The Importance of Positive Imagery Roars in Black Panther

A year ago I penned these words in The Cultural Significance of Marvel’s Black Panther– “Though he was only a fictional character, the Black Panther was important for a multitude of reasons.  First off, he was important to young, college-age black comic book readers because he represented a strong, intelligent and infinitely resourceful character that was the equal of such wildly popular characters as Captain America, Daredevil and the Fantastic Four.  This was telling for a multitude of reasons, one of them being that it counteracted the mainstream, conservative notion that people of African descent were in need of white guidance at every turn and were incapable of the complex nuances often associated with other superheroes.”  

Marvel Studios’ Black Panther – Official Trailer

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Flash forward two years and Black Panther has finally arrived and blasted through all expectation. It’s a Black lead film with overwhelming significance to the entire African diaspora; a romanticized version of what an African culture could have, and might still, become when unencumbered by the after effects of colonialism, racism and the arrested development of the indigenous. Yet for many, the very idea of an Africa free of European cultural leftovers is abhorrent, creating naysayers who are triggered into immediate opposition to anything that envisions them apart from the way of life that they have always imagined to be the best for them. 

Even the imaginary? 

Especially the imaginary!

When it comes to the American, European and Caribbean descendants of African slaves, we all respond as our respective traumas lead us. For some, the very idea of an advanced modern civilization in Africa is an elixir, albeit brief, for the depression, low self-esteem and safe hatred that being marginalized and oppressed for generations will certainly garner.  

Silly, you say? It is counter to the very idea of white supremacy in films, counter to the idea of black sidekicks and coonery, counter to hooliganism and thugged out destruction. There are millions of messages being transmitted over the airwaves on a daily basis.  In America, a grand number of those messages are devoid of “soul”, that binding factor that connects it to the culture from whence it came.  

But for others, Black Panther is at best an annoying fairy tale with no more pertinence to our real-world struggle than Superman has to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. 

However, what many naysayers forget, struggle with or have completely ignored is how imagery effects the human mind. It’s why we need black doll babies, black action figures, television shows, black doctors and black directors, and so forth. Controlling how a black narrative, black imagery and creativity manifest themselves in Hollywood, and to this magnitude, is incredible and unprecedented. Coogler is a genius.  

 I find it quite strange when individuals of African descent turn down their noses when the descendants of slaves cling to the idea of black royalty.  We cant all be kings and queens, they sneer. Somebody gotta be the subjects. On the surface, it is a nebulous, harmless statement.  

But whether we like it or not, the trauma that guides us to, and repulses us from, a multitude of stimuli, philosophies and ideas are what make us.

In a nation where the film industry was crafted on the idea of black inferiority, starting with The Birth of a Nation in 1915, the success of a film in which Africans were not completely dominated and subjugated in every instance of colonialism, one that envisions a royal lineage that has been established dating back before known history, a place where African cultural influence is tantamount, and brotherhood is expected even from political opposition (MBaku), Black Panther is a contrary dialectic to everything that Hollywood has ever told us about black people. Fictional or not, it’s importance is as clear as day.

Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa was perfectly balanced against the personalities of the rest of the characters. His often straight approach to various scenes gave others the opportunity to shine. This occurred several times with Letitia Wright aka Shuri, as well as with Lupita’s Nakia. His T’Challa is smooth, sophisticated, focused and determined, but he was also vulnerable. He cares too much, even for his enemies. Indeed, it is his compassion and willingness to follow tradition that also leads Wakanda into near ruin. Every heroes ascension begins with a thrashing. In this film, he gets several thrashings.

But Black Panther also shows  us that women are not secondary to men in any regard, and are not just capable or equal to, but better than men in many pragmatic ways.  It is the women in his life who save T’Challa time and time again throughout the film. Could this be yet another bone that doubters pick upon? If so, said critic might just be a male chauvinist or simply ignorant.  The casting choices of Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Basset and Letitia Wright were perfect. I know, “Captain Obvious, table for one.”  But these women were the most perfectly selected actresses in the history of perfectly selected actresses.

They bravery exhibited by Danai’s Okoye, the dignity of Angela Basset’s Queen Mother, the conviction of Lupita’s Nakia, the innovation and intelligence of Letitia Wright’s Princess Shuri, were the pillars of the film. Without them, T’Challa would have been defeated several times over.

The mere fact that there is consternation and even disdain for this grandiose imagining of negritude from contemporary members of the African diaspora is indicative of conscious, subconscious and even genetic (according to some recent reports) trauma and also further illustrates just how important this film is. Human psychology doesnt operate by the cold ingestion of facts and reality, but is in constant need of imagination, wonder, hope and childlike joy.

The keeping it real think pieces that lambaste and critique black folks for wanting to live in an advanced African context speaks a great deal to how the gravity of white supremacy has so enraptured the whole of society that we get criticized simply for having a good time at the movies.

Verily, it was with slice of tart shame that I did feast upon the idea of a African-American-centered villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Michael B. Jordan’s rendition of Erik Killmonger has many calling it the best superhero movie villain since Heath Ledger’s Joker.  Word, but whether you believe they’re gassing it, or their critiques are legitimate, Jordan’s portrayal was at least the best ACTING job for a superhero villain in recent memory.

Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage.–Erik Killmonger

He was an abandoned child who grew up devoid of feeling after years of having hope and love sapped from him by life and circumstances. He was an infinitely hurt person who wanted to hurt people, infinitely. No more or less diabolical than any other would be despot, real or imagined. However, Killmonger and his plight strike a sensitive chord, more so considering the contemporary political climate.  Killmonger’s last words weren’t meant for a Marvel movie, but the whispers of a muse whispered into the ear of dread head poet in a gentrified coffee house to be scribbled on a napkin, stuffed into a pocket, forgotten and lost. Such a sentence is just too beautifully, morbidly true to ever not be considered art in and of itself. 

A magnificent piece of creativity, outstanding acting, genius level direction and visually-stunning cinematography, Black Panther is unapologetically, viscerally black.

 To Black Panther critics (in my Jay Z voice), “Why you all aggie? Respect the game, that should be it. What you eat don’t make me sh*t. Where’s the love?”  

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