“Black Panther,” which opens Friday, brings together two multi-talented stars who have fronted some big movies on their own: Chadwick Boseman, as the titular hero, and Michael B. Jordan, as villain Erik Killmonger.
In the “Black Panther” comic book series as well as the film, Black Panther is the alter ego of T’Challa, the newly crowned king of the fictional African country of Wakanda. (Marvel movie fans will remember Black Panther from his stunning entrance in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”) The highly advanced society has set itself apart from the rest of the world, guarding its technological secrets. Killmonger, who grew up in America, would prefer that the Wakandans share their weapons — particularly with the oppressed peoples of the world, who could then use them to wreak havoc and take the power that has been denied them.
“He’s a villain with really altruistic ideas,” says Coogler, who directed Jordan previously in “Creed” and “Fruitvale Station.” “One of the main questions of the film is, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ And for Wakanda, that answer has always been ‘nah.’”
So “Black Panther” pits an African king from a society that has remained untouched by colonialism against an African-American who has experienced the racism and discrimination that come with being descended from an enslaved people. Coogler says he wanted to explore the difference between being African-American and being African with the film.
“I thought that it was important to infuse my own perspective; I felt that was something I needed to do as an African-American black man,” Coogler says. Moreover, “I had a responsibility to do my homework and really penetrate the continent because my perspective is not the total perspective.
“What does it mean to be African?” he continues. “It’s something I’ve been asking myself every day since I found out I was black, when my parents sat me down and said, ‘Yo, you’re black, that’s what this means’ — the conversation I feel like every black person has had to have. I’m African, but no one told me about what that means. I was finally able to answer that question.”