Doesn’t that get your blood pumping?
So here we have me coming into the movie hoping for some love to be given to one of my favourite underrated Marvel characters. Admittedly, I’d have preferred a Taskmaster or Moon Knight movie, but that would have been a harder sell.
Why, then, did I come out of seeing Black Panther so angry?
I finally get to live up to the name of this website!
I’m going to need to see the movie another time to really nail this down, but that’s not really something I want to do. Actually, what’s really interesting to me is that this is the first movie I’ve actually gone to a cinema to see that made me realize I should walk out after fifteen minutes.
That’s really weird for me. I’m a bit of a completionist in how I consume media. There are certainly movies I stop watching, but they’re usually from Netflix or DVD rentals. If I’ve gone to a cinema to see the thing, I’m committed — even if I’m not enjoying it, my reaction isn’t to walk out, it’s to start dissecting it and figuring out how I’d do it differently, or better, if I could.
I realized very early on that I wouldn’t be able to get that out of Black Panther.
There’s a lot to unpack here on why I dislike it. What astounds me is that, until Half in the Bag reviewed it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8kmzvqMEXI) I couldn’t find much echoing much in terms of agreement. It seems very widely critically acclaimed, and one of the best rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes ever.
So let’s break it down in three major ways;
How I felt it failed visually, as an action movie.
How I felt it failed narratively, as a compelling story.
How I felt it failed philosophically, as having deeper ideas worth telling.
Starting down at the beginning here, why do I say that Black Panther failed as an action movie specifically? It’s a Marvel movie — Marvel movies being their own distinct genre, after all — and it succeeds at feeling like one of those. Ant-Man, for instance, has its defining genre be ‘Marvel’, which is interesting, and I honestly kind of liked it for that.
It’s true, if you look at it just from that lens, that Black Panther succeeds, like Ant-Man, at being a Marvel movie. But Ant-Man was irreverent humour; Black Panther, a racially themed movie with the context of the time period it’s coming out of, walks the more serious path that the Captain America brand walks, and so it falls back on ‘action’ as its secondary genre.
And it’s really bad at it.
Honestly, the action scenes in this movie were boring, and isn’t that really interesting? The action setpieces, the big showstoppers that flash across the trailers, the big draw of a Marvel spectacle movie, were boring.
Many very talented people worked on this, people who have proven they’re capable of making some fantastic action scenes. The director of photography did Creed, prior to this. But it doesn’t really get to show.
If you watch it, do this with me; Count how long a shot lasts, in your head, before it cuts. A lot of the time it’s believed that action is suited best by quick, sharp cuts, lots of frenetic movement. Cameras that never stay still. In Black Panther, during action scenes, I rarely counted shots that lasted longer than two seconds, and most were this disorientating series of smash cuts.
But think for a second of your favourite action sequences, your favourite moments. How fast were they?
Good action lingers. You use fast shots to hide the fact that your actors and stunt doubles can’t fight; long ones to show how they can.
Old Boy shows a three minute long fight scene in one shot, for instance, and you’d be hard pressed to not call this one of the most interesting fight scenes in cinema history.
Another major problem is that with Marvel’s frenetic editing, it’s usually used to cover up the fact that shots don’t naturally lead into each other. There’s no context for where things are relative to each other. The best way to show what I mean is to compare it to an action scene done very well with a more modern style.
Tarantino is fantastic at this. Look at the gunfight in Django
It might not seem like the most fair comparison; A comic book movie is trying to hide its more A-Team style Saturday morning cartoon violence, in a sense, whereas Django is a hard-R masterpiece.
But where we can compare is the choice of shots, the movement, the underlying principles of the edit.
There are longer shots for counts of three seconds — well, long by action scene standards — that then speed up into much shorter cuts. As the protagonist darts across a doorway filled with men firing back at him the cuts become rapid because we’re seeing gunfire-reaction-gunfire-reaction. It makes sense.
The next shot breathes. The protagonist is hiding around the corner being shot at, and deciding his options. We don’t focus on his shooters yet, they’re not important. When we see them again, it’s closeups of intense faces, and then the bullet hitting so close to the protagonist.
Each time we’re seeing what a thing is doing, then cutting to a reaction to it. Marvel doesn’t do this; There aren’t those back and forths, it’s just following the action without that visual dialogue that communicates the action effectively.
