The following is a guest post from Nubiamancy founder, Asante Massawa
The year was 2012. Can’t remember the month or day, but I logged on to Facebook and must have seen a post by a fellow Marvel nerd Facebook friend of mine, announcing that a film centered around Black Panther would be soon in production. I got so excited that I: changed my profile pic to Black Panther, made a post about it with said pic, and started a Facebook fan page for the character, growing it to 15,000 followers. Marvel took over that page in 2014 and it is now the official Black Panther page on Facebook.
The excitement that “regular” black folks (as in non-comic-sci-fi-nerds like me) are experiencing now, myself and the nerd community have had it since 2012. Even way back then, I, we, knew the movie would be groundbreaking and breathtaking; a major game changer for Black/African creativity, excellence, and pulchritude.
I knew that Black Panther would not be just any other movie. I also gleaned that it could have trajectory-shifting nuggets in it that, even though it’s framed as entertainment, could definitely teach Africans and the diaspora very poignant lessons.
What are those lessons? Here are three of them.
1. Black Women Are Not Only Sex Symbols
Black women are lovely, sexy, alluring, beautiful, scintillating, titillating — and whatever other glowing adjective you can think of, they are that. However, White-owned Hollywood has, for too long, profited off of and exploited the sexualisation of the African-descended female, only choosing to showcase them as objects of men’s affections. Apart from the recent Proud Mary starring Taraji Henson, and Colombiana a few years back starring Zoe Saldana (who has problems being called “Black” but who cares – she black), you would be very hard pressed to find any action film that features a bad-ass black woman in a leading role.
Black Panther has them almost front and center. In Wakanda, the Dora Milaje, an all female military squadron, are tasked with being the protectors of the throne, which they do with steel-willed ferocity. Trained in Wakandan martial arts, they are also weapons experts and tech savvy strategists, using brains and brawn equally to take down an opponent. Shuri, sister of the Black Panther, is the leading mind of technology in the world of Wakanda, inventing many of the weapons used in the film as well as the suit Black Panther himself dons as he’s taking down his enemies.
In my opinion, this is imagery little Black girls and Black women in general need to see, as a necessary pushback to the negative imagery they see on a regular basis. The Black community has a ton of rappers, dancers, “bad bitches”, and “lit” folk, but not enough thinkers, strategists, and inventors of economy-shifting inventions. Respectability politics aside, we need much more of the latter, and it is my hope that this movie inspires it out of us, especially our women.
2. Black People Should Look Forward, Not Backward
This one may get me in a lot of trouble. Why? Well, for starters, a grounded principle in many branches of African spirituality is the veneration of ancestors; remembering who, and where, you came from, and honouring their exploits for our benefit. This principle is continued in the African diaspora via Black History Month.
This is both a pro and a con. A pro in that, one who has the strength of mind to always remember where they came from, will have a clearer view of where they are going. A con in that, by always focusing on the past, some tend to become lost in the nostalgia, the what-ifs, and forget to plan and build for their future.
In my experience talking with a lot of black folks, and reading their comments online, our community has a TON of what-iffers and remember-whens. What if white people hadn’t invaded Africa and took us as slaves? Remember when we were kings and queens, and had kingdoms in Africa? What if Black Wall Street hadn’t burned down? Remember when rock music was black music? What if we had our own Disney? Remember when. What if. Remember when. What if.
The future is no longer coming; the future is now, a fact clearly illustrated in Black Panther. It is high time that the majority of us in the real world Black community focus our energies on the now and the coming “now”; the next generation of technology, of fashion, of music, of science and medicine, and of business. No more what-iffery, no more remember-whenisms; only lets-do-it-nows. Sankofa (go back and get it) is a great principle, but going FORWARD to get it is more beneficial. Wakanda doesn’t have to be make-believe and fictional science; we need it to be a reality.
3. We Don’t Need Euro-Asian Influence Or Input To Be Cool
One of my favourite aspects of Wakanda is not just their technology and their war strategy, it is their rejection of the outside world. Because of our westernized, mainstream-media inundated minds, the very concept of an insular country brings to mind places like North Korea, and in some ways Cuba; places which are demonized by Western media for their outright disdain of Western influence, or a rejection of America (in Cuba’s case).
The worship of all things Euro and Asian is replete within the worldwide Black/African community, manifesting itself in several ways: fashion (preferring Gucci and Armani over anything made with Kente cloth or preferring white wedding dresses over traditional African wedding attire), art (drawing black characters with medieval weapons and armour, or carrying around a Japanese katana as an “urban samurai”), hairstyles (the natural hair movement is growing, but a large contingent of Black men & women still love the Pantene-Pro V-like fine silk hair and the long-blond-weave-down-to-your-ass look made popular by Nicki Minaj), etc. Even down to our names, and the names we give our children. Names like “Reggie Jackson”, “Tonya Johnson”, and “Donovan Brown” would be considered “Black” names by today’s standards, but they are still European at their root.
Wakanda is the antithesis of all of the above. Everything is Wakandan-made, Wakandan-named, Wakandan-themed, Wakandan-owned, Wakandan-operated, and Wakandan-benefitting. Every citizen of Wakanda is proud to be Wakandan, and ONLY Wakandan. You will never see a European/Asian man or woman name their son “Kwaku” or their daughter “Folasade”. You will never see them wear Nigerian wedding garment to their weddings. You most likely won’t see their film or animation characters donning armour or weaponry based on African aesthetics. Why should we do the opposite? Isn’t African ingenuity cool enough without blending it with others?
Black Panther teaches us that it’s ok to just be African in everything, no need for a mixture. Black mixed with Black. Black is the new Black.
Entertainment has, for far too long, been used as a weapon against us. This film is the one time in Hollywood’s dark and racist history that it is being used as a driving force for change, not BY Hollywood (let’s not get carried away here), but VIA Hollywood. Let’s not simply embrace Black Panther only as speculative fiction, replete with what-iffery. Let’s see it as a prognosticative storybook, a futuristic Bible, of what is to come — and then build it.