If you’re Black or African or African-American or any iteration of African descent then you like most of us saw the greatness that is Black Panther this past week. Black Panther is a film based on the comic book character from the 60s and before the Black Panther Party, of the same name. Perhaps you were like me and saw it twice, perhaps more or perhaps you only saw it once. Either way if you haven’t seen it, regardless of what ethnicity you are, you should watch it for a variety reasons, but in simplest terms, it is a good film. If we go far deeper then we find that there are multiple layers to this film.
Black Panther is one of the first films created in Hollywood that is pan-African. This isn’t a Nollywood film, this isn’t one of Tyler Perry’s overwrought dramas, this is a pan-African superhero film that celebrates our African heritage, American Blackness and more on a global scale. Most of the time superhero outfits had masks that had whitefaces before they started doing half masks.
This didn’t always bother people because as a Black person over 25 and they’ll tell you at least one white superhero or superheroine they were a big fan of. However, our children now have a whole slew of people that they don’t need to change their hair, skin or overall demeanor to be. A Black superhero, “villain”, and several powerful Black women are empowering to all the Black children in the world who have been waiting for a hero.
One of the most important representations throughout the film isn’t just Black Power, but also how we’re portrayed with a myriad of emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and skills. Wakanda is a beautiful and technologically advanced city, Shuri is a Blerd/Bleek, Okoye is a general, Nakia is basically a secret spy/assassin, and the city and rural landscapes are teeming with hardworking African Wakandas.
II. Role of Women
Much has been said about the role of women in this film and not just women, but Black bald-headed women who are not their hair. Some complain that there isn’t enough in the film and yes Killmonger’s treatment of women isn’t the best. However, much of his mistreatment was intentional to represent Black revolutionaries disrespect and abuse of women to get to their cause as evidenced by the real Black Panthers themselves. Furthermore, none of the Black women actually ruled Wakanda or could go into ritual combat (which I think Okoye would’ve won hands down).
Still, there are many positive representations of Black women, far more than most films or tv shows ever even attempt to have. Does that mean we need to forgive this film? No, but having a dark-skinned Black lady as a general of the army/royal guard is empowering; as are the Dora Milajie. Nakia makes T’Challa change his ways if he is going to be with her instead of the other way around. Shuri is the most intelligent person in Marvel and she is a Black women. I also think not enough is said that Queen Ramonda isn’t in a large show of Black grief when T’Chaka or T’Challa “die.” As such, these are some of the most powerful Black women to have graced the screen, without them T’Challa wouldn’t have come back, been protected, had the powers to fight and a whole lot more.
One note that is important is that Dora Milajie, are often lovers with each other in the comics and that was a missed opportunity to have LGBT representation and in an ideal world every aspect of Black everything is front and center, but I’m so pleased to see young women and many women I know feel absolutely empowered by the badass Black women in this film.
While this film can be viewed by anybody and appreciated by anybody, the film grows steadily in its stance against whiteness and colonialism. Watching this film in two different countries is telling as in the US many Black people loved the “colonizer” joke, Killmonger’s last statement on the Atlantic slave trade, and a many more jabs at whiteness and colonialism. However, in Canada white people (also a colony) enjoyed that joke just as much and I think that is due to their slightly improved acceptance of diversity than the US which is still fraught with many issues. Still, this film is definitely for a pan-African unity as many concepts are against colonizers getting vibranium weapons, what if Africa was never colonized, and a general mistrust of colonizers or non-Africans.
Many people who are not African descent can understand this, but there are moments that are steeply rooted against whiteness and calling for pan-African unity. Whether you’re Caribbean, African, British, American and any other part of the African diaspora, it’s time to bridge that gap together against colonialism and all of its standards of power, beauty and disrespect that the original Black Panthers were so against.
I would also call upon Killmonger discussing the theft of many artifacts by colonizers from around the world and the kinetic energy powers of the suits. The former is straightforward and a great call to African art and education meanwhile the latter is the ability to take the weight and anguish of colonizers then push it back onto them.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is that there are many ways to discuss how to handle Blackness and the pan-African movement. There are a variety of ideologies on celebrating our roots from the wonderful sets by Hannah Bleacher, costumes by Ruth E. Carter, and the varieties of languages used – Xhosa, Zulu and Ndibisi, which is only part of the puzzle. I will attempt discuss as many as I can and I apologize if I’ve forgotten any perspective or nuance as there are so many and I wrote about this later in the week because I learned something new every day.
T’Challa – T’Challa’s perspective changes throughout the film from the traditionalism (a perspective in itself) of his father T’Chaka, to one of more globalism in accepting colonizers and other non-Wakandas to extent. This is primarily to help Black Americans but also to help people globally. This is a radical change from the isolationist themes of Wakanda from before. His literary rise and fall and resolution is the easiest to follow on the first film due to identity, but upon other viewings or thinking more you may disagree with him. That is mainly due to you feeling that he is not doing enough and is instead sympathizing when he is simply trying to be diplomatic.