In Django even when the cuts are rapid and ‘actiony’ you know where everything is happening relative to everything else.
You have a sense for all the people in the scene at any given moment, where the bodies are falling, who’s shooting at who from where. You understand the movements and the impact, and you understand what’s going on and why.
Marvel… kind of doesn’t do that very well. The car chase in Black Panther was the worst offender. There’s fights going on within a car chase. There are cars they’re chasing. And where everyone is relative to everyone else is and what they’re doing at any given moment is… usually confusing.
In one scene, as Black Panther is… decarred, he jumps, runs along the wall of a skyscraper, and lands on the roof of the car as it drives.
We see this in three lightning cuts. Black Panther jumping, exiting out of top frame, a sideways cut of him running along some building, and then him landing on the roof of the car.
Contextually we know what’s happened. Visually, the jump is very impressive. In the grammar of the film, though… We don’t really have a spatial reference for the jump. We don’t really appreciate how far it was, how impressive it is, or where the car he’s chasing relative to that building was.
It’s not so much that it’s left to the imagination, like Tarantino taking long shots of showing the protagonist cowering as bullet holes appear next to him. Black Panther is too fast and explicit for that.
What it is, however, is an effective way to save on the CGI budget.
It’s sleight of hand. Too often does the movie resort to these quick cuts lacking a meaningful frame of reference as a shorthand of letting you know something cool and exciting is happening, to distract from the fact that the actual action… otherwise isn’t.
Let’s compare Marvel to Marvel instead to talk about stakes. Here’s a fight scene from Daredevil Season 2, and the last time I was truly awe-inspired by an action scene as a writer. The Punisher’s prison fight.
So why did this scene catch me off guard?
I genuinely, genuinely thought the Punisher was going to die in this. They’d built it up all episode how expendable he was, how much he got played by Fisk, how he’s served his narrative purpose in the storyline. In fact, it made a lot of dramatic sense in the context of the larger show; This would have been the perfect, dramatic way for the Punisher to get his comeuppance and prove right Daredevil’s moral code to work within the law.
When I first watched this, I thought that moment of the Punisher charging at the armed prisoners, brandishing shivs and shanks, was going to cut to black, then a scene of Daredevil reading the aftermath as the headline of the next morning’s paper.
Then this whole mess happened.
Every blow hits. Every mark lasts the scene. The wounds slow him down. There’s weight, and feeling, and intensity. It really does feel like we’re about to watch the Punisher die taking every man he can with him. This whole scene feels like the last actions of a martyr.
I was stunned, and actually fucking cheered when he won because it felt so unexpected, so unbelievable.
Look how long these cuts are! They’re downright gratuitous! At 1:04 there’s a five second long cut of him just lifting a hammer and bringing it down a man’s skull, filling the frame, focusing on the intensity of the moment, of what it means and how brutal it is…
So, at the end, at 1:09, when Punisher gets kicked in the face from offscreen? We’ve lost that frame of reference, that knowledge of where people are relative to our view, because the Punisher did in that moment as well, lost in the kill. We’re ripped out of that execution and back into the brutal melee, we feel that kick.
The camera starts steady and stable, and shakes more as the Punisher takes more and more blows to the head, emphasizes how much control he’s losing over the situation, how he’s still pushing through it. There’s a reason for it.
The scene, like the best of Hong Kong cinema, had stakes. It felt like nothing was certain, that the protagonist had everything to lose, and as a result of that there’s dramatic tension.
When’s the last time you really felt like that during the action scene of a blockbuster?
So what do we have in the Black Panther car chase?
The cars are bulletproof, until they aren’t. The loss of the car isn’t a major moment of vulnerability, but played for comedic effect. Not only is the Black Panther bulletproof in his armor, but his armor absorbs the force of the bullets and can make it blast out in a shockwave.
Even when he was shot at, there was never a sense of him being damaged, of a chance of loss, of a significant sacrifice the hero might have to make. There isn’t ever even a feeling the villain they’re chasing will get away. This entire chase scene is simply there to show off how cool it would be to be the Black Panther.
Which, I mean, yeah. Sure. But that’s not something new to the character, or the world. The rest of the movie is better at showing that off.
It’s just filler, waiting for the plot to kick back in, intercut by a few quips and banter traditional to a superhero movie. It watches like filler, too, which made it… again, boring.
