If we go and watch Black Panther only because it is a story about an African nation ,with a African super hero and because finally we get to watch people that look like us starring in what has to be one of the most phenomenally successful movies of our times,we miss what I think is the whole point of the movie.
Black Panther is predominantly a movie about redemption.
My feelings about the movie Black Panther are similar to the feelings I got after reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book Americanah or Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s book Questions for Ada.
It is a feeling and a state of being I cannot describe because those two books and this movie took me back to a place, a place that as a woman of African origin I had long forgotten.A place of power.A place of hope.A place of new beginnings about how I am going to look at and understood myself from now on.
To be honest,I do not think that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee,who were among the 3 co-creators of the Marvel comics series which enjoyed phenomenal success from the late 1950’s to 1970 . These two men both with Jewish roots I bet had no idea what they started when they first published the first Black Panther comic book,issue #52 in July of 1966.
They had no idea that with the birth of Black Panther,millions of Africans and people of African heritage would be proudly flocking to movie theaters to see people who looked like them starring in one of the most highly acclaimed action movies of our times.
It is safe to guess that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee whose parents were immigrants to the US both had an idea of what it felt like to belong to a place which was home but not really home. Ijeoma Umebinyuo in her book Questions for Ada writes:
“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”
Both of them may have listened to the stories their parents told of their lives ,how difficult and hard it was when they first stepped onto the shores of the United States to make a new life for themselves(America is not kind to immigrants).These stories of fighting the odds to be a success must have inspired these series that the two men created where super heroes fight to ensure “good” wins against “evil”.
At a time when there was no black super hero to speak of,they introduced an African super hero to a readership of Marvel Comics that was 100 % white at a period in time when the the superhero genre of comic books was enjoying commercial success.
Years later, Wesley Snipes would make valiant efforts to bring Black Panther to life many times , his vision and goal in trying to bring Wakanda to life which he stated in an interview with Slate magazine was because it he felt it was ,”a fantastic way to help address some of the stereo types about Africa and the Africans glory,the African history,the African people of the day and of the time.”
But Snipes dream was not to be,it was not the right time .That was until Marvel which is owned by Disney studios started releasing action block busters like CaptainAmerica:Civil War and Chadwick Boseman made his first appearance as Black Panther in 2016.
The rest became history because when Ryan Coogler(writer/director) and Joe Robert Vole (screen writer) were paired up and together they have made Black Panther into an action packed adventure worth the one hundred and thirty five minutes you spend on your seat.On the way to grossing over $1Billion this weekend, the pair who are both African Americans have turned what was previously an overlooked classic into a “relatable and relevant movie” of the times we are living in.
Through out the more than two hours of action that has only just one rude gesture, we are living in a fantasy world that oddly is rooted in a real world that is in turmoil and Wakanda nation as a nation is trying to evolve as a country as it goes through a transition in leadership and a leader of a new generation takes up the title of the Black Panther .
African countries are struggling in a similar manner,some more than others to try and find a seat at the global table and not just lean in into the conversation on global trade but become active players in a world that has had trade and economic policies skewed more in the favour of Western countries.Some of the turmoil that we are seeing in African countries is as a result of this generational struggle of an identity and the result has been often times tragic.
In Black Panther,Wakanda is not a single tribe but a group of tribes that together form the kingdom of Wakanda ,one of the worlds most technologically advanced countries of whom the Black Panther is a hereditary title.In the film we see the struggle that transition brings when the King T’Chaka is tragically killed in a United Nations bombing and his son T’Challa has to fight many enemies to be worthy of this title .T’Challa has to struggle to define himself as a King and in one of the scenes we have Nakia played by our very beautiful Lupita Nyong’o say ,“You cant let your father’s mistakes define who you are.You get to decide what kind of King you are going to be.”
Many African countries are living through the consequences of mistakes that were done by previous presidents/kings/prime ministers and for some countries ,they seem stuck in a time warp that they think they cannot get out of.
Black panther is a reminder that there is always opportunity for rebirth or redemption at any point in time ,that is what life is,life is change.To be stuck in the same place,with the same mindsets is death.
We are living in a world that is constantly testing how we see ourselves and our place in the world as Africans.We cannot keep hiding behind the fact that we have always been the recipients of aid or that we were once colonized and have suffered through bad leadership.
Why,despite the many natural resources we have,do Africa countries expect bail outs from foreign donors ?
Why,despite the fact that we have some of the brightest minds on the continent at this moment in time do we keep making bad political choices when it comes to our leaders ?
Is it not time that we looked at ourselves anew ?
Is this not the time that we are reminded,thanks to the interest in African literature and increasing acclaim and commercial success of African writers and culture that we see this as our time of redemption ?
It is my hope that as many head of states from Africa see these film for what it is and hopefully pricks their consciences and that they decide to do better for their countries and the people who they lead.
The movie is a timely reminder to Africans and people of African origin or with African roots that there is everything to be proud about who we are,everything from our hair,art,fashion and culture was on display on Black panther.
Let us celebrate who we are without forgetting where we have come from or where we are going for at one point in time #WeWereKings ,we still are we just have to remind ourselves of the these things we have forgotten.
Let us take the responsibility of making the world a better place, “we have the tools to liberate ourselves and the people in the world that look like us.We cannot turn our backs on the truth our fore fathers were too afraid to face,the truth they hid.We cannot turn our backs on that truth,we must right their wrongs.”
Our redemption as Africans ,as people with a role and a place in the world begins when we start looking at ourselves anew and using the tools(natural and human resources) we have to redeem ourselves .
And the best part about Black Panther,definitely the women because characters had depth and they were given an opportunity to give a bad-ass performance.This very simple fact of allowing women to be themselves has made women who would not ordinarily walk into a movie theater to watch a high action movie flocking to buy tickets to watch Black Panther.
Three of my girl friends and I went to watch this movie and could not stop talking about it afterwards,I have talked to a lot of other women who went to watch it too who would not ordinarily watch an action movie and they loved it as well.
A unanimous conclusion from the women that have watched the movie is the admiration they expressed for both General Okoye,Nakia and Shuri.In an interview carried on Vanity Fair,Lupita Nyong’o says of the women in the cast ,“Women are allowed to realize their full potential and that’s what Ryan [Coogler] wanted to show and he committed to having that number of women around him.”
The women in Wakanda are not afraid to confront men when they make bad decisions or to challenge them either.
One of my most memorable scenes from the movie is when General Okoye head of Wakanda’s armed forces and Intel confronts W’Kabi who is Wakanda’s head of security and they have this exchange.
W’Kabi to Ooye : “Would you kill me, my love ?”
Okoye to W’Kabi: “For Wakanda ,without question!I would die protecting1”
That scene right there,shook me and I am still thinking about it.
Danai Gurira who plays General Okoye and whose home country happens to be Zimbabwe gives a sterling performance through out the movie and the car chase they have with Lupita Nyong’o while on a mission is among the most thrilling scenes in the whole movie.Seeing her in action together with the Dora Milajes you realize how we have undervalued ourselves as women and the contribution we can make to our communities and countries.
Women are the steady ,strong and powerful players of our societies,African culture recognized this and great honor was accorded to them. Wakanda is a better country because it values its women and we need to learn from the high cost we have had to pay of maintaining the lie that only men should and can lead.
Our redemption as a communities,as countries begins with this simple truth “that to redeem ourselves we have to go back to the beginning..to our ancestral plains and origins,to where we “lost” our home and find ourselves.Only then can we right the wrongs we have had to live with.”
What were your favourite parts of Black Panther ?We would love to hear from you.