so i finally got to see Black Panther again ( #WAKANDAFOREVER AHHHHHH–) and am now at a Starbucks basking in the afterglow of the movie, about to attempt to herd my thoughts into a more coherent cacophony of words than exists in my head at present.
wish me luck.
“It wasn’t bad.”
“It was great!”
said every non-black person ever when i’ve asked their thoughts on Black Panther. conversely, me and every other black person worth their salt have been losing it on social media and in general since the movie’s release in The States in February. the stark difference in people’s reactions is both amusing and cause for eye rolling, imho. it’s comparable to the YouTube reaction videos by cis and or straight youtubers that i’ve seen in response to Janelle Monáe’s recent “Make Me Feel” and “PYNK” videos.
“THAT WAS AMAZING, but i feel like i’m missing something. am i missing something?”
yes, you’re missing “something.”
more like “everything.”
you see, it’s pretty obvious to me that my #WakandaForever✊🏿 doesn’t mean what your #WakandaForever✊🏻 means.
granted this is a broad generalization and supposition on my part, but i think it’s safe to say that when non-black movie goers watch Black Panther, they come away from it as they would any other Hollywood Blockbuster of an action movie. yep, that sure was some Marvel Comics theatrics, that Black Panther. and when viewed like that, sure. i see where the aforementioned responses come from. viewed
as someone who isnt black uncritically, i suppose it’s easy to miss the many gems that director Ryan Coogler and his team not only included throughout the movie but infused into the very plot of the movie itself.
so here i am to wordvomit my personal musings about some of those gems. there will be spoilers.
let’s talk about Wakanda.
and how it’s a fictional, afrofuturistic version of what Africa could have been had colonialism not repeatedly ravaged, violated and assaulted it and its people. how Africa has always been one of the wealthiest continents in the world in terms of natural resources (see: vibranium) and how those natural resources continue to make companies in ‘first world’ countries millions while the people whose land is being taken advantage of continue to suffer ‘third world’ problems. i don’t think that people truly understand what it means to many of us to see this glimpse of an African country that never was; a country that is not only successful by anyone’s standards, but is rich, peaceful, free of ‘colonizers’ and is arguably more technologically advanced than even Stark Labs in The Land of The Free.
let’s talk about how at the end of the movie, T’Challa opened an outreach center in the community that Killmonger grew up in and how that is a “Real World” thing that people have historically done (and continue to do) in / for black communities across America.
let’s talk about the foundation that was laid for the plot of the next Black Panther movie: the UN conference revealing Wakanda’s resources to the world and the obnoxious commentary made by a ‘developed’ country’s representative.
or let’s not. we all know how Black Panther 2 will play out, because we live it every day. or at least, some of us do.
let’s talk about #BringOurGirlsBack
which, much like the #MeToo ‘movement,’ had its short-lived time in the international spotlight until that spotlight moved on to the next crisis à la mode. did you even catch Coogler’s own brief spotlighting of this ongoing issue during the film? the scene in Nigeria where T’Challa comes to pick up the undercover Nakia, who is working to free women from a militant group that is obviously reference to Boko Haram– child soldier and all. of course, Coogler shouldn’t get all of the credit for this particular scene– thanks Lupita and Danai <3 –but i still find it rather telling that so many people could see a scene like this and consume it without so much as a blink of the eye.
i mean, the movie’s set in Africa.
this kind of scene– scared women huddled in the backs of trucks amidst men with machetes and guns is just a thing that happens in Africa. besides, this is a fictional action flick!
a political Marvel movie?? your “politics” is “Life” for some of us, so sit back down and keep reading.
let’s talk about Killmonger.
the most poignant, theatrical embodiment of African Diaspora identity politics that i have ever seen.
orphaned in Oakland, California as a kid when he lost his Wakandan father– everything about this character, while apparently a departure from the comics, is a reference to the plight of black people in America, including the aforementioned backstory.
it is a known issue, at least among the black community, that there has been and continues to be a disproportionate number of black children– particularly boys– who end up growing up without a father in their life for a number of reasons, a few of which were referenced in the movie itself when Killmonger, after having drunk the heart-shaped herb, had a conversation with his father, N’Jobu.
N’Jobu: “No tears for me, son?”
Killmonger: “People die every day. That’s just part of life around here.”
and even earlier in the movie when it is revealed why N’Jobu betrayed Wakanda in the first place.