Black Panther never settles down around its action. It keeps making sickening swirls and loops of motion — sometimes just because a scene is too still or solemn. When one character stands up after recovering from a surgery, the camera rotates around him standing up and looking at his hands… four times. Four full rotations around him.
Why? What does it show? The miracle of the recovery? Ostensibly, but we don’t linger on the character’s face. We don’t see his reactions until after this shot. And there was never really any doubt in the viewer’s heads about his recovery.
It’s a dramatic flourish, certainly, but it lacks the drama that it’s meant to be emphasizing.
This 135 minute long movie is filled with these superfluous shots that are the cinematographical equivalent of jingling your keys in front of a baby’s face, or at least that’s how it felt to me. Loud and flashy gestures meant only to hold your attention.
If that’s the grass level — a lot of superfluous shots, too fast takes, not enough grounding and referencing, and sometimes you can even hear where two different dialogue takes have been spliced together — then how does that tie into the levels up, the story and the philosophy?
So, okay. Let’s talk about the story first.
Coming back after an editing pass, this section is a huge problem for me. I can’t talk about the underlying problems of the story without explaining it, and that can read tediously. I already cut out like, two subplots and an entire character here, and it’s still a slog to get through. I apologize to the reader for my inability to make this ‘snappier’, but Christ if it doesn’t kind of underscore my point that they tried to add enough padding to make 50 minutes worth of movie last 135.
Okay. Three minutes of logos first.
There’s an opening scene where, decades ago, we find that Black Panther’s father had to kill his brother, who was trying to fight for the rights of impoverished black people in Oakland, California. Throw this brick in the air.
We cut to the present, Black Panther flies a UFO over a convoy of third world soldiers with a truck full of captured women. He does the superhero thing — all my criticisms above apply full force here — saves the women, one of whom is a Wakandan agent he apparently has a crush on. He stammers a bit.
She asks why he ruined her mission, and we’re informed he’s being crowned King of Wakanda now, and he wants her to be there. So we get to see that ceremony now. There are five tribes, four who go along with all this, and one who… live in the mountains and are the highlanders of sorts, the ones who never really ‘civilized’. Okay, fine.
The crowning ceremony is a trial by combat. The Black Panther, T’Challa, is stripped of his superhuman powers with a potion — throw that brick up in the air — and any challenger for the throne can step forward and trial him by combat.
In anthropology there’s a thing known as a ‘leveling mechanism’ and it’s extremely interesting. It’s one of the things that established that cliche of a council of elders in tribes, the old wise men. It’s not necessarily because they were more correct than the younger, more able-bodied generation — though their experience did count for a lot — but because it’s a good defense against authoritarianism.
Namely, if you have a tribal society, you don’t want your best warrior to be the one at the top, or to believe he should be. That tends to end in bloodshed and problems.
There’s a famous practice called the “shaming of the meat” that, while the Wikipedia article on ‘leveling mechanism’ lists the !Kung for this, is actually fairly consistent across tribal cultures on all continents. I actually learned about this from friends who studied our local Aboriginal culture.
Basically, if a strong hunter brings home a high quality success from his hunt, he must offer it with total humility, talking about how terrible and worthless the gathering is. The better the get, the more he must insult it. If he does not, the tribe will shame it for him, instead, and insult him all the more for it.
I will shamelessly pilfer Wikipedia’s quote on the subject;
“Yes, when a young man kills much meat he comes to think of himself as a chief or a big man, and he thinks of the rest of us as his servants or inferiors. We can’t accept this. We refuse one who boasts, for someday his pride will make him kill somebody. So we always speak of his meat as worthless. This way we cool his heart and make him gentle.”
It’s a super interesting practice that’s consistent across so many different cultures.
In Wakanda, the king is the guy who can defeat anyone in single combat without superpowers. Then they give him and only him superpowers.
This is deemed a good thing.
The fifth tribe shows up, challenges for leadership, there’s a genuinely good fight scene here — long shots, lots of establishing shots, the hits have weight, there’s very clear stakes, aside from some very odd camera choices and going on too long, this fight scene is fairly exempt from my earlier criticisms — and T’Challa wins, meaning that fifth tribe continues to be disenfranchised.
Man that sucks for them.
For the Black Panther potion to work, T’Challa gets buried and goes on a spirit quest and talks to his father, and his father gives him all the usual affirmational speech stuff about being a good king and not needing him anymore. Cool.
