Marvel’s Black Panther is receiving rave reviews left and right, as it should be. It is undeniably the most layered superhero film to come along in years, arguably ever.
Ryan Coogler’s latest masterpiece, starring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther, Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, thoroughly praises African traditions while tackling issues of self-doubt, family, love, Black feminist theory, political evolution, consequences of war and plenty of others. Because we already know its impact will far surpass the majority of its Marvel predecessor films, I’m choosing to focus on the particularly sensitive examination of the relationship between African-Americans and Africans.*
Through no fault of their own, the rich nation of Wakanda and its leaders are oblivious to the plight of their American kinfolk, a parallel to the semi-contentious relationship many native Africans and Black Americans have today.
Part of the tension lies in the ignorance of many Africans about the history of their American brothers and sisters. Author Luvvie Ajayi shared her perspective as a middle-upper-class Nigerian child who had no idea about the plight of Black Americans because it was never discussed nor included in her school curriculum.
“Africans aren’t taught about the middle passage in school. Or about slavery in the U.S.,” Ajayi explained via Twitter back in 2014. “I didn’t know a thing about African-Americans being slaves when I was growing up. I thought everyone had a maid and driver like I did.”
But since we’re talking about it again, let’s do it. Africans aren’t taught about the middle passage in school. Or about slavery in the U.S.
— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) January 10, 2014
I didn’t know a thing about African Americans being slaves when I was growing up. I thought everyone had a maid and driver like I did.
— Awesomely Luvvie (@Luvvie) January 10, 2014
Interestingly, this sentiment is lightheartedly echoed in the film when T’Challa’s younger sister, Shuri, takes her first trip to the States. It is the thought process for many Africans who question, and even dismiss, how African-Americans choose to deal with the immense pain of being ripped from their homeland. Of course, Africans know a great deal about colonization and imperialism, but to have one’s entire culture, language and traditions strategically expropriated over the course of multiple centuries is a bitter pill Black Americans have been forced to swallow for the sake of survival.
Black Panther addresses this divide of distant cousins with a pointed critique of the fictional kingdom abandoning its children abroad, and the resentment that builds between cultures in the aftermath. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger embodies the bitterness of cultural isolation that can often lead to a complete disregard—or even blatant disrespect—of our ancestors, elders and traditions. The film, in honoring its direct African influences, encourages us to continually respect and honor those who came before while working to improve upon the decisions they’ve made.
After a series of kick-ass fights (seriously, you have to see this IN THEATERS) and dealing with his own internal conflicts as well, T’Challa and Killmonger’s final battle ends with a shocking decision and powerful quote I dare not spoil, but that speaks pointedly to the mindset of those we lost on the middle passage, and that continues to affect the relationships of Black folks on opposite sides of the Atlantic, even today.
There’s very little that honest communication between two parties can’t solve, but it takes a certain amount of mutual respect for there to be a palpable level of change. Black Panther addresses this and so many other aspects of the Black experience while keeping your eyes glued to the screen. Beyond another superhero flick, this film has the potential to broaden one’s way of thinking about the world around them, and how much love is needed for our survival on this planet together, and that’s one thing Thor never got around to.
*While Africa is a continent full of differing traditions, languages, socio-economic classes, etc., for the purposes of comparison to the fictional kingdom of Wakanda, I am referring to the continent as a whole.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.