Killmonger – Erik Killmonger is definitely similar to the actual Black Panther Party and in essence an amalgamation of some of the main leaders (no one Black literary, revolutionary or leader is represented in these characters, there are many). He wants total destruction of colonizers including the children in order to create an empire similar to colonial ideas of imperialism; essentially become what you hate. Unlike T’Challa his past is a Black kid in the less safe areas of Oakland in which he has experienced a whole slew of issues brought on by colonizers and their racism. On a second viewing, one can follow his trajectory as it is reasonable except that he wants to get rid of any Wakanda or person who stands against his ideas (note I still don’t think Nightshade is dead – the lady he shot).
*N’Jobu – N’Jobu has a similar idea as his son, but it is not an imperial sense. His main push is to arm Black people against oppressors and to have new leaders by stealing vibranium to power weapons. However, he doesn’t want an empire, he merely wants to fight back.
Nakia – Nakia holds little allegiance at first to Wakanda, but due to rituals, love for her tribe and the attempt to save her country, she offers a third route. Instead of isolation or conquering, she offers the idea of aide as from her first scene she is using her powers to help women who are used in trafficking by Boko Haram. As such, much of her motivation and ideals coming from using vibranium to assist the pan-African world outside of Wakanda. It is a positive way to influence, but there will be a cost with this. Still, it is her who changes T’Challa’s mind and once again shows how important African women are to the world of not only Wakanda but in reality itself.
Okoye – Okoye has a sense of duty and loyalty. It is most reflective of knighthood in that she serves whoever reigns regardless of how good they are as a king, this is of course until the end in which she realizes she has to sometimes bend the rules in order to improve the country she loves. Another point, to bring up is how reliant she is on herself and without men, more than once she helps T’Challa and also follows duty over love for another man by the end of the film. It’s a really powerful moment at the end with W’Kabi in her not sacrificing her ideals for a man; an issue that plagues too many women. I really want to follow her and Nakia on the third viewing since they offer up ideas on how to navigate as Women in the world of Wakanda.
M’Baku – M’Baku is extreme traditionalism to the point of blindness. While many of his tribes methods are survivalist and work (ice, simply clothes for fighting, vegetarianism) for ensuring benefits without technology, he does miss the combination of the two in order to assist his people. However, he is also not wrong his rejection of the elitism of the other tribes as a call against pan-African elites who often forgot the street savviness of others when they have much more intelligence than one would think.
Shuri – Shuri is a technological genius, highly representative of the youth of today in which many are skilled with smartphones but have no tolerance or respect for the ways of the past. However, she has one of the most important lines in the film in suggesting that good can always be improved. This is important to show that while she is not traditional (though she understands the ancestral ways in saving T’Challa) she always wants us to improve as a whole. She uses technology and is much more a machinist but does so to improve broken white boys and her family out of pure fascination and belief in technology coming from an ancient resource.
Lastly, I could go into Klaue’s concept of Wakanda/Africa as savages but it is limited as he is cultural appropriation and for the money. Meanwhile, Ross simply wants to gather information to improve the CIA/America as a whole but not in respect to Wakanda a much more white liberal approach.
V. Nuances of Blackness
This may be the most important part of the film but I ultimately will continue to add this section since there are loads and loads of nods to many different aspects of Black and African history. Much of this film acknowledges concepts that one would not know unless they were Pan-African from the leaders and ideologies represented to all the easter eggs. To list all of them will be vast but I will say some of my favorites:
Much of the clothing, language, buildings and religion in Wakanda are based on a variety of both ancient and modern African ideologies. From the Xhosa language, clothing from Himba tribe, Suri tribe and Basotho blankets, to the buildings based on Timbuktu’s Djenne Mosque and Hausa tribes to the concept of a panther God and the opening sequence of an oral tradition.
There are several represented Pan-African leaders here from Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Malcolm X, and all the debates between them Booker T. Washington v. W.E.B. DuBois v. Ida B. Wells for example.
Any references to the actual Black Panther Party – Huey Newton, Oakland sequences (birthplace of the Black Panther), and much of the revolutionary and hip-hop sentiments
Many of the non-verbal cues and nuanced discussions between the characters – dap, weave, slavery v. death brings freedom, white people not speaking, touching without permission and much more.
All the greatness of the ending credits. The character representation with each actor (Sterling Brown's ring falling through the hand and Angela Basset's "Neferiti pose" are my favorites), the metallic sand effects from the intro, and each of the sequences playing for the crew - production designer = Shuri's Lab, costume design = multiple African patterns, visual effects=the Korean car chase sequences.
If you have any nuances I missed feel free to let me know.
I really loved this film. Yes improvements needed to be made and some parts of the film weren’t as accurate as the comics it was based on –though much of it came from the World of Wakanda series with Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxanne Gay. However, I have to ask, how many other films have you ever seen in your life like this?
Wakanda Forever Black Panthers!