It is a glorious film. It is a symphony of black excellence, from acting to wardrobe to direction to storytelling. It is a festival of authenticity. It is a mining and then remix of the lesser understood, often ignored beauty (and wonder) of African technological advancements, especially in Giza where brown and black genius is still plain and utterly visible. It is a testament to the nurturing in our relatively small village of black performing artists, as several folks my colleagues/friends and I know are in the movie with lethal vibranium spears or holding down the title role.
It is all the things. And I love it with fervor.
Yet I found myself overwhelmed with devastation on several occasions throughout the experience. It started with the moment T’Challa dropped into a forest as Black Panther to help rescue a group of young women being carted by militants across Africa. The fight sequence was exciting, and the forward momentum of the storyline__he “froze” shonuff__brilliant. But it was not enough to slow my tears over the real Boko Haram girls—there is no Black Panther to rescue them.
My Vulcan self kicked in soon after: of course the “what if?”of Wakanda is only possible to display if contextualized with current, real-world tragedies affecting black people. To leave these out would imperil the thesis statement central to the movie. But the paradox for me is that during each moment of poignant realism, I had to face my pain about it. There were respites of course__the visual festival of Wakanda in its balance of technology and natural surroundings, the glow of age hierarchies and corresponding respect within the culture, the sense of humor both in global and afro-specific punchlines. But my melancholy persisted.
Black Panther took the worst parts of our current situation as black folks in the diaspora permanently scarred and culturally disfigured by colonization and presented us with a mecca that had only two options: one, to continue to live in cultural black utopian isolation while ignoring (in large part) the devastation inflicted on its brethren, or two, colonize our colonizers by inverting the status quo, thus becoming our oppressors. I couldn’t shake it. After all, these two options were played out in the war between T’Challa and Erik Killmonger throughout the movie, orchestrated with aplomb to remind us that no villain exists in this clash.
And though T’Challa offers us a third scenario at the end, the sharing of scientific, and thus synonymously, cultural riches with the world via UN treaty, there is little historical information to justify the feasibility of such a gift. White colonizers have always leaned heavy into using might and weaponry seasoned with xenophobia to disempower and eliminate aboriginals in places they wanted to be. Pizarro did it to the Incas of Peru. Cortez did it to the Aztecs. And for good measure, they did it to each other as well; the Vikings collected Slavic and British slaves for five centuries. And while one could argue that pre-colonial peoples of color are also guilty of participating in acts of conquest with each other, none have resulted in or aimed for the annihilation of entire civilizations based on supremacy.
So it is hard to rejoice in the possibility that even with a Wakanda in the Motherland, we might get Anglo participation, that those who sit on their thrones of patriarchy might be interested in black and brown concepts like cooperative economics and collective work and responsibility and community momentum. Cousin Erik, whose sociopathy was clearly a consequence of his successful climb from racial oppression through the American dream scaffold (thank you Marvel for not getting in the way of all this real talk), experienced the “No” of this firsthand. His suggestion was that we simply skip the UN part, the efforts at peaceful ascension together, the inevitable attempt to pilfer technology that did not require a ransack first, and then jump to the part where it’s us or them.
Perhaps I’m too cynical, or maybe just worn down by everything from Philando Castille to Trump. Perhaps I need to hold out some hope that today, as white patriarchy has taken a huge hit with Weinstein and Spacey and the like, T’Challa’s ideals have promise. And maybe when I see the movie a second time (yes, of course I’m going back), dryer eyes will have room for the audacity of hope.
In the meantime, Wakanda Forever.