This week I had the pleasure of going to see Black Panther with my little sister Alice and it was a moment. A moment for Black people everywhere, who have been waiting decades to see black glory displayed in full force on the big screen. Representation matters and this film has it in spades.
Displaying strong representations of educated, interesting, self sufficient and strong Black men and women, Black Panther is a refreshing break from the restrictive stereotypes Black audiences are regularly greeted with when we attend the cinema.
Throughout the film white actors take a back seat and are placed in the secondary and supporting roles that Black actors usually occupy in Hollywood films. This was an amazing change. With this simple choice the creators of the film transported Black audiences to Wakanda, for a few hours you could occupy the place of privilege, you could see yourself in a movie and easily identify with the characters. You were not on the outside looking in, but inside the circle of power. You were the given, placed there with no question and without feeling the need to justify yourself or your presence in the room.
Leaving the film I felt so much pride in being Black. To me Black Panther is a film that defies stereotypes and shows, what I and so many others like me already know, that Black people are capable of so much more than what we are given credit for in the mainstream.
Black Panther does a wonderful job of displaying the vast diversity of dialects, cultures, ethnicities and beliefs that is the African diaspora. There was an understanding that to be Black is not to occupy one type of body or belong to one belief system or single lived experience. To belong to the Black community is to belong to a series of very different and unique cultures. A Black man in California will have a very different lived experience than a Black man in Nigeria. A Black woman in Toronto will have a very different lived experience than a Black woman in Victoria and this is recognized clearly in this film. We are not a people to be lumped together into one all encompassing category, we have depth and beautiful differences. To watch a major Hollywood film that features Black actors and actresses who represent our great diversity was a blessing.
I could write an entire PHD Thesis on the idea of Wakanda. My Master’s Thesis examined how Black people understand what it means to be Black in a post-colonial society, and how we negotiate our identities in virtual communities; creating spaces of support and pride that we cannot always form in the physical world.
Throughout the film I was struck by the premise, a Black nation that didn’t experience colonialism and so its people thrived. What an interesting thought, what would the Black experience be if Africa hadn’t experienced a mass colonial takeover?
We will never know the answer to this question but what Black Panther reminds us again and again is that although Wakanda is a utopia, we can continue to strive for the things that make Wakanda great. You cannot change the past but you can work towards a better future.