‘Black Panther’ inspires pride in Africa and being African

by Andre Spencer Anderson-Thompson

Michael B. Jordan plays Killmonger and Chadwick Boseman plays T’Challa in “Black Panther.” – Photo: Sydelle Noel, © Disney-Marvel Studios

The most revolutionary aspect of the film “Black Panther” is the mere fact that it showcases the beauty, history, relevance and capability of being simply Black and proud. I relate this strongly with the stigma many Black Americans have towards Africa, mainly visible in the lack of interest in visiting the vast continent of 54 countries. Moreover, the plague of insecurity that rests in Black people with their appearance and desire to look more European.

The film, which is long overdue, superficially and intentionally embraces Black beauty and the elegance of African culture through art, fabric and color. The film, eagerly anticipated in Black communities, celebrates all things African.

This is important and essential to the Black community because of the perpetuating negative stereotypes, harmful caricatures and routine tokenism that prevails in Hollywood when a film includes Black people. We all know the history of film and the relationship it has with Black people, which began with “The Birth of a Nation” and continued with various minstrel, mammy and sambo images.

The most revolutionary aspect of the film “Black Panther” is the mere fact that it showcases the beauty, history, relevance and capability of being simply Black and proud.

Moreover, the film not only welcomes a Black leading superhero to the Marvel family but introduces a backstory that cultivates and cherishes culture, history and pride. Therefore, director Ryan Coogler and company create a striking depiction of the Black Panther and his world by vividly and profoundly encouraging the psyche of Black people that has been damaged for so long by not feeling good enough, proud, even worthy of being simply human, which has always been driven by the need for Black people to copy and resemble the status quo, which has always been white.

Finally, Black people are showing up in African attire to watch a film that beautifully shows the same attire on talented Black actors and actresses. Finally, Black people will be inspired by the concept of African greatness seen in the richness of the land and culture. Finally, Black people can be for once proud to be from Africa!

Although Black films have been on the steady climb these past years, similar storylines are still present. It is apparent that there is a formula for Black films to enter the Hollywood arena. One of those continual storylines is the legacy of African Americans’ suffering and oppression. In addition, there has been no shortage of comedies, with Black actors and directors, which again follow a prescribed pattern.

The film not only welcomes a Black leading superhero to the Marvel family but introduces a backstory that cultivates and cherishes culture, history and pride.

This is not to say that there have not been any incredible films that have been breaking barriers and introducing new stars because there have been. What Jordan Peele’s film, “Get Out,” did to the horror genre, “Black Panther” is doing with the superhero movie. These big budget films both attract large audiences as well as produce masses of merchandise.

“Black Panther” is not just an epic film Black people can be proud of, but a globalized brand reaching every corner of the earth. “Black Panther” becomes a face, an image and a connection people share that is visible beyond just the screen.

“Black Panther” is original because it is a superhero film, which most children implicitly connect with white images. Coincidently, Ryan Coogler’s team was intentional in adapting this film to expose as much Blackness as he could. Thus, “Black Panther” is accomplishing more for the psyche than any other film because it is changing the paradigm of what we connect a superhero with.

To stretch more on the lines about the Black psyche, it is important to elaborate on the relationship Black people have with themselves. This is essential because like all movies there are aspects of propaganda. For many years, superheroes have been white males saving the universe from the enemy.

“Black Panther” is not just an epic film Black people can be proud of, but a globalized brand reaching every corner of the earth.

Moreover, the provocative and revealing documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” explores the influence on the Black American psyche by the powerful and dominant culture in America, which is most clearly seen through film. The documentary travels through the lens of James Baldwin and his analysis of American culture.

In addition, Baldwin, a cultural critic, poignantly expresses the deep hypocrisy and animosity Hollywood has had regarding Black characters. Moreover, Baldwin alludes to the heroic images of white males seen as aspirational, whereas Black characters have been doomed with inferiority.

