Why we love Black Panther

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


One day, last year, I witnessed a short interaction between two young African-Canadian girls, which haunted me for a while.

They both could not have been more than five-years old, each.

One of the girls kept brushing the long blonde hair of her white doll, looking rather forlorn, her own nappy hair packed in a tight bun.

The other girl asked why she did not come out to play with "the rest of us".

"I wanted my mum to brush my hair this morning, to make it long and beautiful like my doll. But she didn't".

My heart stopped. 

Innocent girl thought that her hair could be long, flowy and silky, just by "brushing" it. She thought her hair is beautiful, only if it looked like her doll's hair.

I wondered if her mum even knew.

Painfully, I could easily identify. This was me at that age.

I mean, television is a huge part of a normal childhood... right? Accordingly, I was a child of the Little Mermaid, Rapunzel and Super-Girl.

That was all there was.

I remember often shaking my hair in the wind. I wondered why my hair did not flow behind me in the wind like I saw on mainstream television, and only learnt to stop trying due to the accompanying neck-pain.

I always failed when I tried to imitate the high-pitch sing-song voice that Sleeping Beauty used to beautifully beckon at the birds in the trees. 

Even my father's chickens ran away when I tried it with them. ๐Ÿ™„

It was only when I came upon Toni Braxton in my early adolescence that I began to appreciate (and eventually fell in love) with my deep, alto(ish) voice.

And it is not as though those stories of female superheroes coursing through the air with their long flowing hair flying with them are bad stories. 

But those stories just do not reflect our reality, as black people: as Africans or people of African descent. The stories did not capture our lifestyle. Our own characteristics. 

Our lives.

Sadly, those were the only stories a lot of us were limited to seeing in living colour, often sewing seeds of identity crisis, which although resolved with the awareness of adulthood, were an unnecessary part of growing up. 

Parents could try to (on their own) enable their children embrace their personal characteristics and heritage.

But for all their efforts, there would always be mainstream marketing of television shows, comics, movies and plays which kept hammering these cute stories which do not particularly celebrate who we are.

Which is why we absolutely love Black Panther.

Black Panther on a wider scale tells stories (albeit, fantasical) but which are easily acceptable through the lens of our own reality. 

Black Panther represents our own heritage and characteristics, enabling us indulge our inner fantasies, while easily identifying with the personas we see on screen. It helps create awareness of our indigenous cultures, and embraces our uniqueness.

Other than movies like the Butler, Django and Roots aka Kunta Kinte (which movies are in themselves a constant reminder of  prior trauma), for the first time, we are treated to an action set, purely representing black strength.

We can now more easily explain to our children that it is cool to have braids, short nappy hair... or no hair at all, with their favourite superheroes sporting similar styles.

Their thick English "accent" should no longer be a source of concern, but should continue to be expressed for the normal that it is.

(Although, quite frankly, EVERYBODY has an accent. But that is discourse for another post)

And rather than aspiring to be dolled up in thick boots and winter jackets in the guise of 'fashion' (like hitherto favourite screen gods/goddesses) under 45-degrees of deadly heat, Black Panther commands pure admiration for the beauty of the variety of fabrics worn in the different parts of Africa, representing its diverse cultures.

Beads and neck ornaments are celebrated for the beauty that they are. 

Black Panther shatters that single-narrative of 'black power' in just primitive or back-breaking work; like picking cotton and lifting inhuman blocks of cement. 

Yes... the black folks of the Wakanda kingdom too can super-somersault in the futuristic world. Just like Thor and Captain America.

It is a story that is not just Hotel Rwanda or Raid on Entebbe; reiterating the war, suffering and famine in Africa. Rather, opening our minds to the raw and untapped potential of Africa, hidden in the plain sight of her many challenges. 

Beyond these, Black Panther shows the world, that the 'myth' of the "strong, Black woman" is not just tied to the  modern-day struggles of the single mother compelled to pick up the slack when her "baby-dada" walks out the door. Rather, since times of old (though unsung), African women have always been integral in providing strength required to protect the society they live in, and the ones they love.

The strong, black woman is no myth.

It is for these reasons (and more!) that we love Black Panther: to be able to drink in pure art and enjoy this story which brazenly celebrates black and female empowerment, with all of  the connection in the world to its potrayers.

(The sheer delight!)

So me, my nappy 'fro, my traditional beads , my jollof rice and my chicken wings... all five of us are going to keep seeing Black Panther.

Over, and Over, and Over. Again. 

Paz,

Meg.

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Photo-Credit: Marvel Studios, set of 'Black Panther'

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17 comments

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Nice piece, as usual.
    Guess you forgot one more person watching Black Panther with you... Your father's chickens... that one got me cracking. Did you really have chickens?

