The release of Marvel’s Black Panther really spoke to the Black writers here at Black Girl in Maine Media, and this week, we are offering our reflections on the film. Today LaLa Drew shares their thoughts.
I watched Black Panther this past weekend in 3D, in NYC, surrounded by brilliant, beautiful, shining and proud Blackness. Let me just say this, Black Panther comes through. I will preface this by saying my spoiler game is shameless. If you have not seen Black Panther get right and come back when you have.
There is a narrative among Black people of brokenness, broken communities, broken families, broken homes. This film addresses those head on in a subtle but oh, so powerful way. Not only do T’Challa, Shuri, and Ramonda (played by our Queen—Angela Bassett) have a beautifully strong connection, but Erik Killmonger and his father (before his death) have a strong bond as well. We can feel the connection in the conversations they have about Wakanda, the past, and life in general. Black Panther successfully displays the ways in which we as Black people can and do hold and uplift one another. Even M’Baku, the leader of a tribe in Wakanda (who was the only one to challenge T’Challa’s rule) comes through at the end, albeit in a grand, and perhaps very calculated fashion—all hail the hero! Nevertheless, he comes through.
There is an herb, it is called the “heart-shaped herb” which, when ingested allows one to cross to the spiritual plain and speak with the ancestors. In the film Both T’Challa and Erik do this. The difference in experience is staggering; much like the African experience and the African American experience, which I would imagine, is the point.
When T’Challa crosses over (which he does twice, once at the beginning of the film, and again at the end) he is able to speak with his father, as is the case with Erik when he consumes the heart-shaped herb. However, their experiences are strikingly disparate. T’Challa, born and raised in Wakanda, is taken to a land with a tall, sprawling tree in the foreground which is surrounded by expansive landscapes. Present is a sense that the ancestral realm is endless. Erik’s crossing however, takes him to Oakland and the apartment where he lived as a child, and held his father as he died.
T’Challa’s reunion with his father leaves him with the confidence to lead, having been granted permission, and indeed, the expectation from his father that he has been prepared to lead. His father’s clear stance is that, if T’Challa feels he is not ready to lead, had his father failed him? This is a powerful moment, a passing on of lineage and responsibility which instilled confidence in T’Challa and his ability to be both Black Panther and ruler. T’Challa had that access to ancestry, history, and quite literally, roots, much like Africans in and outside of the continent.
Erik’s experience was not so transformative. The spiritual plain was closed in, congested, you could hear the street outside. Erik was reverted to a child, where he watched his father die, literally held him as he bled out. There is a moment when Erik is sitting on the floor, and his father appears. He says, “No tears for me?” Erik replies “Everybody dies.” (Then cries a single thug tear.) His father only nods, but there is a sadness there, you can feel the disappointment and the failure his father feels in response to his son’s anger and hatred. This feeling is like the failure T’Challa’s father would have felt, had T’Challa felt he was unable to lead Wakanda.
Again, we see the separation which comes when Africans are taken from our homes and become, after generations, African Americans; we witness the break down of lineage and history. Erik grew up listening to stories of Wakanda, of the sunrise but after the death of his father, he wants to destroy Wakanda the home he never knew.
The second time T’Challa returns to the spiritual plane, it is to confront his father. To demand an explanation, not of how he could slay his own brother, but of how he could leave behind his own nephew alone, unprotected and disconnected.
At the end of the film there is a recognition between T’Challa and Erik. T’Challa brings Erik to a cliff where he can finally see the sunrise he had heard of all his life. Longed so desperately to see and witness and feel the light wash over him. “Maybe we could still save you.” T’Challa says. “Why? Just to put me in a cage?” Erik responds, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage…” before pulling the spear from his chest and bleeding out like his father.
Black Panther dives so deeply into our experiences. It lifts us up, rips us open and leaves us exposed and wanting so much more. Black Panther gives us hope, shows us love, and shakes up the traditional narrative of what it means to be Black and what it means to be African and what it means to be African American living and dead. This film explores not only our history, ancestry and lineage, but it dares us to hope for the future. Black Panther gives us a model of how to lift each other up, how to love each other, and how to create the world we wish to live in.
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