If I had one thing to change in INFINITY WAR that would make me think it lived up to the promise of CIVIL WAR and BLACK PANTHER, it would be to address a serious issue:
Unlike those other two movies, INFINITY WAR doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due test, which for the sake of a morning conversation, is the racial version of the Bechdel Test. That test measures whether there are at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
This test is very similar: one aspect is that there are at least two black people who speak to each other about something other than white people and events triggered directly by white people. There are other measures, like that pesky genocide thing, but that’s another discussion.
To my surprise, “Civil War” passed the test in the first scene with T’Challa and his father. I was actually shocked, and touched. It was beautiful, and I knew something special was happening. That scene, I believe, was added to the film by Ryan Coogler.
Black Panther? I have no words. It was a movie from another world, to the point where it doesn’t pass the Barnes-Due, it damned near defines it.
Now…Infinity War. Fails. Everything black people say is in service to, reference to or in response to white people’s actions.
Here are some issues:
- the Wakandan’s didn’t react intelligently to a threat whose only analog was the Battle of New York (they weren’t prepared for flying dragon machines, that’s for damned sure.)
- No internal debate about the wisdom of bringing Thano’s War to Wakanda (note that I don’t say it was a bad idea–but it involved the survival of his nation. There would have been debate)
- No sense of the panicked citizens (compare with New York)
- No “interiority” to the characters–it was all external reaction to the war Cap brought to them.
- Images of many black men dying, while the women were surviving. No rational reason we were seeing that–should have been half of each. As the movie was “jimmied” so that all original Avengers survived, you can’t even pretend it was random chance.
This drains the agency and humanity from a world we’d come to love. It was the mixture as we’ve seen countless times before.
So…to fix it, with the same basic results we saw:
- Better air and ground defense. It can crumble so that we fall back on hand-to-hand. I love hand-to-hand scenes. But they need to be intelligently presented, not just “cool trailer images”.
- Scenes of panicking citizens.
- MOST IMPORTANT: a scene between T’Challa and Shuri. Discussing T’Challa’s impassioned emergency meeting of the council. They know that there is no place in the world to hide if Thanos wins. Shuri is terrified, knowing that this is the greatest threat humanity has ever faced, and they may not be able to survive it. She may never see her brother again, and she is losing her shit, just a little. He comforts her, shocked that she is actually directly expressing concern and love for him, and badgers her into being the teasing little sister again, remembering a time in their childhood where her mischief saved the day. Tearfully, she teases him about N’Kia being sent out of country supposedly on an assignment, but really to protect her. Perhaps a picture or swift video of his beloved. They share a moment, then remind each other that they have duties to their country, and must be strong.
Now they are human beings with a past, agency, feelings, needs, fears, loves. What happens next happens to a COUNTRY, to PEOPLE, not just pieces on a game board creating a cool tableau. And while the events might have been tragic…the emotions would have been earned.
That would have done a LOT for me to correct the problem. I’m perfectly aware that many folks felt no problem with this. That’s fine. In fact, the issue couldn’t exist if more people gave a shit. I’m not interested in explanations of why that it: they are irrelevant to me. We’re not talking an objective measurement of story quality. We’re discussing my subjective reaction, and why I had it.
And what might well have made it better. Tony, Thor, Bruce (who was short-shrifted), Starlord, Cap, Natasha (short shrifted with Bruce), and Rocket all had heart-space connections that made them more than costumes or effects.
The Wakandans did not, and I resent it.
Next time, Marvel..god dammit, pass the test. Or leave us out.