SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen Black Panther yet, you might want to hold off on this post.
So this was pretty much BLACK PANTHER weekend in our house. The Husband and I have seen it twice and I REALLY wanted to see it again today, but the Husband was WORKING so . . . maybe next weekend. If you haven't seen it, you really ought to go. There is a TON of talk and HYPE about it, and I was afraid that seeing it, I would be let down from my high expectations. I was wrong. It was nothing like I expected. It was more.
People are super jazzed because it is the first super hero movie with a hero and a villain that are black, and that is something to behold, but what really knocked me out were the deep messages in the film.
The first thing that I can't shake is Wakanda. Wakanda is the fictional world of the Black Panther and his people. It is tucked away and hidden in a corner of Africa, and to the outside world it appears to be a simple, poor country of farmers and shepherds. Of course, what is hidden beneath that image is a society so technologically advanced and untouched by the outside world, that they are able to cloak their entire society and remain hidden away. This is always my favorite theme in literature -- the juxtaposition of expectations and reality. The world EXPECTS this nation to be poor and helpless, but the truth is Wakanda has passed everyone by, and is a beautiful, shimmering city of the future beyond our wildest imaginings. Wakanda is beautiful and seeing it on the screen made me lean forward and desire nothing more for it to be true. I would love to think that somewhere out there, tribes were able to shake off the world that was actively engaged in their suppression and enslavement. #wakandaforever has been trending this weekend because it is the world as we long for it to be.
My second shock was the way in which the writers went to great pains to make the "bad" guy more than just a bad guy. I did not expect to cry as his inevitable end came, or to spend the weekend with his last words ringing in my ears over and over. "Nah, bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped ship because they knew that death was better than bondage." The thing is that Erik Killmonger for all his errors has a point. His character reminded me so much of one of my favorite books Cry, the Beloved Country which tells the story of South Africa. The author Alan Paton, a South African painted the tragic picture of what happens when the tribe is broken. This is precisely what we see with Killmonger. He was abandoned by his homeland and rejected by his new home. He was a man without a country and without any roots. Is it any wonder that this broken man would lash out in anguish at both his homeland and his adopted home? Many super hero films create cartoon flat characters who laugh manically and show no more depth than their cardboard cutouts, but Black Panther created real characters struggle with real problems that are deep in the heart of our nation.
And best of all, our hero, the Black Panther himself, feels the weight of the burden of Killmonger. He, like us, understands that Killmonger wasn't created in a vacuum. We see his recognition and compassion in those same last few minutes with Killmonger. "Wait, we still might be able to heal you." He understands that for all his violence and crime, Killmonger is still a lost boy from Wakanda and longs for the beauty and peace of Wakanda to heal him.
Both the Husband and I spent a lot of time talking about the film, and listening to others talk about it. I've read reviews and analysis, and I expect to read more. "I feel like we need to get together and have a big discussion." I wrote to one friend after she, too, had seen it. My Husband's own review included this sentence, 'It was probably the first time I ever walked away from a movie with this sense of hope and pride at being black." And I suppose the greatest takeaway from this movie is that sense of joyful hope. It permeates not only the film but also the audiences. I loved the videos of people dancing in the theater lobby or at train stations dressed in traditional African dress. IT was such a beautiful thing to see all the little girls dressed as the warriors who guard the Black Panther.
Bonus: Also, Black Panther is one of the strongest portrayals of women you will ever SEE in film. There isn't a fine point put on it, and know one talks about it. It is simply fact. Woman wield power. The greatest fighter in all the nation is the leader of the Dora Milaje. She is such a great warrior that she is sent to defend the King whenever he travels away from Wakanda. The love story takes a back seat to the internal struggles of the king. His love is committed to reaching out beyond the walls of Wakanda and empowering oppressed people around the globe. Yet, the story doesn't revolve around his struggle to keep her in Wakanda. She accepts her as she is and at one point says to her, "Well, it is good you will not be queen because you are too stubborn." Her response: "I would be a good queen because I am so stubborn . . . if that's what I wanted." It is a thirty-second scene expressing true feminism without trying to preach.
In the end, of course, I recognize that this is a film portraying a fictional world, and yet, I also recognize how much significance it carries not just for my own family, but for all of us. If we can live in a world where everyone can see themselves up on that screen - not as stereotypes or caricature but as true complex humans struggling with complex human problems, well, that might just move us one step closer to the beauty that is Wakanda.