It’s 4:17 in the afternoon. It’s February, the year 2018. A packed movie theatre awaits what will be quite possibly the most amazingly blackity black thing ever.
CAREFUL, MAYBE SORTA KIND OF A FEW SPOILERS AHEAD. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
It's A Black History Month Miracle! Black Panther is here, and boy oh boy is it worth the wait. It has humour, sadness, a dash of black romance, and most importantly, the social commentary we need. The film opens with an introduction to a beautifully tragic backstory of the soon to be introduced villain Erik Killmonger, a backstory that is very reflective of the Black experience in places like North America, specifically the African American experience. We are then introduced to the fictional (real in my heart!) nation Wakanda, the Royal Family, and a few background-developing flashbacks from previous Marvel films we thought we had forgotten.
In the Marvel universe, Wakanda's wealth and sustainability come from being the only place on earth that can produce the world's strongest metal. In reality, Africa is the producer of the things we use every day, and technically is the wealthiest continent in the world. Black people, specifically black children who learn about Africa in the context of slavery and poverty, deserve to be reminded of this. This film touches on colonialism, or better yet, what would happen if there weren’t any colonies, the Western interpretation of the continent of Africa, (white saviorism *cough cough*), and of course, the role of women in Black/Pan African culture. To truly understand Black Panther's importance, one must take a look at the writing and introduction of the characters that make up this cinematic masterpiece.
Hollywood so desperately needs representation of black people, but arguably what is much more needed, is an accurate representation of black people. With white roles on the big screen, there is a depth and complexity not always afforded to black characters. In films, white characters have epic backstories, their hamartia, and the ability to be both villain and hero. When we are finally presented with black figures in film, they come in the form of drug dealers, angry thugs, or comic relief. With the black characters in Black Panther, we are graced by characters that are strong and passionate. The relationship between T'Challa, a the new found king, and his father, challenges the stereotypes about the black family, moreover, black fathers and their children. It also challenges the idea surrounding black men and hypermasculinity with the kindness and empathetic traits the main character represents. Black men are kings, and I hope every little black boy that goes to see this film now has a new role model.
With the women in the film, there is such grace and badassery. The Dora Milaje, the official army of Wakanda, is an all-female army led by Okoye (The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira!!) the General of the Wakandan Army and close confidant of the king. The Dora Milaje not only have a vibrant Marvel comic history, but also represent something huge for black women. Black women in Wakanda have both political influence in the Kingdom of Wakanda, and military strength. We see this translated in real history, with black women like Tarika Matilabah, Angela Davis, Shirley Chisholm. Black women have always been at the forefront of the fight for what is right, and it only makes sense that Wakanda's front line is made up of them. The way black women are visually presented on screen is also challenged. With women like Lupita Nyongo's Nakia and Angela Basset's Queen Mother, the representation of black women in this film is positive and empowering. With their natural hair and beautiful dark skin, the women of Wakanda are the heroes we needed and deserve. We can not move on from talking about characters, without of course talking about Letitia White, who plays T'Challa's younger sister, the princess of Wakanda, Shuri. She is the tech genius, and quite possible the smartest person in the Marvel Universe, and the designer of T'Challa's epic new suit. She also (SPOILERSPOILERSPOILER) is tasked with taking care of Agent Ross and our beloved Bucky Barnes. Having a witty, loyal, and kind character like Shuri, who is the creator of the technology that keeps Wakanda stable is important to young girls, and seeing her walk around her lab with her dreadlocks and having to explain modern technology to Ross was enough to keep a smile on my face for the entire scene.
Regarding the cultural representation of black people in the film, Ryan Coogler, the director, did not hold back. From the vibrant clothing reminiscent of many African cultures from places like Ghana and the Congo to the language we hear used between our beloved characters being Xhosa, a South African language spoken by everyone from Nelson Mandela to Trevor Noah. It's not only what you hear on screen that will leave you wanting more, it's what you see as well. The costumes were done by the ever so talented Ruth Carter, who worked on Selma and Malcolm X. Characters were on screen wearing armour that paid homage to African culture, yet technologically savvy and modern. This proves to an audience that black culture and black talent, in itself, is valuable and in demand..
Black Panther is required viewing, and if you don't understand, then you might find yourself more privileged than others. The most significant form of oppression is not to kill a culture but to pretend it never existed, to begin with, and to deny said culture relevance. Black Panther pushes forward black characters that have layers to them. Challenging the stereotypes about black people and Africa, by displaying the big picture, not the image that white supremacists put in our history textbook. Yes, being black appears with du-rags and gold chains, and black identity comes with the history of slavery and suffering, but that's not all there is. Blackness comes with strength, beauty, advancements, honor, and pride. Being black comes with being royalty, diplomacy, and civility. Black Panther isn't here to rewrite what means to be black, it's here to show us that blackness comes in layers, and that blackness isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
Banner Image via Twitter