Therefore, the unrelenting Blackness that Coogler portrays not only encourages the Black audience with confidence, but equally provokes the dominant culture to challenge the misconceptions and mistreatment of Black people and Africa. Whereas art has a powerful message, it also is met with timeliness.

“Black Panther” accomplishes both, in a time where Black people have been continually battling for their humanity, a heroic action figure emerges to not only signify might, but also suggest consciousness. This is done through specific and deliberate cultural, historical and social commentary evident in the film.

The unrelenting Blackness that Coogler portrays not only encourages the Black audience with confidence, but equally provokes the dominant culture to challenge the misconceptions and mistreatment of Black people and Africa.

The film opens in Coogler’s hometown, Oakland, California, in 1992, a time that was plagued with riots, police abuse and neglect from the government. In addition, Oakland is the birthplace of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in 1966.

The film alludes to social commentary about the mistreatment of Black lives, corruption and exploitation around the world through the character Killmonger. In a scene where Okoyo, Nakia and Shuri are walking through the modern day city of Seoul trying to fit into their surroundings, Okoyo has a European looking wig on, which she strongly detests.

Danai Gurira, who plays Okoye, Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia and Florence Kasumba as Ayo are part of the Dora Milaje women warriors of Wakanda. – Photo: Matt Kennedy, © Marvel Studios

This powerful scene of three dark-skinned beautiful Black women denounces the “European” look. It was subtle, but deliberate, which evokes thoughtfulness.

Consequently, the costume designer deserves plenty of credit for her unequivocal exposure of African print, colors and fabric. She fused together many of African cultures, which again powerfully implies unity.

Therefore, it was no surprise that the cast on opening night of the film decided to wear African attire, which provoked groups of friends all over the globe to follow their lead and wear African attire to watch the film for opening weekend. This powerful statement may seem superficial, but it permits Black people to be proud of their heritage and culture.

“Black Panther” sparks attention to the African continent, which has long been ignored and perceived with countless negative stereotypes. For instance, the film takes place in the fictional African nation Wakanda, a place where the precious metal vibranium is found, which makes it the most technologically advanced place on Earth.

This story is not that far from the reality of certain places in Africa. For example, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the source of coltan, a mineral essential to a variety of technological devices. Moreover, Africa is comprised of some of the most mineral rich counties in the world, with resources more than just gold and diamonds. This, which the film shows, has continued to plague some African countries through corruption, exploitation and war. Many countries in Africa are wealthy and advanced.

“Black Panther” sparks attention to the African continent, which has long been ignored and perceived with countless negative stereotypes.

Coincidently, in the film, the United Nations sees Wakanda as a third world nation of farmers. This is not far from the belief of many people living outside of Africa. Africa is seen as a place of tribes of naked barbarians. Ironically, the film plays on that belief and points the “barbaric” and “savage” title to the white Westerners in how they handle conflict.

Andre Anderson-Thompson

In addition, when the character Killmonger takes the throne, he is instantly attracted to changing Wakanda and using its power to stop the continuation of abuse, exploitation and violence directed towards the developing world. Although Killmonger does not achieve his goal, his idealism intrigues the citizens of Wakanda to be more active in helping others.

This message was where we left the film, which we all know is just the first of many. It was a call for Black people to unite, use their skills to help one another, and be proud of where they come from. Although it is just a fictional superhero film, it is a film I can take my 6-year-old nephew to so that he can have an identifiable image to aspire to, as well as a conversation about culture, heritage and pride in the African community.

Andre Anderson-Thompson was raised in Sacramento, California. He attended Morehouse College where he received a Bachelor’s degree in English. He continued his education at the University of Chicago to receive a Master in Arts in Teaching and began his teaching career in Chicago. He continues as an international educator, first in Tanzania and he currently resides and teaches in Bogota, Colombia. An avid reader, world traveler and advocate for social justice, he can be reached at andre327spencer@gmail.com.