OP-ED: The Impact of Black Panther

Written by Tomi Tunrarebi

                  I knew going into this movie that it was going to be important. I knew walking in that I was going to see something unlike anything I had ever seen before. And yet, I was completely unprepared for immense power Black Panther would have over me. Within the first two minutes I was near tears. For so long, I have dreamed of a movie like Black Panther. Up until the first few moments of the movie, I thought that there were movies that had accomplished the same thing. Movies that had positive representations of black people, but Black Panther showed me what had been missing. Not only is it a movie that is void of stereotypes of black characters and shows us not only as people but people who are beautiful and role models, but it does so much more. And the impact of this movie still has me reeling, hours later.

                  The representation seen in Black Panther is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or experienced. Black Panther doesn’t just give you well rounded characters that happen to be black but characters in which their blackness is crucial to their development and identity. And with this comes the display of different types of black consciousness. The issues brought forth in the movie and the viewpoints of each character showed the audience that there is no monolithic black experience; although, some movies would have you think this. The representation is nuanced, as the antagonist even raises points that the audience agrees with, and while we can’t fully support him, we understand and sympathize him—even T’Challa does—and this adds to the complexities not only of his character but to the movie’s representation as a whole.

                  The depictions of black women were the strongest of all. There are three main female characters. One is a teenage girl who is wicked smart and leads the technology division in the country. One is a bald-headed warrior who is the best fighter in Wakanda, and the last one is a spy who chooses to carve her own path. The representations of women in Black Panther empowered me in a way Wonder Woman never could. While Wonder Woman is a phenomenal movie and character, Wonder Woman could never look like me or deeply relate to me. But here in Black Panther, not only do all the female characters rock their natural hair (which is amazing to see on the silver screen), but I had a female character who looked exactly like me, bald head and all. And she was just as amazing as Wonder Woman. She was a fierce warrior, who was also caring and compassionate. She was a leader and was always sure of herself and her abilities, and she was willing to die for her country, even if it meant fighting against her husband. I can’t describe how empowered I felt to see someone who not only looked like me but embodied everything I strived to be.

                  However to me while the characters were amazingly developed and well represented, what impacted me the most was the representation of the African country of Wakanda. As a child of Nigerian immigrants, who growing up felt ashamed of my Nigerian culture, this meant everything to me. So often Africa and its countries are seen as third world, impoverished, and “uncivilized.” In a time where the President of the United States said Nigerians live in huts and that African countries are shitholes, to have this representation of Africa—fictional or not—makes a world of difference. One of the last lines in the movie is “Wakanda is beautiful,” and it truly is but not just because of its landscape but because of its people and culture. Wakanda’s beauty is in its culture. My heart nearly burst from my chest when I saw Lupita Nyong’o dancing to tribal beats while clothed in beautiful African garments. I watched with a strong sense of awe and pride at the tribal ritual of confirming the new king. It was the first time I had ever seen aspects of African culture depicted with care on screen, showing it as an honored way of life versus proof of Africans being “uncivilized.” In this emotional moment, I was so happy and so sad. I was sad because I had been deprived something like this growing up. If I had a movie like Black Panther when I was in elementary school, movie that made African culture cool and made me proud to be able to know my link to it, I wouldn’t have pushed so hard against my mother when she tried to teach me about it. And yet I was so happy because other African kids would be able to grow up with this. That there is some kid who is going to see this movie and go home with their African parents with a whole new sense of love and acceptance for themselves and their culture. That maybe when non-African kids see this they won’t bully the African kid in their class for their culture, and if they do this movie will become a place of solace and strength.

                  In the end, Black Panther showed me everything I—and Hollywood—had been lacking. The theater I saw it with was overcome with so much joy and pride that we all stood clapped and screamed as the credits rolled. I have never seen anything like it, and I severely hope this isn’t the last time. To experience something like this, something so empowering with such positive representation, is a treasured feeling, but it shouldn’t have to be. I hope to show my children this movie one day and for them to not fully understand the feelings I’ve been trying to describe, because they’re so use to it; it’s become the norm. But until that day has come and even after its arrival, Black Panther will always be the movie that showed not only me but the world what deep down I’ve always known to be true. Africa is beautiful. Black is beautiful.