Black Panther: An ode to the black experience

“Black Panther” challenges the way global media views Africa and its people.


by Faith Andrews-O'Neal, Writer

As a black person (specifically, the granddaughter of African immigrants) consuming western media, there is very little representation seen for people of color. In most big-budget films, we are seen very rarely as the main character- one free from the bonds of servitude, or a stereotypical “sassy” friend. That same negative portrayal is seen of Africa. Most of us at STA have read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The Congo, in the central region of the African continent, was portrayed as a sprawling wilderness, filled with primitive, barely articulate savages. Contemporarily, take Taylor Swift’s Wildest Dreams video. Filmed in Africa, the video portrays two white protagonists, frolicking with zebras and giraffes, not a black person in sight.  Black Panther takes that narrative and chucks it out the window. As a Marvel fan who has seen every movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, this movie exceeded my very high expectations.

Black Panther centers around King T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman. His first appearance in the Marvel universe was seen in Captain America: Civil War, in which his father died in an explosion, making him King of Wakanda. The movie follows him trying to fill his father’s shoes and fighting for the land he rules. His main adversary is Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. With Marvel’s history of lackluster villains (think Whiplash in Iron Man 2. Who? Exactly.), Jordan’s character shines through. T’Challa references him as “a monster of our {Wakanda’s} own creation”, and his past with Wakanda gives him a depth very rarely seen before in Marvel movies.

Its portrayal of Wakanda as a prosperous, brilliant, incredibly wealthy land was one I had not previously seen. It addressed the outside world’s view of the country as a “third world,” and showed its technological advancements, spearheaded by T’Challa’s sister Shuri, a 16 year old who is hailed as the smartest person in the Marvel Universe.The movie did not make the country out to be flawless, thus inhuman. Instead, it showed that Wakanda, and its citizens, had many dimensions.

As seen throughout the movie, Africa is home to a multitude of varying cultures and vast potential to thrive. Often, Africans are seen as one group of people, despite their having a plethora of tribes present within the continent. During T’Challa’s coronation, the people of neighboring tribes stand chanting atop the mountain. As he looked to them, there was a field of vibrant color, with each tribe’s apparel representing actual tribes found in Africa. There is a man with a lip plate, an homage to many tribes throughout Africa. One of the dresses worn by Lupita Nyong’o’s spy character, Nakia, was adorned by a print inspired by the kente cloths of Ghana. I had rarely seen diverse and beautiful references such as these in any movies I’d attended.

Another unique aspect was the bountiful resources of the country of Wakanda. The country was wealthy, albeit isolationist. Sitting on a mountain of vibranium (a fictional, very valuable metal), it was more advanced technologically, medically, and economically than any other country seen in the Marvel universe. This view of Wakanda was a direct rebuttal against many in the world’s view of Africa- a rebuttal long overdue.

Black Panther, above all, is an unapologetically black experience. This was clear upon entering the theater. As I walked into the theatre, I automatically ran into two family members, a friend from dance and two family friends as well.  Members of black greek organizations proudly wore their symbols, couples showed up in matching dashikis, and during the movie, I could hear the familiar raucous laughter, reminiscent of a family get-together at my grandmother’s house. For once, there was a cast full of superstars who looked like me. I found inspiration and solace in Shuri, whose one-liners made her a standout character (her telling Agent Ross, “don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” was life-changing). I recognized the fierce love in Angela Basset’s Queen Ramonda, one that I see in my mother, aunts, and grandmother towards me constantly. I could feel my face light up, and my jaw start to drop watching Nakia and Okoye, backed by the Dora Milaje (an all-female group of highly trained warriors), stand their ground and fight fiercely for their country. I could see myself clearly in these impassioned, strong, brilliant women, warring for a cause they held dearly in their hearts.

I would recommend this movie to any and everybody. In a world where racism runs rampant, and Hollywood still doubts the integrality of accessing the black audience, Black Panther is a beacon of hope. The feeling of camaraderie, congregation, and long-awaited acknowledgment in the media was like releasing a breath I’ve been holding since the 2017 presidential inauguration. Of course, Black Panther hasn’t ended racism. Of course one could find some flaws in the movie, like their vague African accents. However, the fact remains that this is a milestone not only for black cinema, but for an industry that has oft tossed us aside. Black people exist, African people exist, and we are different, beautiful, and beyond worthy of recognition.