‘Black Panther’ allows Black kids to see themselves as royalty
I'd be lying if I said I didn't check my bottom lip for a Wankandan tattoo afterwards.
by Andrew Keahey
I remember being put to bed by my Mother when I was a small child. I remember feeling my head start to bob and my eyes start to droop as I tried unsuccessfully to watch the late night shows that the grown ups got to watch. She would scoop me up in her arms, and soon I’d be under my Jurassic Park covers, and I’d feel her kiss my forehead. She would always say the same thing to me before she left the room, “Goodnight, Young Prince. I love you.”
She calls me “Young Prince” to this very day, and I smile every time I hear it. I mention this because I acknowledge that in having this affectionate moniker, I was a very lucky boy. My Mom thought I was a prince. My Mom made me feel like royalty, and that’s not something that a lot of little Black boys and girls get to feel very often.
Leading up to Black Panther‘s release, I saw so many amazing reactions and early reviews praising the film as a celebration of Blackness and Black identity. So many people who used to look upon their own skin as something that only held them back are able to wear it with so much pride when they feel represented and visible in media.
It’s easy to look at Black Panther and appreciate seeing the Black superhero and Black scholar at the center. What I am also grateful for, and what many Black children are going to be thankful for, is seeing a depiction of Black royalty.
I think back to when I was a kid, and all the cartoons and movies that I would watch, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of an example of Black royalty outside of Coming to America, which was incredible in terms of showing unique Black style and humor. It stands alone in my memory.
I grew up watching all manner of fantasy movies, Disney and otherwise, and every single king and queen; prince and princess was either a white person, a non-Black person of color, or some kind of delightful talking animal. In my childhood, Black people didn’t really get to be royalty.
European royalty and beauty standards seemed to be basically the only kind worth acknowledging. Indeed, Snow White was considered beautiful because of her skin color. It’s in her name and the title of her movie.
All things considered, Black kids like me did not grow up seeing ourselves as royalty in the way that children of other races did, especially white children. When you do not see yourself represented in the media that you consume as a child, the possibility that it exist may not even enter into your mind. It’s a foreign concept.
During games on the playground, I never played the part of prince because that wasn’t a part that I felt I fit into, even with my Mother’s loving nickname. I knew I was royalty to her, but it didn’t feel that way when it came to playing games with the other kids.
We weren’t even taught that real Black royalty existed. We grew up being exposed to so many real life stories of kings and queens in European countries and how they affected history, but the media and the educational system both ignore African nations and the people that live there. Even ancient Egyptians are coded as and portrayed as white.
Black Panther brings me hope for the Black Youth of today. They’re not just seeing an amazing superhero that exceeds the wealth of Batman, the strength of Captain America, and the intelligence of Bruce Banner. They are seeing this all present in prince who becomes a king. Someone who rules the sovereign nation of Wakanda and intends to help bring prosperity to his people.
He’s not perfect, and he knows it. He’s trying to improve all the time for the good of his people. He is deeply connected to a long, glorious history that he can look back on and learn from, while still surging forward. Wakanda’s fiercest warriors are powerful, Black women, and the general is the biggest badass I’ve seen on screen in a long time. The Queen Mother is regal and strong. The Princess is a certified genius and fights using the technology that she developed herself and which is far beyond anything else in the world. The king’s love interest is a spy who has a revolutionary spirit that cannot be tamed.
My Black Panther experience was truly one of the most beautiful celebrations of Blackness that I’ve ever been a part of. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t check my bottom lip for a Wankandan tattoo afterwards.
That’s how it starts. This is how little Black boys on the playground can stand atop high structures and proudly proclaiming themselves “The King!” This is how the little Black girls can go from seeing themselves in subservient roles to being powerful, capable fighters. This is how they can see themselves as kings and queens, princes and princesses, generals and warriors. They can rule, too, and they will.
This ‘Young Prince’ is finally feeling royal. It just took a lot of bedtimes.
Andrew Keahey is a horror enthusiast and writer currently based in Austin, Texas. He’s been watching horror movies since he was far too young, and primarily writes essays, short fiction, and poetry