Four viewings, so far, and multiple sighs of contentment later, I still have not had enough of the Black Panther movie. I signed the imaginary contract to become a lifelong card-carrying member of the ‘movement’ and am now awaiting my imaginary repatriation papers for Wakanda. Yaahhssss!!!
These flights of fancy have become all too common these days. I know I’m not the only one wishing there was a real Wakanda with a real young King T’Challa and strong women leaders advising him how to best lead their country. The world needs such a model to rekindle our optimism. Finally, we would witness the reuniting of spirituality and politics in an honourable leader and his/her supporting leadership team intent on serving justly and making their country and the world a better place.
I started this reflection right after watching the movie. However, there was just too much to process and too much excitement to focus. Therefore, this will be one of many reflections to come as I unpack this work of fiction, so marvelously told by the Director, Ryan Coogler, an awesome Cast, and everyone involved in its production.
The Awesome Cast and Standouts:
I recognize the challenge right away in highlighting ‘standouts’ with such a stellar cast. Right now, I’m unable to recall a movie that was so highly trafficked in fabulous captivating characters. The cast was truly amazing and I have to say I truly enjoyed how they all pulled it off together with such characters portraying strong personalities. They almost overwhelmed T’Challa had it not been that his story was sooo good and that he had the charisma to be so “Kingly” and did an excellent job of telling the story. Since I had already met him in Captain America: Civil War – I was just dying to get more of him in his solo movie role.
The diversity among the actors and the inclusion of figures from across the African Diasporan and the story of struggle underlying this movie was appropriately captured in including African descendants across the world. I was too thrilled at the Caribbean presence. The literal Black Panther Movement also included a strong Caribbean presence as well. One only has to think of Stokely Carmichael of Trinidad & Tobago as an example.
Here we see in this cast Caribbean presence in M’Baku (Winston Duke of Tobago), Shuri (Letitia Wright of Guyana), and Killmonger’s love interest and partner in crime, Nabiyah Be (Brazillian of Jamaican parentage). Be is the daughter of Reggae icon Jimmy Cliff.
Overall though, the cast did a great job of portraying figures in this fictional place. They all felt familiar and accessible to my African ancestral longings for positive images of the African continent. Like all who’ve shared these expressions, I was all too happy to see a prosperous Africa. However, I was also aware of my own diasporan conflicted mindset like a Killmonger whom we’ll get to in a moment.
Black Panther – His Majesty, King T’Challa
Chadwick. Boseman. This captivating actor is the Black Panther. I first fell in love with him playing Jackie Robinson in 42. I remember seeing that movie on local TV one Black History Month and was blown away by his style. I searched all over wondering who is this and how come I’ve never seen him before. He is good!! Next, I saw him in Get On Up which I couldn’t watch in one go. It took about three attempts to watch it all. He brought James Brown to life and made me bawl. Then next came Marshall, the story of Thurgood Marshall. And finally, in the Avengers franchise. He is fascinating, to say the least. I’m hooked! Chadwick was the right choice to pull off nobility, political figure and superhero justice fighter. That guy’s got serious oomph.
The Women of Wakanda
What a riveting bunch of bad girls! These are the common favourites of almost everyone, Okoye (Danai Gurira) the General of King T’Challa’s all women military and personal security team the Dora Milaje; Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Shuri (Letitia Wright). They are mine too. I’m already clamouring too, to see Shuri in her solo feature too, just not too soon. Please allow us to enjoy this brother-sister thing between her and T’Challa a bit longer.
Loved that the women figures were altogether quite strong. We see them sitting on the council, as clear head of their particular tribal group. Naturally, this resonates with us, when we think of the strong figures of Black mothers and grandmothers who’ve reigned supreme in Black communities. Then, the warrior women, Dora Milaje being fashioned on actual historical all-female warriors of Dahomey, West Africa (modern-day Benin) are just simply ‘wow’!!
The Villain – Killmonger
Killmonger played by Michael B. Jordan, was such a heartrending figure. He’s so many of us. This villain stirred up so much of the conflicts in our minds, and the layers of pain that accompanies thoughts of The Atlantic Slave Trade and the role of Africans selling other Africans into enslavement in Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. As villains go, you are supposed to hate them and root for the hero. But not this villain. He spoke from a place of deeply twisted woundedness.
Listen me, I actually cheered in my heart for many of his pointed lines. I was right there with him in that British Museum scene when he asked the curator, ‘did your people pay a fair price for these’ (the artifacts taken from Africa). It made me remember my first depressing visit to the British Museum back in 1993. I’ve long been an advocate for Reparations by former colonies, and especially Britain to us in Jamaica and the region. When I saw the ‘treasures’ that until then I’d only seen in History textbooks, it was quite an overwhelmingly emotional moment for me. I experienced the unfairness and injustice of it all.
I Wanna Live in Wakanda Forever!
The movie is first and foremost a fictional work for entertainment purposes. However, we know how well art and life imitate each other and this movie that has been breaking all kinds of records cannot feign complete innocence. There is clear evidence of an attempt at re-imagining history, geopolitics and social justice. That begins with conceptualizing a country in Africa that was never colonized, had no external debt, nondependent on international aid and donor agencies, and had its own (albeit well-kept secret) resources to secure the prosperity of their people.
But Killmonger also challenged Wakanda’s underlying philosophy of minding its own business, and not getting involved in the struggle of Africans, captured, sold and whose ancestral relatives and descendants live on the Continent and in diverse places across the world – abandoned, trying to ‘sing a song in strange lands’.
We witness the historical fear of dangers in opening up your world. And indeed in opening up to the other, you risk importing all kinds of negative external influences as well. The prejudice against “refugees” and how they come with all their problems looms large today as it did in the past. The pressure to use one’s resources for good in the world is bound to also attract the likes of those of the mindset that ‘Savages (Africans) do not deserve what they have’. The story of Vibranium – IS the story of Africa’s vast resources that have been colonized and exploited, and has for centuries been fuelling internal genocides when groups turn against each other to get the breadcrumbs from their own resources. It is a tragic tale…but oh yes this is all fiction, right?
This is an excellent message imagine of an inaccessible past telling us what lies underneath our very real and ongoing struggles for justice for peoples of African descent the world over.
Thank you, Marvel Studios for your courage (and profitable gamble of course!); and the outstanding storyteller Director of the film Ryan Coogler and all who brought this story to life.