There’s a scene in the British museum where a cool, punk-looking black guy goes through, pulls off an expert heist, talks about the evils of colonialism and steals back a Wakandan artefact. It’s pretty cool. Michael B Jordan is the actor here, and he’s part of why the character is so compelling.
He’s helping out Ulysses, another fantastically entertaining villain character and the person behind the bomb plot at the UN that killed T’Challa’s father. This puts him up on the Wakandan radar.
So we get some scenes where T’Challa goes through his sister’s lab and — pause for a moment, hold up. We’re told that Wakanda is so special because of how supremely technologically advanced it is. But throughout the movie, the only scientist they seem to have is the Princess. All the technology and stuff is just the King’s sister. No other scientists, or their works, are even mentioned. This will be relevant later too — gets his gear for the movie.
His entire vibranium suit fits in a panther-tooth necklace. Also it can absorb kinetic energy and channel it back out and- Look, watch this movie with a materials engineer and watch them flip their shit, it’s swell, highly recommended.
Now, here’s an interesting note. A lot of people are complaining about the “WHAT ARE THOSE?” moment that happens at this point of the movie. It’s a lead-in to introducing silent moving shoes, which the sister refers to as “sneakers”. Cute line.
They’re never brought up or referenced again. Those silent shoes? Totally irrelevant. That means that they’re only kept in to justify the “WHAT ARE THOSE” joke lead-up.
There’s your representation. This movie with themes about racial inequality won’t make a single Black Lives Matter reference. Plenty of times someone’s put into a chokehold and you won’t hear anyone quote the phrase; “I can’t breathe”. That scene at the start of the movie is set against the 1992 Rodney King riots… if you can put those pieces together. Because the movie will never admit to that directly.
It will borrow liberally from r/blackpeopletwitter, and there you have it.
I’ll get back to this, but I want to keep noting these things as they become relevant.
So anyway. King Black Panther talks to the tribal leaders about what to do about Ulysses, now that he’s all suited up. One of the tribe leaders says either kill him on sight, or bring him back alive. So Black Panther says yeah, we’ll bring him back alive.
They go to South Korea, where Ulysses has organized to sell the Wakanda vibranium artefact that was stolen from the museum. There’s a really cool James Bond scene, and Agent Ross of the CIA is there — the recurring Marvel character played by Watson from Sherlock, that one — and we get, for a few brief moments, a glimpse into a Black Panther that could have been.
It’s a really neat spy thriller, with a cool, calm T’Challa making for an effective Bond style protagonist.
Then the bad guys show up, it becomes a cliche’d gunfight, and things get boring again.
The General of Wakanda starts stabbing mooks. T’Challa in his business suit starts punching mooks. Mooks _mook _everywhere. Ulysses turns his arm into a CGI cannon and starts derendering the set.
Then there’s a car chase and I’ve already talked about it and God I’m so bored even trying to write this.
Ulysses is captured. Black Panther has him in his claws but can’t kill him because “the whole world is watching”. People all have their camera phones out.
But, like… I mean, come on. Whole world watched Osama Bin Laden get got too, and few people vilify the SEALs for it. Ulysses is known around the world for being a terrorist; the terrorist who bombed the UN, and killing the leader of Wakanda.
The thing is, Black Panther isn’t motivated by the idea of being a hero. He’s motivated by being protector of Wakanda. And, like… Not killing this guy goes against a lot of that. It sort of undermines the character, honestly. Especially since it’s kind of implied Ulysses is being brought back to Wakanda for execution, anyway.
I dunno. It just bugs me.
There’s an interrogation scene of Ulysses now that they’ve caught him. The CIA are adamant about that, and Agent Ross is all like yeah you can take him later. Ulysses lets slip to Ross that Wakanda is lying to the world and T’Challa’s suit is totally made of vibranium and they’re keeping their secrets from the world out of selfishness.
Then the cool black guy from the museum breaks him out and shoots Ross in the spine.
Black Panther et al. fly Ross back to Wakanda to perform MAGIC surgery on him. This is all very dubious to the Wakandans and he gets a lot of pushback from one of the four tribal leaders because he lets Ulysses get away and instead brings an outsider.
