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Black Panther: The Essence of Who We Are And Promise of Who We Could Be

With bated breath and donned in my African regalia (well, just a blouse), I entered the theatre to watch the “Black Panther” movie.  With an unusual excitement built up from the magnificence portrayed in the trailers for months, as well as the history making pieces and potential of this movie, coupled with the need for Black representation in such a time as this- when the last grasp of white supremacy has released an onslaught of overt racism, I was feverish with a childlike delight waiting for a beautiful doll that looks like me on Christmas morning. And… I was not disappointed.

The exceptionality of the movie could be simply defined by the unusual representation of the beauty of Black actors at their most brilliant.However, as delicious as they were to behold on the screen that yelled Mama Africa and its diasporic children, the representation of Black magic was just the icing on the Black cake. Albeit, the physical beauty of all the stars was sufficient to roll back hundreds of years of Black men and women doubting their beauty as a result of the psychological ploy to strip us of the self esteem that comes with knowing that our standard of beauty is ideal.  Each character was more beautiful than the next.  Like the Queen Nefertiti, whose name means ‘a beautiful woman has come’, each Black woman on screen was the most beautiful woman in the world and they had come to “slay.”  Their natural hair evoked smells of shea butter and coconut oil; and sounds of singer India Aries’ “I am not my hair… I am not your expectations…”  The choice of these Nubian Goddesses all wearing their hair in natural styles itself was historic. Hollywood has historically portrayed Black women as permed, weaved, wigged personas, you know, more Eurocentric in their appearance.The discomfort of the wig as described by one character (the “baddest” General)was a great commentary on Black women’s struggle with wearing wigs and weaves as beauty enhancer, despite discomfort. She later used the wig as a weapon as she fought the enemy- a white man, and the commentary on the power of our hair/head was complete. As fellow loced sister, Angela Bassett’s grayed locs “gave me life.”  The proverbial wisdom that comes with aging/graying was evident in each loced strand. And, it was majestic, I can not wait to be all gray and loced.

The timely infusion of Black Feminist Thoughts (BFT) thus the intersectionality of race and gender was craftily etched in the roles of the bold and beautiful Black women casted. The beautiful Lupita’s character exemplified the strength of black women. Her ability to fight and win physically as well as mentally at any challenge presented, advanced the counter narrative that is critical to BFT.Furthermore, her clearly stated definition of herself outside of being a wife /Queen was just sheer brilliance, despite her intense love for the righteous Kingplayed by the wonderful Chadwick Boseman. HIStory in its limited portrayal of the African narrative often only describes scantily the patriarchal leaderships of African Kingdoms; however, the women in “Black Panther” defied that in HERstories: 1. Queen Mother (Angela Bassett) was regal and dominant in her role 2. The sister of the King (Letitia Wright) wasSilicone Valley ready in her techno glory 3. The love interest of the King (Lupita Nyong’o) was a brilliant strategist and warrior 4. The all female army, headed by a woman as General (Danai Gurira) was all kinds of fierce and bald- headed fabulous. As her husband bowed to her in defeat in battle, I heard the collective breaths of black women everywhere exhaling in the knowing of that familiar space; and our men, acknowledging that we indeed“run the world.”

The connections and conflicts in relationship with Africa and her diasporic children,particularly African Americans was painfully,yet beautifully developed within the story.  The last words of the protagonist brilliantly played by the beautiful Michael B. Jordan powerfully captured the disconnect “bury me in the oceans with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage …” Based on the ending of the movie, if there is a sequel, this troubled relationship will again be a focal point. The idea of Africans and African Americans being connected closely by blood, however, geography, experiences of enslavement, Jim Crowism and racism have forged a difficult wedge. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that the major conflict was between the King of Wakanda, Africa and his distanced cousin from Oakland, California, USA.

I left the theatre hopeful that this representation of an Afro-futuristic story that captures the essence of who we are as Blacks,and defines the possibilities of what we could have been without colonialism and still could be, will blast a new trail of black consciousness and power. I am hopeful that this Black magnificence on screen will be a stone thrown at the bigotry that encapsulates those of us who have lineage from”shithole countries I exhaled, raised my fist and internalized my commitment in thoughts and deeds to  #Wakandaforever!!!!!!

Professor Nadine L. Leblanc

February 18, 2018

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