What Black Panther Means To Me

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I’ve loved comics for most of my life. I’d get the occasional chance to read my cousins, when they let me, and my love of them only grew. As a child I liked characters because they were cool. That was until I first saw the first superhero that looked anything like me, Storm. My mind was blown because this was the first time I saw a character I couldn’t relate to because not only was she a black woman, she was also African. Fast forward a couple more years and I had my first run in with Black Panther. Here was another superhero who like me was black and African. It also helped that he was a ruler of his own nation.

His people thrived without having to assimilate. Colonisation wasn’t a part of their history like it was of all of the other african nations I knew. Even as a child I knew this was a big deal. I loved my culture but things had changed because of its history. This place was different. Wakanda was a fantasy world.

Fast forward to 2017 when the Black Panther movie was announced. I will honestly say I lost my mind because finally there was going to be a movie about a superhero that was iconic in his own right. The cameo in Captain America: Civil War was one of the highlights for me so you can imagine just how I was excited to get a WHOLE MOVIE about Black Panther.

I followed every bit of news because my heart was invested from the get go. I felt joy every time I heard another POC was cast in the movie. This movie was gearing up to be one of the most diverse blockbusters that wasn’t about Slavery or African Civil Wars.

First of all Ryan Coogler, best known for Creed and Joe Robert Cole, deserve a round of applause for what they managed to pull off. Writing something for someone with a lot of history within the Marvel universe as a whole can be very hit and miss. This one however was an absolute hit especially with  Coogler directing it. Standards were already pretty high when that news was announced.

What put this movie up on a pedestal for me was the cast. I will openly admit that yes I was bias and yes it was because a majority of the cast and the writers were black. Why? Because it’s not a common enough occurrence for it not to matter any more. I’m tired of watching movies and tv shows where people like me seem to not exist. It’s really nice to be able to look at a screen and imagine yourself there. It was just what my nerdy African heart needed.

Seeing myself represented in such a way left me speechless for most of the movie. The first time I watched it I went with a group of friends. A diverse group of friends, within that group there were four Africans. The excitement was almost tangible between us because so much more was riding on this movie than just whether it was good or not. The success of this movie had the potential to change the faces we saw on the silver screen from here on out and we were hopeful.

During the movie I went through an entire spectrum of emotions.

Storytelling

Seeing an African culture represented in such a way warmed my heart. Hearing an African language like Xhosa and not having to look at the subtitles had me grinning from ear to ear. I remember the first time I heard the opening word of “Baba” instant tears sprung to my eyes because I knew this boy was talking to his father. I have never experienced that in a cinema because. The story telling was also something all people can relate to. Parents telling their kids stories is not something new but the imagery that accompanied the story was poignant.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Not only did it show the good, it showed the bad parts of Wakanda. The part of Wakanda that sat back and did nothing while people were stolen from their home and were enslaved. The part of Wakanda that sat back and watched the worlds people fight amongst each other, slaughtering hundreds of thousands.

It painted Wakanda in the right light. For the people who lived within its shields Wakanda was a utopia. That naturally means that the people left to fend for themselves where on their own. But you couldn’t blame past kings of Wakanda for making that choice. Colonisation by other nations is something that most nations on this planet have experienced and if given a chance they would most likely chose to protect their people first if given a chance.

Beauty

But with that protected way of living came a wonderful thing. Beauty in all its forms. Even in post colonial African countries the image of fair skin and straight long hair is seen as a sign of beauty but that was not the case in Wakanda.

I have not seen that much natural hair on-screen for a long time. Natural hair can be difficult to maintain but seeing it displayed without the fan fair was a breath of fresh air. For years I straightened and destroyed my hair with chemical relaxers because my hair was not ideal, because my hair felt like and I quote “a Brillo pad”, because my hair was not straight and glossy. In recent years I’ve come to accept my hair as it is which has been a journey of self acceptance in itself. Seeing Okoye fling her wig away was a wonderfully amusing visualisation of this.

 

Seeing all the different skin tones as well was a sobering moment because not only could you see the variety clearly, the lighting was spot on for every single person, including the fairest actors. The excuse that lighting darker skin tones is harder has officially been written off.

My People

The closeness of the people was something I was used to growing up. My family is a huge part of my life. Growing up I had countless Aunts, numerous uncles, plenty of cousins and more siblings than I actually had because that was just a part of my culture.

But having an extended feeling of kinship with your fellow country people is something very prominent within this movie. Even though there are multiple tribes that co-exist within Wakanda, they cherish being a people. This makes Erik Killmonger’s hurt even more heavy because he was left behind. His people abandoned him and for that his anger is justified. I felt for N’Jadaka

African Influences

Everything within Wakanda is influenced by other African tribes. I could go into a lot of detail but visually there is no denying the afrofuturism. If you aren’t familiar with afrofuturism it is the wonderful intersection of traditional African culture and technology.

Seeing African culture develop along site technology without it being removed is something I will never get tired of.  Just because technology is introduced into a culture does not mean that what was there before is now redundant. Items like the kimoyo beads pay homage to traditional jewellery but combining they with modern-day necessity.

 

Even the fashion doesn’t change much because futuristic advancements don’t always mean mono-tone. African clothing has always been rich, vibrant and saturated with colour. To see Basotho blankets, traditionally worn by the Lesotho people but infused with vibranium and a 3D printed Isicholo (a married Zulu womans hat), worn by Queen Ramonda, to name just a few stand out items of clothing, was more than my heart was prepared for.

Another sight that had me running around the house when I first saw the trailer was the body modifications. The lip plates of the Mursi and Surma tribes of Ethiopia and the scarification that adorned so much skin was a wonderful touch because so many tribes still practice this.

As you can tell I loved this movie for so many reasons but mostly its depiction of the cultures I was surrounded by during some of the most formative years of my life.

Tendai Muzwidzwa

All round lover of books, comics, games, movies/tv, manga and anime. Know to pop up when topical issues arise and go on long rants. Cosplayer and cosplay lover.

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