The highly anticipated Black Panther film from Marvel Studios premiered last week and it was nothing short of amazing. The film has been projected to reach over a billion dollars in sales and made approximately $24 million on Thursday night. Aside from the Oscar worthy performances, costumes, special effects, etc., Black Panther was able to do what other niche genres could not. That is, cross-over into several different target audiences that had very little interest in comic books. These audiences all had one thing in common: blackness.
Black Panther represents the first time that we have seen ourselves depicted as strong, intelligent, wealthy, and powerful protagonist and antagonist. It was the first time we made up the majority of the cast. This was truly extraordinary in what we hoped to mark the beginning of a new era in entertainment. Representation matters, and for the first time we saw ourselves represented as more than just the stereotypical roles that have portrayed us before.
***warning: SPOILERS to follow***
Killmonger v. T’Challa
The battle between Killmonger and King T’challa draws interesting parallels to the current state of Black America. Killmonger had built-up anger towards the royal family for more reasons than his seeming abandonment by his uncle who also killed his father. He was angry, and rightfully so, that Wakanda stood in the shadows as colonizers ravished Africa and stole its people and its resources. Angry that Wakanda remained in the shadows as black and brown people continue to suffer. Furious, that Wakanda had the ability to be the first and untouchable black superpower country.
King T’challa disagreed, albeit wrongfully, and believed that Wakanda’s only obligation was to protect Wakanda and its inhabitants. He believed that it was not Wakanda’s duty to help other africans or those from the diaspora. While Wakanda is a fictional country, the parallel is very much a real one.
The State of Black America
As I watched the exchange between T’challa and Killmonger, I quickly recalled a quote from Mamie Till. She famously said: “Two months ago I had a nice apartment in Chicago. I had a good job. I had a son. When something happened to the Negroes in the South I said, `That’s their business, not mine.’ Now I know how wrong I was. The murder of my son has shown me that what happens to any of us, anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.” Wakanda took the former position of Mami Till.
The conditions of African-Americans in the United States have significantly improved. However, there remains much progress to be had. I think for a lot of African-Americans, especially those that are well-off or hold prestigious titles, it is easy to watch the black lives matter movement and say “that’s their business, not mine.” It is easy to watch police brutality/ murders against unarmed African-Americans and hide in the shadows, much like Wakanda. Like Killmonger so vehemently explained, it is the responsibility of those of us who are in power or hold prestigious titles to speak and fight for those of us who do not. We must stand-up as a community and fight for our people whose voices are silenced. “What happens to any of us anywhere in the world, had better be the business of us all.”
Portrayal of Black Women
Black Panther was one of the few times, if not the first time, that black women are portrayed as more than just sexual, victim, bitter, and heart-broken damsels. No. We were on the big screen portrayed as the intelligent, strong and fearless warriors that we are. While we were shown as all of these things, our softness, love, and nurturing characteristics were easily seen. We are magic but we are real, and Marvel Studios may be the first to have ever gotten it right.
She was every bit of beautiful. Nakia was much more than the ex-girlfriend of a King. She was loyal, fearless, and a strong warrior. What was interesting is that her love for T’challa, much more than her love for Wakanda, is what saved both the King and the Country. My favorite quote of hers is “I would make a great queen because I am stubborn, IF that is what I wanted.” With this line, Nakia broke down the notion that women are to be submissive. She is truly the epitome of a strong woman: forward, independent, and capable of enough vulnerability to love.
She was the baddest and most tactical warrior in Wakanda. She represented a black woman who was comfortable and proud as she was. We saw that in her disapproval of the wig she had to wear to go undercover. She was by far the most loyal character. Some may think she was loyal to a fault, but her actions were the definition of loyalty. To be loyal does not mean to act when it is convenient or when you’re in agreement. No. True loyalty is shown during adversity or challenge. If T’challa was in fact dead as a result of fair fight during the challenge, then Okoye was every bit of loyal in her decision to stand by the Thorne.
The young princess was probably the most charismatic character. She was the most intelligent woman in the world and yet she was poised and cunning. Her blackness was fearless and because of this, she was also probably the most controversial character. Unafraid to speak the truth and unbothered by whoever found offenses. I think we were all proud and maybe even cringed a bit when she said “great, another broken white boy for me to fix.” and “don’t scare me like that, colonizer.”
The black mother is always the most powerful role. She mourned the lost of her husband and rejoiced in how proud she was of her son, her new King. Her sorrow was felt when Kilmonger threw T’challa over the cliff. She was a mother who was forced to helplessly watch her son succumb to defeat. Much like every mother who has had to helplessly watch social media videos that captured the deaths of their sons.
The Fairytale of Wakanda
Through all of the symbolism, I think what was most interesting was the fairytale of Wakanda and how badly we all wished it were a real place. Wakanda is not only affluent, they are advanced in science, medicine, and technology. They uncovered things that the rest of the world has spent centuries researching. Their army was armed heavily and likely would be undefeated. Wakanda would have been a true superpower, an African Superpower. One has to wonder, if the colonization of Africa and the African diaspora never happened, would we have a real Wakanda ?
What are your thoughts on Black Panther? Sound off below.