Cool black guy betrays Ulysses and kills him. Ulysses says “you’ll never be welcome in Wakanda” and cool black guy shows his lip to indicate that holy shit he has Wakandan citizenship. It’s… amazing to me that it’s played as if it’s a twist but there’s so little surprising about it. I don’t think it’s even just because it was good foreshadowing either, I honestly think this is just something they expected to be a twist but it only works if you’ve literally never seen a movie in your life.
He takes Ulysses back and shows Wakanda the dead body of Ulysses and it’s like hey, yo, lemme see the king with this.
At this point Black Panther’s asked his council person guy what the deal with this guy is, he’s got a Macguffin on him which means he’s part of the royal family.
Cut back to the opening flashback — that brick finally falls — and we get what happened there. King killed his brother and left his son alone in Oakland, and never told him or anyone else what happened.
I mean… why? I guess it’s a shame thing but… for real, though, that was an incredibly unecessary dick move that served no purpose other than to give the villain more pathos.
At this point, Cool Black Guy is way more interesting and compelling than T’Challa.
It’s about to be revealed that his name is Killmonger so I’m going to call him Killmonger from now on. I mean that’s his comic book character name, it’s not just a movie naming thing, he’s just actually called that. And as soon as he gets that name all the interesting nuance is gone.
I’ll get to that in the philosophy section though. For now, just know that Killmonger is a dumb name but we kind of have to roll with it.
Anyway, Killmonger’s motivation is that he thinks Wakanda is isolationist, and refuses to help anyone outside its borders. That there’s a ton of oppression and suffering in the world that Wakanda could be doing something about, but isn’t. These are true, fair criticisms, and T’Challa takes them seriously.
Then Killmonger’s in the throne room saying he’s a rightful heir to the throne and challenging T’Challa to trial by combat. And T’Challa accepts.
So, about those leveling mechanisms huh.
There’s a repeat of that earlier fight, T’Challa has his powers stripped, and T’Challa waited until this moment to plead that there be a better way.
Then Killmonger drops his shirt and reveals his body is covered in neat, self-inflicted stars. Dude’s studded in the damn things, must be hundreds. And he drops this speech;
“I lived my entire life waiting for this moment. I trained, I lied, I killed just to get here. I killed in America, Afghanistan, Iraq… I took life from my own brothers and sisters right here on this continent! And all this death just so I could kill you!”
Yeah this guy’s about to kick T’Challa’s ass, throws him off a waterfall, and everyone else is like… yeah better give this guy superhuman abilities so he can protect our people.
So they do.
It turns out that the guy whose sole qualifications are anger and murder-prowess actually has some great ideas, and making him the unquestioned head of government is a fantastic plan. The movie ends with Wakanda being less isolationist and bringing their impoverished African neighbours into a new golden age under his careful protection.
I’m just fucking kidding, he sets fire to the magic flowers that give anyone the Black Panther superpowers, grabs the spare Black Panther supersuit, and reveals that really his thoughts on how Wakanda can help is… arming all black people with vibranium weapons.
He’s not anti-colonialism, he’s anti-colonialist in that he wants the same system of power, but now black people are in charge. And the best way to go about that is starting civil wars everywhere. And so Wakanda’s tribal leaders go along with it because you gotta be loyal to the king, whoever it is.
T’Challa’s family flees to the mountain people who’re healing T’Challa. There’s some stuff about them pleading for help, which of course the mountain people refuse because they need to only come in at the most dramatic moment later, and they find T’Challa buried in snow. The river apparently flowed uphill into the mountain tribe.
Everything past this point becomes a Marvel-tasting blur.
The supporting cast try to fight Killmonger but can’t because he’s the only one with superpowers. Agent Ross is the only pilot capable of flying a ship to stop the shipments of vibranium weapons leaving Wakanda’s borders. The high tech super society has a minor civil war between the two most relevant tribes that gets a last minute saved-by-the-cavalry by the mountain people. Also they all fight with wooden melee weapons for some reason.
And bad CG armoured rhinos why not.
There’s a really boring Sam Raimi era Spiderman CGI fight on a railroad track between the two Black Panthers where they discuss ideology, then Good Black Panther wins because he’s a better puncher.
Evil black panther wins and Africa starts giving foreign aid to California, which is kind of hilarious.
And that’s the plot in a nutshell.