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    1. Ahahahahahaha!!!! We did have chickens though. And goats, pigeons, cats and dogs.

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  3. You hit the nail on the head. #Blackpanther was everything and more. The sheer pride of being black, comfortable and powerful was overwhelming throughout the movie. #wakandaforever!

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  4. Yum yum... I haven't seen it yet bit I'm so in love with this article. Black Power. Black Pride.

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  5. Yum yum... I haven't seen it yet bit I'm so in love with this article. Black Power. Black Pride.

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  6. Now while I LOVE the Black Panther vibe and all... Lets get serious here: why should we get all fuzzy because the "whites" made a movie about us? We should be the ones telling OUR stories! The money from the movie, to what does it go???? Will our history be told by Hollywood??? We are getting ourselves suppppper excited about something that is PURELY fiction! There are people who daily put their lives and reputation on the line... What do we do to celebrate them? But we go bonkas over a film that is not only fiction but a white man's creation. I am a Citizen of ZION born
    In NIGERIA. Appreciate the film and all... But I stay focused on my identity. I do not mean to spoil the fun for anyone but my one question is: is this movie getting us excited for the "right" reasons? I don't say that my reasoning is right... But that's what I'm thinking. Blessings to you all.

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    1. Hi Devon!!

      Bless you for this perspective.

      You know... I kinda thought like this at first too. I wondered why Hollywood should be telling our stories. Why not Nollywood? Heck... why not even the people on the frontlines?

      But then, it hit me that it is not just we at home who own the monopoly of this "our story". Lupita Nyongo who acted as Nakia is Kenyan. She too is telling her story. Gurira who acted as Okoye is Zimbabwean, and also has the right to this "our story". Kendrick Lamar who wrote the lyrics for the major soundtrack, he is of African descent. He has the right to this story as well, and tells his side through rap.

      And as for it being told by Hollywood, as much as we may hate it, the USA has the largest reach in the world regarding movies. Where better to tell our story? What better platform? Is it Nollywood... that majority of us will not watch?

      No one is saying Hollywood will tell our story forever. But remember that in order for us to build our own formidable structures, we would have to stand on the shoulders of already existing structures, and then take it from there.

      Early feminists worked with emphatic males, for women to be accorded their rightful equal recognition. American blacks got their freedom from slavery, because non-blacks like Lincoln who were in power marched with them.

      I see nothing wrong in working with our American brothers and sisters who sowed so much in research and celebrating our histories to bring this to light.

      Yes, it may be fiction. But the cultural references are real. And the underlying messages of strength are priceless.

      On the issue of where the proceeds go to... even if ALL the proceeds were poured into Africa, it still would NOT solve our problems. Our problems are us, and the kinds of leaders we prefer. We are the architects of the circles we find ourselves running in, without ending.

      Lastly... remember that Igbo proverb that nwanyรณ nwanyรณ k'eji aracha ofe di oku?

      I don't see this movie as an 'end'. I see it as a means to a loooong future. We will build on this and keep telling our own stories, even as we support our own products like "the Wedding Party", even as we look inwards and help our own selves. Nobody will come and save us. They can only do so much.

      Not even Hollywood.

      But thank you for engaging on this platform brosss!! Don't forget to follow our blog, and please share your views on our other posts as well. ๐Ÿ˜Š

      Paz..

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    2. Well said Schinnel! It does not matter who tells the story, what matters is that the story is being told!! And it's being told from a point of view of prosperity, innovation and strength, not poverty, disease and hunger.

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  7. Hello Meg! Thank you for your beautiful article. Took me down memory lane to my early childhood growing up in Leicester and being the only black family in our neighbourhood and school. Coming back to Nigeria was indeed a breath of fresh air, being able to mix with several brothers and sisters. You can only imagine my joy watching black (Afro inspired) movies ๐Ÿ˜Š. I really enjoyed black panther, it made me so proud, proud of our African heritage, culture, hair and our accents (I almost cried during the scene at the museum where Nigerian artefacts were on display). Keep up the great work Meg!

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    1. Thank You!! Great to know you could relate too. I felt SO much pride watching it. Our true realities are being shown to the world!

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  8. Hello Meg! Thank you for your beautiful article. Took me down memory lane to my early childhood growing up in Leicester and being the only black family in our neighbourhood and school. Coming back to Nigeria was indeed a breath of fresh air, being able to mix with several brothers and sisters. You can only imagine my joy watching black (Afro inspired) movies ๐Ÿ˜Š. I really enjoyed black panther, it made me so proud, proud of our African heritage, culture, hair and our accents (I almost cried during the scene at the museum where Nigerian artefacts were on display). Keep up the great work Meg!

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  9. Black women are superheroes and underrated. We just don't want to accept that.

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