N’Jobu: “I observed for as long as I could. Their leaders have been assassinated. Communities flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated. All over the planet, our people suffer…”
what’s this? people in the Marvel Universe being flooded with drugs and weapons, policed and incarcerated? oh wait, no. that’s a reference to the Real Life 80’s / 90’s America that myself and Killmonger’s character grew up in without a father in our lives, seeing far too many of our peers in similar situations– all the while, seeing mugshot after mugshot of black men & boys who might as well have been our fathers, brothers, cousins on COPS and the evening news, thrown en mass into American prisons. the so called “War on Drugs” that was in actuality a war on black communities over the very same drug that White America has now legalized, making millions off its production while black bodies continue to be slaves to the same system that made N’Jobu sell vibranium to a colonizer in the first place.
Museum curator: “These items aren’t for sale.”
Killmonger: “How do you think your ancestors got these? Did they pay a fair price, or did they take them, like they took everything else?”
it is a gross oversimplification to see Killmonger as the typical antagonist bent on avenging his father’s death, and yet that seems to be as far as The Uncritical seem to get…? meanwhile me and mine are sitting in that theater with tears in our eyes, doing dance challenges at movie theaters that eventually go viral, screaming all over the damn internet– because you just do not understand.
perhaps what best illustrates the feelings and mindset that informed Killmonger’s actions as an anatomist are his final words at the end of the movie.
T’Challa: “We can still heal you…”
Killmonger: “Why, so you can lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
now if that wasn’t the nail in the coffin that drove home how infused with reality this movie is, i don’t know what would be. for anyone who actually needed that stark a line to be brought back to reality, it would have come too late.
in which case you should go watch the movie again.
the thing that gets me most about these final words from Killmonger is how in the “real world,” whenever a black person unequivocally references slavery and how the history of it influences their own (and other’s) actions or decisions in the present, as Killmonger does here, is not at all uncommon for someone to respond with remarks that (intentionally or not) make light of the speaker’s feelings. ridiculous commentary along the lines of “racism is over”, insinuating not only that racism is actually over, but that the speaker is clinging to butthurt feelings from a past long-gone and ought to get over it already. that black people have a “victim mentality” and that such mentality is superfulous; that we need to stop bringing up “The Race Card™” when we aren’t being treated any differently from anyone else.
i very much appreciated that Killmonger was given that moment to express such feelings and for those feelings to be heard, respected and honored sans awkward silence or commentary.
let’s talk about African American estrangement.
while the tweeking that Coogler and his team of writers did not only to the story itself, but also to the character Killmonger, allowed them to explore many real world Truths that hit close to home for many African Americas, the most poignant of those Truths for me is perhaps the complicated relationship that Killmonger has with Wakanda and that relationship’s function as an allegory for the (often unspoken) relationship that some African Americans have with Africa in general.
the connection; the estrangement.
the desire to reconnect; the inability to reconnect.
Killmonger was born and raised in the US with no real connection to Wakanda other than what his belated father had left him, but despite that he ‘waited [his] entire life’ (as he himself put it) to return to a place that he’s never actually been to before. upon being brought into the room of elders, hands cuffed as he issued a challenge to T’Challa for the thrown, he expressed how wronged by Wakanda he felt. while he did mention the death of his father at the hands of Black Panther (T’Chaka, T’Challa’s father), he was much more focused on the fact that Wakandans were ‘sitting up [in Wakanda] comfortable’ while people around the world who looked like them were suffering.
Killmonger: “You know, where I’m from, when black folks started revolutions, they didn’t have the firepower to fight their oppressors.”
obviously Killmonger felt a connection to those other people around the world that T’Challa did not as when Killmonger asserts that the king of Wakanda ought to do something about the state of those other people, T’Challa responds
T’Challa: “I am not the king of everyone, I am the king of Wakanda.”
*whispers* ah, that sweet sweet homogenization of African countries and cultures by people in the black diaspora (most notably by African Americans) in an effort to reconnect with or reclaim “The Motherland” as their own and the conflict that some Africans feel about that; a huge intracommunity and intercommunity issue that was illustrated nicely in this brief exchange, imho.
despite having an African-American mother and having been born and raised in America, Killmonger sees himself as being just as Wakandan and just as entitled to the thrown as T’Challa. meanwhile, he was referred to as an “outsider” more than once by Wakandans and as “one of ours” by Agent Ross, who is arguably the movie’s token white guy.
but wait– what’s that? identity politics in an action flick??
i mean, an antagonist fighting to reclaim something based on something that he feels he is (Wakandan), meanwhile you have people who are that thing making offhanded comments about him that show that they view him as no different from any other American.
