For me, going to see the Black Panther was just the next link in the storyline of the Marvel movie franchise. Marvel movies are a different kind of film, filled with lots of action and quick wit, y some might even say that they are cheap and not that great. But there is something about the fandom and hype that makes me feel nostalgic and swept up in the best way. And on the night I saw Black Panther, it left me changed forever. Marvel took a step in another direction, past the other superhero type movies and past just being made for the money. They made a loud statement. And that statement was heard, especially by those in the black community.
I still remember walking into the theatre the night my husband and I went to see Black Panther. As we found our seats, we quickly realized that we were the minority—we were two of a handful of white people. And it was at that moment that I knew that this movie was going to be something special. The theatre never got quiet and the excitement was palpable—people were openly cheering and shouting back at the screen as the movie progressed. It was one of the most enjoyable watching experiences I remember having. I was able to see a movie with people who look different than me, who aren’t used to seeing themselves represented on the big screen, who aren’t used to being shown the beauty and power of their people.
After watching this movie, I listened to a podcast hosted by three black, Christian women (Truth’s Table) who gave me insight into what I had just experienced. The premise of Black Panther shows what an African society would be like had they never been enslaved. Wakanda, the name of this society in this film, is not just simply a utopia—there is still war between the tribes in Wakanda—but it does show us a society where black men and women are honored and championed. And I will admit that as a white American, I had never seen a group of black people portrayed in this way—intelligent, strong, wise, well-spoken, fighting for peace, technologically advanced, wealthy…which is something to be grieved. Wakanda also uplifts black women and the roles that they play in defending their land, as they fight right alongside the men and are the King of Wakanda’s key protectors.
There are so many things in this film that were meaningful to the black community—and many things that I did not get or understand from my own perspective, which I why I want to point you not only to this film but to their writing and their perspective. I am so thankful for those who have written articles and spoken on podcasts who seek to help people like me understand.
Through this movie, we can see the ways in which black people are honored, celebrated, loved, and uplifted. They are not seen as mere hands to work a field or feet to do the work that we’d rather not. Instead, they are given positions of dignity and power and they use that power for good. This movie allowed me to see the ways in which culture had shaped my understanding of what it meant to be black. It showed me the holes in my understanding of their community and culture. It showed me the ways in which I had been part of a system that mistreated and benefitted from the mistreatment of others. Through this film, my heart and mind were awakened to a history that was largely unknown to me.
I hope that black men and women continue to be celebrated and uplifted through films like Black Panther. That they can see people who look and talk like them on the big screen and have the experience of being portrayed in honoring and honest ways. I encourage people like me, white Americans, to see this movie and to seek articles and podcasts that are written and produced by black men and women you can learn from—to see from their perspective and to see the ways in which this film was deeply meaningful to their community.