Welcome to Wakanda: ‘Black Panther’ is a love letter between the African Diaspora and the continent
We are fed mere morsels only to be asked why we are still hungry, then chastised for the volume of thunderous growls from our empty stomachs
I’m wondering what words there are in existence that could be used to accurately describe Black Panther. Stunning, breathtaking, and majestic come close. This film stands firmly in a class all its own. It is not perfect (and I have many feelings about it, but you won’t find any spoilers here), but it is still magnificent, and Black as hell.
Chadwick Boseman gives deepened conviction and grace to the contemplative T’Challa as he struggles to find his place as the new King of Wakanda in an enormously transformative moment. As his irreverent challenger, Michael B. Jordan delivers a heart-wrenching vision of a desperate, ruthless, and deeply-wounded man in the antihero Erik Killmonger. His character stands out as the most memorable and most compelling.
Daniel Kaluuya, Winston Duke, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis all offer up wonderful performances in their supporting roles (but especially Winston Duke as M’Baku. What glory). Likewise, Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are each a welcomed and appreciated presence, while Sterling K. Brown makes damn sure that we are all reminded of why he took home a Golden Globe.
And Black women. Oh, Black women. The light, the truth, and the way. Black women deliver Black Panther to glory, just like I knew they would.
Danai Gurira and Lupita Nyong’o are the heart of this story. They each anchor T’Challa in their own ways, even as they, too, find themselves in the midst of battles that they never anticipated as a new Kingship becomes realized.
Letitia Wright is perfect as Shuri, in what leading man Chadwick Boseman calls the film’s “most important” role (I’m inclined to agree). Highly ambitious, sometimes arrogant, and a force to be reckoned with, she sprinkles Black Girl Magic everywhere she goes.
The Dora Milaje. A daunting presence throughout, these protectors are not to be fucked with, and they carry with them the same honor and regal essence as Wakandan royalty, as if they themselves wear crowns. They are a spellbinding vision.
And this monumental story rests solidly in the capable hands of Ryan Coogler. The director both acknowledges and celebrates his roots in a way that makes this feel like his personal passion project, and we are all invited to experience these intimate moments with him. I wish so badly that it had not taken this long—just over one hundred years after Hollywood’s first blockbuster—but I am beyond grateful to be alive and at this point in my life’s journey at the same time that Coogler is able to share this gift with us.
Black Panther has the potential to help set the tone for Blackness on film for the rest of our days, especially because it bears representation, balance, and inclusion of Blackness like we have never seen in a film of this magnitude.
We are dramatically underrepresented in Hollywood features, and this cast is refreshingly abundant with Black acting legends and contemporary heavy-hitters, as well as promising newcomers. But it’s not just the fact that over ninety percent of the cast is African and African American that makes it stand out from other films. It’s also that so many of the visionaries behind the camera and behind the scenes are Black—performers, creators, editors, designers, and directors.
Those who labored over this project carried with them the cultural knowledge and experience to make Black Panther so much more than a typical superhero blockbuster, and this could only be achieved authentically with a team as Black as this.
In an interview with The Comics Journal, co-creator Jack Kirby describes how Black Panther came to be.
“I realized I had no [Black characters] in my strip… I suddenly discovered that I had a lot of Black readers… And here I was ignoring them… Then I began to realize that there was a whole range of human differences.”
Imagine living so many years of life before recognizing that there is “a whole range of human differences” outside of the people who look like you. See, whiteness exists in its own little world, in which its own reflection is the default for humanness and personhood, but Blackness is the point of comparison by which these things are measured.
The birth of this comic is a testament to how homogenous whiteness has always been in Western media texts and entertainment, and everything surrounding its adaptation into a major studio project provides evidence for how starved we are for better representation than we have previously been given.
We are fed mere morsels only to be asked why we are still hungry, and then chastised for the volume of the thunderous growls from our empty stomachs. But Black Panther‘s magnificence will not be enough to satiate our hunger. We want more. So much more. Wakanda on the silver screen is merely an appetizer.
The Vibranium-rich metropolis dispels Western notions about Africa’s imagined primitiveness and inferiority to the rest of the world. Western cinema has never been interested in seeing Africa as anything other than war-torn, “shithole” poverty porn—a long, hot stretch of land with hardly anything but Black-skinned people crouching in mud huts, gun-toting child soldiers, and babies with distended bellies and flies in their eyes, either starving or dying of AIDS and in desperate need of white saviors.
Too often are we forced to view Africa through the white gaze, and the U.S. film industry has certainly never been enthusiastic about contending with the violence of white colonialism on the continent, or elsewhere for that matter. Given that, this unambiguously anti-colonialist narrative is a welcomed sight.
It’s a film that exists in spite of our time and also because of it. Sterling K. Brown was absolutely right when he spoke of its social relevance; not only is it “politically astute,” as Brown says, but it is also unapologetic in its delivery of uncomfortable, but poignant truths.
The Africa-centric anti-colonialist narrative devotes time to addressing the social and cultural realities of displaced Africans and their descendants in the Diaspora, highlighting the lost connection to the continent that many of us feel after centuries of enslavement and subsequent systemic oppression and institutional anti-Blackness.
Imagining a reality in which a place like Wakanda can exist as an African nation uninterrupted by white colonialist violences means to also imagine a reality in which its people never traversed the Middle Passage, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade did not devastate its families and remove its people from the traditions, cultures, and religions of home.
This film begs us to consider what that world might look like. For Black people stolen away from home, to contemplate this means to lay ourselves bare, open, and raw with the memories of the violences that we and our ancestors have known. The places that this narrative takes us, and the ways in which it takes us on this journey, are testament to the fact that this is a story told wholly for us, biting though it may be.
White supremacy not only demands that Black people be viewed as inferior, subhuman monstrosities—as we are so constructed in the white imagination to give evidence for fabled white superiority—but it also demands that whiteness always be seen, always be in the spotlight, and that everything we produce be made accessible to and perfected for white consumption.
But hallelujah and holy shit, Black Panther is not for white consumption. It cares not about or for the white gaze, which will undoubtedly try to claim it as sustenance for the bottomless belly of whiteness.
We know all too well the nature and perversions of white supremacy. It will excavate and exhume entire worlds in its search for the flesh of an Other to devour, but this time it will find that there is nothing easy for its jowls.
All of its splendor. All of its eminence. All of its Blackness. All of Black Panther‘s gifts bare the names of the children of Africa and its Diaspora.
Each day that I awake still on this Earth, I am made painfully aware of the crushing truth that I and my Black body will never know an existence untouched by white colonialism. Wakanda may be the closest that I will ever get, but damn it all, I want us to keep fighting for something that looks like Wakandan life. Black Liberation and Black prosperity are our birthright.
Even as I write this, I feel the ache of a kind of withdrawal beginning to take root. It felt like a communal celebration. We were a congregation and Black Panther was the sermon. A gathering of Black bodies and souls and minds, it felt like a reaffirming of our Black-ass humanity—the very humanity that white supremacy tries to strip from us daily.
I left feeling whole, and sovereign, and Black as the cosmos. It took me to a place that felt like home.