What does Black Panther have to do with me? I Am Tanzanian!
popular culture’s global reach
When I heard that Marvel was creating Black Panther, a movie with an all black (except two) cast and is supposedly set in an African context, I rolled my eyes so much and awaited a horrible Lion King type of madness. Because I am not a movie fanatic, I didn't even bother to go deep into researching what the movie and "Black Panther" is all about anyway. This Friday, my friends insisted I go watch it with them. Since I had heard the movie is a big deal and FOMO is a real thing, I bought a ticket -for D-Box seat even- for the movie. Thank heavens I did!
I am going to try and talk about this movie with as little spoilers as possible. But also, if you haven’t watched this movie why the heck is you here? Go and watch the damn movie already! Anyway, in my over two decades of existence, I have never seen a movie that depicts Africa in a light that isn’t poverty, pain, war, disease, famine, devastation, tragedy (insert any other horrible thing here) or wildlife. Therefore, it was really amazing and about time, to be honest, to see an alternative depiction of Africa. A futuristic alternative to that!
Not only is this movie set in a make-believe African nation (for my friends who thought it was a real country) with superior technology to the rest of the world, the movie also has heroes who look like me. Heroes who speak like me -even though their “African” accents are fake and mine isn’t. Music and Languages that I recognize! Clothing with fabrics that look like the ones I own. Inner jokes I get. My friend…it was unbelievable! Never underestimate the power of representation because I felt my whole being validated as I watched this movie.
Throughout the screening, I kept saying to myself, “I wish I grew up watching movies like this.” Movies with male characters who are powerful without needing to disempower women. Male characters who respect women not because they look like their mothers, but because they value the contribution these women make to the society. Male characters who serve without feeling entitled to the service of women. These are the men I wish I grew up with, the kind of men I have been dreaming of meeting and the kind of men I wish to fall in love with.
As a woman, my commentary would be amiss if I do not talk about the women in the movie as well. I counted four women in lead roles. Not as sidekicks, not hired to use their bodies to lure men into the arms of the hero, and certainly not ones to be saved or protected by men. Four female characters with agency and voice. Not voice offered, voice assertively attained. Four women: one militia and strong, one tech-savvy and analytical, one spy and passionate about social justice, one motherly and queen. Four women for little girls with hair like mine to be inspired by. These women live lives of love without losing themselves. They care without forgetting their own beings. They serve without lowering their dignity. They are respected and revered by their people for their worth, their roles and their abilities, not for their womanhood. These are the kinds of women I wish I grew up with, I dream of meeting, and I wish to become.
If I had the means, I would air this movie at every school in Tanzania, and all over Africa in order to have little boys and girls dream themselves becoming these characters and what they stand for. Believe it or not, even at my age, I still need a reminder to dream beyond the confines of the systems that oppress and limit me. Stories like Black Panther are freeing. They show a possible reality where black bodies, cultures and experiences are the frames of reference for other people. They show the possibility of a black autonomous existence without dismay or disarray. They show the possibility of a black normal being the norm. These are all things we have been led to believe impossible and here is a story challenging that very thought of impossibility. It is giving people like me the vocabulary with which to dream up even grander black excellence.
Here, I haven’t even scratched the surface of the many other critical issues raised in the movie that spans all the way from the vestiges of colonialism and slavery, to imperial and capitalistic diplomacy, to the politics of hair. The movie is literally an outcry of black bodies demanding the attention and depiction we so deserve. Even though this still is an American movie, made by Marvel, tangled up in American race politics, it is a relevant and important story for black bodies everywhere in the world. This is why this movie has everything to do with me.