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What “Black Panther” Means To Black People

February 14, 2018 1 comment

Black-Panther

It’s 1994, in Richmond, CA. An eight-year-old Black boy picks up a comic book for the first time. Granted, he’d seen other comics before, most likely The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, X-Men or some other incarnation of Marvel Comics. Only this time, he read one that was different. The hero on the front didn’t look like the others. The hero had a complexion that resembled the child holding him in his hand. The hero was Black Panther. From then on, the kid was transfixed on the series about the African prince T’Challa, dressed inside a bulletproof suit, defending the secrets of his native country, the fantastical Wakanda. Fitting that boy had only recently moved from Oakland, the birthplace of the real Black Panthers, the African-American social group assembled to protect neighborhoods, feed and educate youngsters who needed it the most. Little did this kid know that this encounter with another kind of Black Panther was setting him up for the opportunity and responsibility of a lifetime.
That kid’s name was Ryan Coogler. ryan cooglerNearly 19 years later, he, a young filmmaker, would direct a critically acclaimed film Fruitville Station, which found praise at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. This led him to Creed, a new take on the Rocky film saga; a fresh, gritty look at the life of Adonis, son of Rocky’s nemesis-turned-friend Apollo Creed. With adoration and box office success, Coogler had options and several knocks on his door. When he opened one, it led him back to a world he’d been to already; Wakanda. Coogler has been tasked to direct, co-write and produce a film adaptation of the African hero he once idolized as a child as part of the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It was now his turn to provide that sense of discovery, wonder, magic and pride to another eight-year-old Black man-child.

Black Panther is a unique phenomenon. It’s a movie with a mostly Black or African cast, led by a combination of appealing contemporary performers such as Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Oscar winner Lupita N’Yongo, with seasoned, respected actors like Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Oscar nominee Angela Bassett. And it has the rare distinction of being created by mostly Black minds. Coogler as director, screenwriter and producer, Rachel Morrison as cinematographer, Ruth E. Carter as costume designer and Hannan Bleacher as production/set designer. In the comic and film, T’Challa’s is guided and guarded by African women, be it his mother, his scientist sister Shuri, or the guard detail the Dora Milage, so it’s fitting that Coogler has also surrounded himself with intelligent, able-bodied Black females. The imagery of Black Panther to a movie going patron is without question a watershed moment in the life of a Black American, especially given the times we are living in. However, it most not be lost on the viewer how much the presence of Black women’s roles in the creation of such a regal occurence is crucial to the pride and moral of millions who need it. The sight of Black citizens dressing up in regal, native attire just to see a movie in a theater is only one indication of what this film will mean to so many people. Not to mention the fact that the film will tackle morale and political subject matter that is relatable in real life, going far beyond just a super hero flick that’s there for you to scarf down popcorn and forget about your problems for two hours. This is a movement that we’re witnessing.

Now, we must keep perspective that this film is a part of the MCU and it’s ultimate goal is to entertain audiences and further serve the larger narrative of the Marvel characters and story at large. But the fact that the world is going to gravitate to see a movie in which dark skin Africans, led by a young king with principles, fighting for the greater good, but acknowledging those who are helping him along the way can be a seed planted for folks who are looking for more positive representations of themselves in the field of entertainment. We are constantly bombarded with stereotypical archtypes of overtly sexualized women who are drawn to drama and easily succeptible to manipulation and degregation, and misogynistic, violent and deceitful men who are driven by the pursuit of outlandish materialism and insatible libidinous satisfaction. Black Panther is a large scale example that such storylines and caracatures are not neccessary to include Black people to the party. Hopefully, this will open a door to a new era of Black film and television, a door that’s already been cracked slightly thanks to Issa Rae’s Insecure and Donald Glover’s Atlanta; Melinated folks creating smart, insightful and wildly enjoyable content for and by other Black people. Let’s hear it for a new dawn. Let’s hear it for the eight-year-old who will watch this and become an innovative filmmaker or maker of any sort, in 19 years. Wakanda Forever!

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