where have i heard that before? hmm…
even though i do not identify as biracial or mixed race, i found myself relating to Killmonger on a personal level for numerous reasons, but none more acutely than the ambiguous “grey area” of his Wakandan identity vs [Black] American identity. even though i doubt Killmonger himself saw those identities as being at all ambiguous or in conflict with one another, those around him did and that very much mirrors my experiences and feelings about my own blackness.
and i’m sure i’m not the only one who relates to Killmonger in this way.
let’s talk about the Dora Milaje.
although i feel like there isn’t much that need be said about the Awesomeness that was the group of female warriors who protected Black Panther as their Awesomeness is more than self-evident and is a large part of the reason to go see the movie at all, in my humble opinion. i mean srsly, who cares about T’Challa?
while not perfect, there’s just so much to be happy about in terms of the roles that women played in every facet of the story and plot of this movie. be it the Okoye and the Dora Milaje, the scientific genius that is Shuri or even the Jabari women who joined M’Baku in fighting against the Border Tribe at the end of the movie– a lot of people are praising this movie for its representation of women, especially in so far as the Marvel Universe– which is lacking when it comes to female rep, let alone representation of black women– is concerned.
something that i would like to throw out there, however, is the real world history that the fictional Dora Milaje pay homage to.
let’s talk about #LetAyoHaveAGirlfriend.
not everyone who saw the movie will know this, but there is a spin-off comic to the “Black Panther” comic series called “World of Wakanda” which was created by two black women (a first for Marvel comics) and follows the life of two former Dora Milaje, only one of whom has made an appearance in the Black Panther films thus far. that character is Ayo, who (coincidentally) also makes an appearance in Captain America: Civil War, but whose roll in the actual Black Panther movie pretty much takes a backseat to Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje.
in the comics, Ayo is a queer woman whose relationship with the other main character, Aneko (not yet featured in the movies), is not only ‘canon’ but is central to the story.
leading up to Black Panther’s release, there was speculation made about whether the Marvel cinematic universe would finally have its first openly queer couple. well, suffice it to say that Marvel did not handle fan speculation well and just as had happened before with Captain America and Frozen (among others), disgruntled fans took to social media in protest using the #LetAyoHaveAGirlfriend tag.
except no, it was not the same; there were noticeably fewer calls for Ayo to have a girlfriend.
because yeah, it was not the same; calls both for and against Ayo having a girlfriend were noticeably more racially charged.
the first time i saw Black Panther, i left the theater beside myself with what i’ll inadequately label as “excitement” for the purposes of this. i was excited that so many black children today and in years to come would have an opportunity that i hadn’t; they will have the chance to see themselves in a movie as empowering as this one. as someone who grew up with only one [Marvel] character on TV who resembled me enough to be able to see myself in & be inspired by them– i knew what a movie like this would have meant to me back then and thus am able to imagine what it could mean for others now and going forward.
and yet i have to stop myself short of imagining what it would mean to have queer black women portrayed as being in a relationship on the big screen, because i cannot even begin to tell you how much that would have meant to me and i dare not even hope for it, least Marvel unabashedly shatter such that hope, leaving me in pieces on the theater floor after Black Panther 2…………
yet there i was, yet again watching hashtag activism unfold until i turned away, fed up with it. no matter how personally relevant the topic was to me, no way would i get actively involved in it this time. i learned my lesson. still, i noticed the difference in how people did or didn’t approach the hashtag and how others rejected it; more importantly, i noticed who approached the hashtag and who didn’t; who rejected it and in what manner they went about doing so.
and i am not the least bit surprised nor amused.
all those queer voices behind the #LetElsaHaveAGirlfriend and #GiveCaptainAmericaABoyfriend hashtags?
the absence of many of your voices this time around has [again] been duly noted.
everything about how people are consuming this movie in comparison to others in the Marvel Universe and beyond has been noticeably different from that of other movies and i should not have to spell out the reason(s) why that is and why that difference bothers me. i will say, however, that the aforementioned difference and the situation that it puts me in is incredibly uncomfortable, to say the least.
i hate how uncritically people are consuming this movie. i hate how unlike most other movies, i can’t just strike up a conversation coworkers or students who have seen the movie, asking them what they thought of it without wincing upon the immediate realization of my mistake. how they may as well have seen a completely different movie from me, because we are Not On The Same Page and the page that they’re on i couldn’t give less of a damn about.
i hate how i do literally wince every time i see a non-black, non-African Marvel fan cross their arms across their chest and say “Wakanda Forever!”
because my #WakandaForever✊🏿 is not their #WakandaForever✊🏼 and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it would be nice if they were at least conscious of the difference.
but they’re not.
and there lies my problem.