by Toni Walker
**Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers**
Late last Thursday night, the revolutionary film that we had all been waiting for finally hit the big screen, filling our spirits with the joy and pride that we so rightfully deserve during this Black History month and every month that follows. I remember witnessing the birth of the anticipation for this moment when the first Black Panther trailer was released last summer. From then, the anticipation grew and by October, plans were already set in motion for Black audiences to show up in droves with appropriate dress and menus for such an occasion. But the excitement felt in the moments leading up to the movie pale in comparison to the overwhelming amount of emotions I experienced watching the film. Much to my surprise, this movie managed to exceed my expectations.
From the sea of Black faces in the cast to the critical conversations that the film engaged, I was overwhelmingly validated in my Blackness. Being able to see a Black cast in which the dark skinned women were centered and celebrated as sources of intelligence, fearless warriors, and desirable love interests was an experience that I didn’t even know I so desperately needed. The Dora Milaje (based on the N’Nonmiton women warriors) under the leadership of Okoye – without question, my favorite character – embody the strength, fierceness, and beauty that I’ve witnessed firsthand from the Black women in my life. In all the anticipation for the film, I couldn’t even imagine what it would feel like to see this reflected in a blockbuster film for all the world to see.
But the film didn’t stop there in validating Blackness. The talented artists and creators behind the screen, the integration of multiple African cultures, the brief moments of humour and intimacy between characters, the overarching conflict between Black Panther and Killmonger – in every aspect the film was unapologetically Black. While I’m certain non-Black people enjoyed the film, the appreciation for the cinematic experience viewing this film as a Black person is unmatched.
Perhaps what makes the film so powerful is that it employs an afrofuturist aesthetic while simultaneously invoking sobering and relevant conversations. The film presents us with a fictional African nation, rich in resources and essentially unscathed by imperial violence. Rooted in afrofuturism, the film allows Black audiences to reimagine a future where Black culture is uplifted and Black people are liberated. But even in the great nation of Wakanda, conversations surrounding its relationship to other countries and the rest of the diaspora present audiences with a more relevant series of conflicts.
Killmonger’s disposition speaks to the ongoing struggles experienced by Black people in America ever since the traumatic separation of African Americans from their African roots during the slave trade. Though his actions were abusive and his strategy was poorly planned, his presence in the movie embodied (to a degree) an approach to Black liberation as well as the rage that comes along with navigating an African American identity. A more valiant and sound approach to liberation in the movie came from Nakia, portrayed by the elegant Lupita Nyong’o, who urged T’Challa to use Wakandan resources to support the most marginalized communities such as the kidnapped Nigerian girls she saved in the beginning of the movie. Meanwhile, W’kabi’s reasoning for not wanting to open up the Wakandan borders is reminiscent of the xenophobic language used today in anti-immigration policy and sentiments.
Black Panther is more than just another Marvel adaptation but rather it has culminated in a moment that is a marvel itself. Under the direction of Ryan Coogler, Black Panther brought to the big screen Black creatives and diasporic issues leading to numerous think pieces from critics and fans alike. Whether people enjoyed the movie entirely or found problems with certain aspects, this movie and moment has opened up conversations surrounding Blackness that aren’t often centered. As we continue to evaluate what this moment means for Black people at this time, I think it’s important to both appreciate the Black joy that has resulted from this moment but also initiate constructive criticism that help to expand the conversations that have been opened. It is through these expanded conversations that this moment can be fully realized and sustained allowing us to continue to bask in the joy and opportunities that this movie has inspired.