Black Panther has come and shook up the world, as we (black folks) expected that it would. I bought my tickets in January oozing with so much anticipation. This movie dropping in Black History Month?!…seriously?!…super lit! I’ve seen it twice and I definitely plan on seeing it a third time. Nina Simone once said, “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times” and the imagery, beauty, and messaging that Ryan Coogler brought with this film has fulfilled that and more. The fact that this was a multi-million dollar studio budgeted film and black people were portrayed as their own heroes for their own people, telling their own stories and truth is groundbreaking. It was a story by us and for us.
The impact of little black children seeing superheroes in the Marvel Universe that looks like them is heartwarming and important. You can’t argue against the fact that representation matters and seeing yourself in positive and powerful roles as a little child does something for your self-esteem and broadens the possibilities of how you might want to show up in the world. I probably won’t touch on everything that this movie did and what it portrayed. That’s why you have several other hundreds of think/reactionary pieces on the web. The following stood out the most to me and I will discuss and dissect it a bit to the best of my ability.
1.) The agency and respect given to black women
Right off the bat, the women in the film are not portrayed as damsels in distress or are there to fulfill the needs of men. They are a force to be reckoned with and you can say they are pretty much the backbone to keeping Wakanda safe and functional. The Dora Milaje is an all female army who protect the throne of Wakanda. Led by Danai Gurira’s character “Okoye”, they are not to be messed with. At one point in the film, she is shown to despise the idea of having to wear a wig to go undercover. She would rather be unapologetically bold and bald. Cue India.Arie’s “I Am Not My Hair” haha I mean that is so powerful to see, especially with the policing and politicization of black women’s hair in our society now.
Shuri, our African Disney Princess is smart, beautiful and intelligent. She’s into Science and Math and can definitely go toe to toe with Iron Man if she so chooses. She doesn’t run from a fight either. Instead of staying hidden while T’Challa fights to get his throne back, she stays and helps him defeat Killmonger. Again, this is not a princess waiting around to be saved and married off to a handsome prince. She is fully invested in her inventions and being a help to her nation.
Which brings us to Nakia who is T’Challa’s ex. She’s a gorgeous spy, who is strong, fast and is dedicating her life to helping non-Wakandan black people out of oppression and repression. She isn’t tied down by traditions. She has her own career and calling that she fiercely pursues and lives out. We are not told why they broke up in the film but you can make an educated guess the reason is because of her difference of opinion between her and T’Challa in how to best use Wakanda’s resources to help black people outside Wakanda’s borders. He believes he should keep their resources hidden from the world so he can keep his country safe. T’Challa tries to have her stay home and be queen but she’s not about that life. She wants to live out her purpose and he ultimately respects her for that. How freeing to not be tied down by these things that a woman should be: a wife, a mother and tied down in one place. She chooses to be out in the unprotected world using her privilege and gifts to help out people that look like her from a place of love.
His mother, Ramonda, played by the legendary Angela Bassett, is respected most of all. He protects her but also takes into consideration her feelings and advice. What’s beautiful about all of this is T’Challa respects all of these women in his life. He doesn’t talk down to them but operates alongside them and listens to what they have to say and offer. In turn because he is king, the other men of Wakanda follow suit. This is a world where the value of black women is acknowledged and respected. How refreshing.
2.) The importance placed on ancestry
In the movie the importance of ancestry is stressed heavily. When a new king is set to take the throne, they are sent to the ancestral plain to receive advice and assurance for the journey and new mantle they are taking on. I couldn’t help but to think of the millions of black Americans that don’t have that opportunity to call on their own ancestors to know which to way to go and what to avoid due to the intentional break up of the black family due to colonization, slavery, Jim Crow and now Mass Incarceration that took place in America. My heart bled a little. I’ve always thought about the fact that Black Americans and even Black people in the Caribbean have a sort of restlessness in their spirit due to the inability to trace their lineage. It’s frustrating and heartbreaking. I speak from experience. This world of Wakanda that has been constructed and is shown how to be thriving sans white colonization is a dream come true. This is a dream and fantasy that I’m sure many black people daydream sometimes. What would our life had been like if we never came to this country under duress, if we kept our families together, our customs and way of life? To know whom our great-great-great-great grandmother or grandfather was because our records are intact; how beautiful would that have been?
What would our life had been like if we never came to this country under duress, if we kept our families together, our customs and way of life?