So that’s fine. That’s a very literal description of what happens, without too much detail on why it happens. But from that you can see it’s a very standard structure for what a Marvel movie is going to be. One villain conflict resolved by the second act climax, a true villain emerging with a greater ideology to combat, a series of justifications for cool action scenes to happen.
So what are the actual ideologies of the two characters? What’s the underlying philosophy that Marvel is putting forth here?
Scarlet’s article from a few weeks before this one covered why we should analyze our escapist media really well. It pointed out that while we consciously understand the overt stuff to be fantasy, it subconsciously reinforces a lot of values we don’t think to question.
The movie heavily reinforces the idea that the benevolent dictatorship is the best form of government in a really uncomfortable way.
All the action is done by the King, because he is the truest protector the civilization can hope for. He is necessarily good and righteous or he wouldn’t be King. The royal family is the source of everyone’s greatness — again, the society seems to only have one scientist, and she’s the King’s sister.
We don’t even really see her having assistants, which was really weird to me.
I can’t stress enough, I don’t think anything I’m saying here is a malicious act. Rather, I think this is an emergent property of compromises in the writers’ room. The simplistic style necessitated a simplistic story, and that simplistic story tried to be painted with really politically charged themes.
But it’s still a Disney company, Marvel movie, so they compromised as far away from being political as they could.
Which leaves a lot of unfortunate residue, as an intentional absence of politics and nuance in a story like this is still a statement.
So, we have this debate between Black Panther and Killmonger about whether Wakanda is doing what it should to help the world. Early on in the movie it’s explicitly stated; We can’t take in refugees, they’d only make Wakanda worse.
This statement never gets refuted. At the end of the movie there is progress made from the ‘debate’ between ideas of Black Panther and Killmonger — represented by punching each other really hard — where Wakanda opens embassies in America.
Notice, though, that this doesn’t contradict the movies earlier stances against immigration and xenophobia. And what does Wakanda have to offer? Resources and technology.
So instead of being a criticism of “XNation First!” policies and stances, we instead have — from the ideas that get contradicted against the ones that the movie never refutes — a message of “Black Man’s Burden”. Which is kind of really funny.
There’s also a bit of intellectual dishonesty, too, for the sake of simplicity. When they need Killmonger to be sympathetic and interesting, his talk is about Wakanda helping others, about black oppression, about providing aid to those impoverished around the world. And it’s like, hell yeah, cool.
And as soon as he gets power, it suddenly hard pivots to; Arm everyone so they can kill their oppressors, then enslave the white man.
This is a compromise the movie makes because it needs to show the hard turn from Killmonger being sympathetic to a despot that really needs to get killed.
However, unfortunately this means the movie equates those ideas by pinning them to the same character, who’s acting as if it’s the same thing.
In a sense, it says that the person who calls for uplifting the poor and in need on our planet are just trying to do so not by redistributing power more fairly, but by violently overtaking the priviledged and installing themselves as the new ruling class.
It was weirdly racist in a way that makes me laugh.
In the end, the supremacy of a benevolent dictatorship is unquestioned — the right person for the job rises to the top and takes it back, after all, and then continues to be a great and benevolent wise protector for his people — and the film makes the generally uncontroversial statement that maybe foreign aid is a good thing, especially if you’re in a place with superior resources and technology.
But at no point does it give power or agency to the common man, or place any significant on those people outside the major cast. In fact, the movie goes very far out of its way to not show any activists or impoverished adults who aren’t part of the Wakandan royal family past the first fight sequence, which is a bit fucked up, isn’t it?
Those scenes in the ghetto are only ever really shown through children. What better way to show the powerlessness of these people to help themselves?
The only people who have the power or agency to change their situation are Great People, and the movie detaches those Great People entirely from the people they’re supposed to be helping. The idea of helping people is left as a purely abstract ‘good’ thing, because dealing with any real, tangible problems would be off-brand for a Marvel movie.
Mentioning those specifics requires taking a stance on something beyond the abstract notion of ‘good’, which would be controversial and something the giant juggernaut Marvel Cinematic Universe brand can’t afford with its main line, though it does tackle these issues better with Luke Cage and its Netflix lineup.
Its stance, then, is an aggressive lack of a stance. Of a real deeper meaning.
Which means the story, ostensibly about the role of nations and of civil rights inequalities, can’t actually be about those things.
It means the story rings false and hollow.
And that makes this movie boring.