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Capturing the Characters of Black Panther

This week, I taught our signature Filmmaking Essentials class to a group of young people who are part of the Jack And Jill Leadership Program in the US: As this initiative focuses on #youthempowerment, it was a no-brainer to use #BlackPanther as an example of a strong production that is both diverse in its representation, and inspiring in its messaging.

Lensing Black Panther

In terms of the way it was filmed, not only was this the first big-budget first superhero movie shot by a woman, the Director/Director of Photography team come from an indie background, and had absolutely no visual effects experience whatsoever.

One thing I teach my students is that every person on a film set is a storyteller. Not just the writer or the director. Filmmaking, to me, is about a community of people who bring their point of view to the very same story message. Just because the writer penning that story is the first one to start executing it, doesn't mean that the actors, art directors, costume designers, cinematographers, and lighting crew don't all have a say in bringing that story to life. With their specific tools, they use their craft to further the narrative. That's why I find it so fascinating when directors team up with the same crew to create film after film. It allows the collaborators to find a common language, whether it be visual, audio, or scripted, and sculpt their vision as they grow their work together.

Here's Rachel Morrison speaking about her collaborative process with director Ryan Coogler, and how they approached an unknown medium while still being true to their aesthetic:

The Archetypes of Black Panther

Another exercise we did in class with the Birmingham Jack & Jill young people, was to think about the characters in the film, and how they relate to classic archetypes. I always tell my students that, like classic plot structures, there is a suite of characters that features in almost every film or tale.

Why do we always go back to characters with the same personality traits? Because we can relate to them. The archetypal characters are the opposite of stereotypes: they are deep and complex, just like us! So it's no wonder we see characters on screen time and time again, who behave like we do. They feel different each time however, because each storyteller bringing them to life inserts their own unique point of view. Drawn from personal experience, beautiful invented characters are brought to life.

Here's an example :)

Eric Killmonger: while he is clearly an #outlaw, the enemy character who wants to take the throne of Wakanda, a student pointed out that he is also the opposite of a #sage. He's not someone who gives guidance, but someone who desperately looks for it. He doesn't help people learn about themselves and the world, but he wishes he did learn more about who he is. Archetypes, and their counterparts, create characters who oscillate between good and bad. This mirrors our own ways of dealing with the world around us. Which character in Black Panther do you relate to, and why? I'd love to hear!


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