When T’Challa goes to the ancestral plain, he is in his homeland. Purple skies, black panthers, trees, and grass. His father is there waiting for him because that’s where his body and spirit has been laid to rest. Unlike our antagonist (or is he?) Killmonger’s father, N’Jobu. When Killmonger went to the ancestral plain, he was in his small Oakland apartment where his father was murdered. While there was still purple skies, there was no trees, open air, grass, just those four walls that he had knew as a little boy.
3.) Killmonger’s POV
This movie presented us with a villain where every time he said something you were like
This is a guy who found his father murdered by his King uncle on his living room floor. Then to know he was left behind like he wasn’t even apart of the Royal family. Fam. He has every right to feel wronged. However he takes all that trauma and painstakingly plans out his revenge against his family in Wakanda. He graduates from MIT, joins the CIA, completes all these covert ops and kills numerous people; all to prepare him to kill his cousin, T’Challa.
When we first meet him on screen he’s at a British Museum and he’s asks the lady if her ancestors gave the Wakandans a fair price for the artifact that he plans to steal. I was just like
You really can’t argue with him about that. From this scene you see what drives his quest to rise up in arms. His ancestral people turned a blind eye while other black folk were plundered by whites without the power of Wakanda to assist them in staying free. In his mind, everybody was in on the wrong done to his father, as we see this is not true. I found myself rooting for Eric sometimes because as the saying goes, “Until we’re all free, none of us truly are.” Nakia fully understands this but she doesn’t move from a traumatic place like Eric does.
If you’re American, some of us can fully sympathize where Killmonger is coming from. You’ve lived his trauma, pain and restlessness feeling like you couldn’t do anything to alleviate your environment and/or your life’s prospects. He wanted so bad to right this wrong that was done to him and his father.
4. ) Generational Trauma
Which brings me to generational trauma that we inadvertently inherit from those that came before us and if it is not addressed properly can ultimately lead us down a destructive path as it does for Killmonger. It was really telling when he had to do his ancestral ceremony to speak to his father he entered the room grown but when his father appeared and spoke, he was shown to be his younger self. When a parent speaks and directs that’s the part of us they usually are still addressing. But even more for Eric, he lost his father at that age. He’s still that young, scared, angry and confused little boy. When N’Jobu asked him, “What, no tears for me?” that took me out. His response, was “everybody dies.” He made up in his mind at this age that everyone dies. Gut-wrenching. Then we see him grown again, crying from that childlike place of pain. That’s what was moving him in all his decisions. That everyone dies.
T’Challa inherited the sins of his father and in turn it becomes traumatic because he has to kill his own cousin. His uncle was killed by the hand of his father and buried a secret. This for a second cripples him in his role as King and as a man. Luckily, he had Nakia there to tell him that he gets to choose what kind of king and man he wants to be. When he appears before his father the second time, he gets the chance to express his anger and disappointment with his decisions. He decided he was going to be a better king and man than his father ever was. You can tell when he fought Killmonger the second time, he was more sure of himself. T’cholla had Nakia, Killomger had no one in his corner showing him a different way to process his thoughts and pain. I have to say in the black community how important it is for us to have someone to talk about, process and sort out our mess. I.e. therapy, spiritual leader, trusted friend etc.
4.) “Who are you?”
This question was commonly asked in the movie and I found that to be connected a bit to ancestry and knowing where we come from and understanding who we are in the present moment. That question always seems to have me stumped, personally. We usually answer that question with our occupation and the achievements that we’ve done. We find out who we are better when we know where we have come from. We make better decisions because we have been taught not to repeat the mistakes of the past. We get in tune with the essence of our being.
We find out who we are better when we know where we have come from. We make better decisions because we have been taught not to repeat the mistakes of the past.
All in all this movie was absolutely phenomenal. I still can’t believe Ryan was able to incorporate so much social commentary under the guise of an super hero action movie. #Genius The white man was only there to further the cause of the black man, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker, the costumes, the makeup, the soundtrack (whoo-hoo K-dot!) and Thirst-Trap Bae M’Baku !!!!!
He was so good in his role! and I loved the shout out to the vegeterian lifestyle hehe. He definitely came in clutch in helping T’Challa reclaiming his throne. I’m still trying to figure out how I can get married to him, have some beautiful kids and have full citizenship to this country. #WakandaForever
But yea, I most likely will go see this movie, a third or fourth time. When I’m in the theater and I’m immersed in the experience of Wakanda, I feel at home. Until next time…
Be “Victorias” ❤