectations of (yes, it's from 2018, and yes, it's now 2019). How would Afrofuturism be portrayed? How did they solve the resource curse of having so much vibranium? Who would the first big screen non-White Marvel superhero fight?

Turns out the secret to avoiding resource curse is simple: just hide your resource from everyone else and don't use it to trade. Better yet, build a camouflage shield so no one can see how advanced you are and as a result won't want anything from you. Having a seemingly infinite amount of it also helps.

If only that could work for other countries in real life. The world of economics was ignored and Afrofuturism was reduced to muscular men living in caves. Black Panther ended up fighting a black villain.

Fast forward a few months I went to the theater to see Crazy Rich Asians (yes, also 2018). A really hyped up movie with an Asian economics professor as the protagonist! How often would you see that? What kind of movie about Asia would be shown to Americans?

Of course, Crazy Rich Asians should probably be renamed to Crazy Rich Chinese, since all the notable characters in the movie were of Chinese descent. Singapore was a nation of no one except for the 0.1%, and everything that actually makes the city notable in the real world was absent (ok except for the food, it's a movie about Chinese, there's always food).

Instead of isolating themselves with advanced technology, the high societies of Singapore isolated themselves in plain sight. The Old Money of Singapore made their money the way you expect the Old Money would. By contrast, the Old Money of Wakanda made their money through sheer luck: vibranium literally fell down from the sky. In Singapore, the Old Money were the flashy ones. In Wakanda, they hid their wealth.

In most Marvel movies the superheroes fought antagonists with varies degrees of foreignness - Captain America fought the Nazis, Iron Man fought terrorists from other countries, Doctor Strange, Thor, and the Avengers fought invaders from other worlds. Black Panther is no exception - Black Panther fought an enemy foreign to Wakanda: an African American antagonist! The Freed from Africa defeated the oppressed from America.

Rachael Chu in Crazy Rich Asian followed more of a traditional hero journey. She went to Singapore, found herself, and the Have-not "defeated" the Have - Nick's Mom, her future mother-in-law.

The antagonist from Black Panther and the protagonist from Crazy Rich Asians both left America for their "ancestorial" land, and realized even in the land where they looked the same as everyone else, they still weren't quite welcomed. Nick's Mom said it best, "you are not our own kind." In the end, both Rachael and Killmonger reconciled with whom they set out to defeat. They both got what they wanted only through the generous understanding of their once enemies, who, once again, were just like them.

Both movies were also about keeping secrets from who you love in order to protect them. Nick didn't tell Rachael about his family. Rachael's Mom kept her story from Rachael. Astrid kept her desires hidden from her husband. And of course, much of Black Panther would have been a non-story had the old King told everyone what had happened in America. Some of us were thought to be too weak to be able to handle the truths. And the result was everyone was worse off.

When I was in the theater for Crazy Rich Asians there was an African American girl sitting next to me. She seemingly enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed Black Panther. In all honesty, Crazy Rich Asians wasn't a very good movie. The actings were mediocre and the story was predictable. So in my spare time I observed her reactions instead. Which parts did she find funny? Which references would she not get?

Then it stuck me: what if I hadn't watched Black Panther at home and instead went to the theater and sat next to an African American? Did they enjoy the movie more because the hero was "one of them"? Or would they also find it more amusing to speculate how someone different from them would experience a movie that was filled with people just like themselves?

by khc on Fri Apr 12 12:27:04 2019 Permlink
Tags: movie writing