Black Panther Beyond The Movie Screen

by Terry Davis

“If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often.”[1] Instead it is the norm to see white individuals that you can relate to in all facets of life. Even our President, has returned to “normal” that white America has come to expect (certainly not for the better). I wake up every day not even pondering if I have a home. I don’t mean the dwelling I reside in, but more the America that I live in. I never come across comments on the Internet implying that I should leave America to return to Ireland. As someone with Irish heritage, I can probably trace my family’s arrival to the United States to the early twentieth century. Most blacks in the United States ancestry arrived here long before that through the slave trade prominent in the 18th century before being outlawed in 1808.

To be black in America is to be with and without a home.[2] We hear the constant rhetoric of American pride and gratefulness to be living in America. How one should be thrilled knowing they can carry out the American dream. Blacks are told they should honor this opportunity that promotes injustice towards them every day.[3] On the opposite end, if you have the audacity to complain about anything white society can’t relate to then you can leave this country to return back to Africa. History is just that history. Slavery ended over 150 years ago. Jim Crow’s separate but equal was voided 60 years ago, and civil rights were granted not long after. However, those “without a home” can still feel the systemic racism and isolationism that existed then. The country is still littered with the segregationist and racist of half a century ago. While not as outspoken in their demeanor, undeniably just as enthusiastic in their purpose.

Wakanda, the fictional African nation created by Stan Lee with his Black Panther superhero is a representation of that ideal homeland for blacks in America.[4] It explores a thriving and technologically advanced society centered on those who are black. We aren’t dealing with black pain, suffering, and poverty, but instead black experience with a lot of agency.[5] T’Challa, the Black Panther, represents a superhero unlike anything we had. Of course we had moves like Blade and Shaft, but those characters felt the color of the skin was incidental to who they were. Here, T’Challa isn’t being played for laughs or as a sidekick.[6] Instead, it is a strong character celebrating the existence and confidence in being black.

I have four nieces and one nephew who have a white mother and a black father for parents. My nephew being nine years old loves video games and superheroes as much as any other child at his age. I watched Halloween after Halloween where he dressed as Woody from Toy Story, Iron Man, Batman, and even pulled off a great looking Joker. We went and saw the Black Panther a few weeks ago and he loved it. As we walked out, he said, “I’m going to be T’Challa next Halloween!” “Yep that’s me!” I didn’t think much of it at the time, but instead smiled thinking that was great. Reflecting on it I realized he was right this is him. When coloring in his superhero coloring book, he may now reach for the black and brown crayons.[7] No longer does he have to be Bruce Wayne or Peter Parker, but can be T’Challa even once the mask is removed.

Black Panther is long overdue not only in superhero movies that have seen mountains of Batman, Superman, and Spiderman films in the past two decades, but also in the narrative of what being black is about. It provides a continuation of a timeline for acceptance that has been far too slow to take place. Just as Roots in the late 70’s captured the attention of many and illustrated the struggles of blacks during slavery and Jim Crow, Black Panther may give teens and adults hope that being black is beautiful. I’m a white male who doesn’t know oppression or what it feels like being discriminated against because of my skin color. I can go through every facet of my life to find indivuals to whom I can relate to including my professors at law school. Many blacks cannot do the same, when sometimes that’s the only thing they really need to experience success. I can only hope that the Black Panther and Wakanda provides blacks with a common place where they feel at home, until society alters their archaic ways and realizes they belonged here as equals all along.

[1] Jamil Smith, The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther, Time, http://time.com/black-panther/ (last visited Mar. 19, 2018).

[2] Carvell Wallace, Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America, N. Y. Times Magazine, (Feb. 12, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/12/magazine/why-black-panther-is-a-defining-moment-for-black-america.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Smith, The Revolutionary Power of Black Panther.

[5] Id.

[6] Tre Johnson, Black Superheroes Matter: Why a ‘Black Panther’ Movie is Revolutionary, Rolling Stone, (Feb. 16, 2018), https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/news/black-superheroes-matter-why-black-panther-is-revolutionary-w509105.

[7] Id.

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