Wondering what to watch? The beginning of Black History Month in the US has also been marked on the opposite side of the Atlantic with the release of various collections and newer features about the black diaspora in one way or another.
Perhaps the most popular example will be the sequel to Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studio’s Black Panther, now tragically missing its lead actor Chadwick Boseman after his struggle with cancer. With Coogler returning to helm, Wakanda Forever attempts to reconcile with this loss as well as explore new lands as its cast of characters reorientate themselves after the loss of T’Challa, and the violent introduction of Namor and his underwater kingdom of Talokan.
Read more: Everything new on Netflix in February
Meanwhile Prime Video has the tragic and rageful Judas and the Black Messiah, a film about the Black Panthers, specifically the work of Fred Hampton, the leader of the Chicago chapter of the organisation - and his assassination at the hands of the FBI, via the work of an informant played by LaKeith Stanfield.
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Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022) | Disney+ (Pick of the week)
Grief haunts the sequel to Black Panther beyond what we see on the screen. As well as the pain of the event, the tragic passing of Chadwick Boseman left a lot of questions about and obstacles in its production.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever doesn’t clear all of those hurdles and even doubles down on some of the issues with the first film, but while not all of it is well-judged, at the same time it carries a sense of real, sincere feeling that a lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe films simply do not.
The film effectively begins with a eulogy for T’Challa, the in-story reason for his death somewhat uncomfortably close to the real circumstances of Boseman’s death. As awkward as it can get, it’s presented compellingly, a pan-African tableau of song and dance.
Watch a trailer for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever
In different hands the film would be in utterly dire straits but thanks to the groundwork that returning writer and director Ryan Coogler laid in the first film, the supporting cast can just about step in to partially fill the void left behind by Boseman. Angela Bassett — recently Oscar-nominated for it — probably makes the biggest showing of it, fully bringing the gravity of her family’s repeated tragedies. Letitia Wright on the other hand, feels a little overburdened.
But so does the film. Far more so than the last one Wakanda Forever has been saddled with the tiresome baggage of MCU franchise building, worse than ever in its messy Phase 4. The momentum of its narrative repeatedly stalled by table setting. In the conflict with the Mesoamerican-inspired Atlantis, lead by the vengeful Namor, there is a thrill in seeing conflict borne of real historical scars, but of course it’s tempered in a similar way that Killmonger’s mission in the first film is, promoting assimilation instead.
It’s a thoroughly mixed bag as a whole but, really, it could have been a lot worse,and even finds some cathartic release.
Also on Disney+: Beauty and the Beast: A 30th Celebration (2022), Date Movie (2006)
Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) | Prime Video
It feels clear that director and co-screenwriter Shaka King had to make compromises in the making of Judas and the Black Messiah, which feels darkly ironic given its subject’s inspiring refusal to compromise in the Black Panthers’ fight against racism and fascism.
Read more: Everything new on Prime Video in February
Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton, but the film observes him from a distance through the eyes of FBI information William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), in a sort of spin on The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. It’s hard not to wish for a more straightforward biography of Fred Hampton’s work in creating the Rainbow Coalition and the work of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers in ceasing gang violence and performing mutual aid in the community.
At least the film goes some ways in plainly showing the FBI’s orchestration of Hampton’s assassination as well as its (rather successful) attempts to demonise the Black Panthers, though it’s not material that couldn’t be discovered through documentary like The Assassination of Fred Hampton or Agnes Varda’s Black Panthers short film.
Still, its an effective and emotive dramatisation, bolstered by strong supporting performances from Dominique Fishback as Hampton’s partner Akua Njeri (then going by Deborah Johnson) as well as Kaluuya as Hampton himself, showing some infectious charisma that only adds to the infuriating tragedy of the story.
Also on Prime: The Aviator (2004), Body Cam (2020)
Phantom Thread (2018) | BBC iPlayer
Paul Thomas Anderson’s rather hilarious period piece (and perhaps, romantic comedy?) Phantom Thread has taken up residence as something of a New Year’s Eve film in niche film circles. It's because of its seductive, wintery aesthetic and ornate beauty, and because one of the film’s most emotional moments happens at a New Year’s party.
Beyond that however it’s simply one of Anderson’s best, through gorgeous photography from the man himself as well as a sumptuous score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, held together by captivating performances from Daniel Day Lewis, Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville, all of whom cage their affections for each other with some hilarious bitterness.
Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, an incredibly particular man and a highly-sought after dressmaker. Krieps plays his new flame Alma, who learns the hard way how to navigate his idiosyncrasies, pettiness and childish behaviour — and eventually learns how to forcefully counter it.
Despite appearances it’s an incredibly funny film, like many of Anderson’s films it’s comedy disguised as prestige picture, and proves incredibly watchable as a result. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing.
Also on iPlayer: Defiance (2008), Vice (2018)