On the heels of
BLACK PANTHER OFFERS BLACKS A WAY TO PARTICIPATE IN REWRITING THE NARRATIVE OF BLACKNESS
From the very first image we saw—T’Challa sitting confidently on his throne—black excellence has been the driving philosophy. Black excellence isn’t just about enduring or merely surviving; it’s about thriving. It’s not necessarily about being respectable or fitting into mainstream notions of greatness; it’s about redefining and owning our own aesthetic and values. It’s about meeting subhuman depictions in society head-on, and doing so with unparalleled style, creativity, power, and joy. From early reviews about superb performances from an all-star black cast, to buzz about how the cast embodied African royalty and slayed on the “purple” carpet,
However, the film is doing more than just wowing movie-goers with great marketing. It is leveraging fictional elements within the Marvel Universe to dispel real world myths about Africa. The premise of a far-advanced African nation confronts faulty assumptions that the diverse continent represents nothing more than underdeveloped nations of uneducated people. Reality debunks that, too. In the United States, African immigrants, compared to other immigrant groups and US-born citizens, are among the most educated residents.
With this in mind,
It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the dominant historical narrative that revolves around Africa’s misery and African countries’ “third-world” identity. That idea conveniently omits how historical policies–colonization, the slave trade, CIA-backed coups–and current policies–Western intervention, unfavorable trade relationships–limit African nations’ self-determination. Wakanda imagines the possibilities had Africa’s wealth not been stolen and its peoples enslaved. That Wakanda has developed on its own terms isn’t simply an escapist ideal, it’s an aspirational one.
BLACK PANTHER ISN’T JUST PART OF A HISTORIC MOMENT, IT’S CREATING A HISTORIC MOMENT
The film could also inspire fans to look beyond the comic book character to find real examples of black excellence. The introduction to African history in mainstream US education usually starts with enslavement. But that ignores the power and grandeur of pre-colonial African societies with their technological innovations, complex political systems, educational advancements, and artistic contributions. Selective amnesia means that black history, as represented in textbooks, is one of subordination and oppression instead of a more nuanced, holistic representation.
Although Hollywood has made vital inroads in story-telling with films by Ava Duvernay, Spike Lee, Barry Jenkins, and Jordan Peele (to name a few), critically-acclaimed films depicting the black experience often rehash the trope of suffering. Consider
In online groups all over the country, black people are discussing their experiences with the film before its debut (#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe), meticulously preparing for its release, coordinating Wakanda-inspired outfits for premiere parties, and treating February 16 like a day of observance. There is nothing more joyous than the video of a classroom learning they are going to see the film, or the wildly successful fundraising efforts to treat black youth to the film. This is a truly special moment, and the film isn’t even out for another week.
Destined for commercial success,