Black Panther: Celebrating Black Ability and Humanity. An ally’s perspective on why you should see this film

I know this is really late, but if you haven’t seen this film already YOU SHOULD!!!

 I would not be excitedly commencing this after a long day of work and only 5 hours of sleep, if Black Panther DID NOT live up to the hype.

Firstly, a movie is supposed to be entertaining, and Black Panther is INCREDIBLY entertaining.  All social analysis aside, this movie fulfills its primary function which is simply to entertain the watcher.  Its action is fast-paced, the dialogue is brilliant, and the cinematography is stunning.  But there are a myriad of social, political and economic reasons for why you should go see this film.  Its surrounding context renders it exciting, relevant, and important.  It is IMPERATIVE that you go see it.

I live in Montreal, and 33.3% of its population belongs to a visible minority group.  This seems evident when one uses public transit or attends an outdoor festival, but it is less palpable when one attends a mainstream, artistic presentation.  Then, it’s predominantly White.  The first thing that arrested my attention was the demographic make-up of the audience:  White people were in the minority.  The room was predominantly full of East and South Asians, Blacks,a few Arabs and Hispanics.  It was the first time in my life that I had ever been at a movie theatre in downtown Montreal, and Whites were in the minority.  There was already a buzz in the air, and this added an interesting dimension to the viewing experience.

In the USA, almost 40% of the population belongs to a non-White, ethnic minority group.  In Canada, 22.3% of the population belongs to this category.  51.5% of Torontonians are members of a visible minority group, as well as 67.3% of the Great Vancouver Area.  However, women and ethnic minorities continue to be under-represented in both the Canadian and American film industries.  According to a Huffington Post report from July 31, 2017, in Hollywood, “A staggering 70.8% of characters in film are White.”  In majority White, settler societies, the issue of under-representation in the mass media affects us all.

I am not Black, but I straddle that world in-between where I am not White, either.  My ancestors were colonized and we still suffer some debilitating effects of having been dehumanized.  Thus, I can understand and empathize with the Black struggle to a degree, although my lived reality is different.

The first thing that hit home for me was the majesty of the characters in “Black Panther.”  They were strong and full of pride.  Because it was a Black-majority film set in Africa, it did not seem unusual that the characters spoke English with an African accent.  They were simply speaking English; not trying to speak English.  Because the male-lead was Black, I focused on him and found him very appealing.  His energy and appearance captivated me.  Usually, Black actors are cast as supporting acts in the West, since they are seen as secondary characters.  And a lot of the times, quite unsavoury characters.  Hence, an erroneous White standard exists, and everything else is seen “other”, if not downright inferior.  The sexy Chadwick Boseman drew me in, and I found him undeniably fanciable.

Danai Gurira who played the head warrior-woman, Okoye, was striking and HOT.  Her character was strong, fierce, intelligent and ethical.  She was my woman-crush for the film.  Black and bald, she delivered a powerful performance and was arresting on-screen.  She was not subordinate to any White standard of beauty, which dictates that you must have long, flowing hair, pale, flawless skin and fine-features.  The essence of her character was amply communicated in her primary speaking role, and made her invigoratingly beautiful.

 With an all-Black cast and a variety of natural hairstyles, no one seemed peculiar or bizarre.  Hair was hair, and characters were simply human.  Even the villain, Killmonger, was simply a violent, unethical turd:  Not a violent, unethical turd with bad hair.

One of the most rewarding effects of having an all-Black cast, and an expansive, encompassing human gaze, was the presentation of African spirituality.  African beliefs have been demonized by a violent Christianity and Islam, and many Black people do not find power in their own heritage.  To have Black spirituality and practices presented as natural and powerful was utterly satisfying.  No White preachers or heroes trying to save the “heathens.”  No “primitive pagans” parading around, as a back-drop for a European perspective.  No sirrreeee!  African rituals and beliefs were given their proper space, and ancestor communication was as normal as the sacrament in this film.  I liked that a lot.

Corporate Hollywood is really ego-centric, White, male America.  Ego-centric people like to see themselves everywhere.  They can understand no other perspective.  They can acknowledge no other reality.  The mass-media has to reflect their interests and bolster what they think is the truth.  And that creates a lot of rubbish for the rest of us to consume.

By financing a film that did not limit Black imagination and ability, Marvel did the world a big favour.  The success of Black Panther shows that the world is hungry for excellence and colour-blind.  Not that people don’t see race.  (They do)  But they don’t think that power and bankability belong to White people alone.  These attributes belong to everyone, and no group is exempt from excellence.  Black Panther has made more money than the Pink Panther ever did.  So much for Black people not being big box-office draws!

There is a lot of bad karma on this planet.  Historical atrocities and contemporary structures which reinforce White privilege, have coloured our perceptions and narratives of Black people.  Being Black is regarded as the anti-thesis of all that you should be, and being White is regarded as the epitome of all you should aspire to be.  We who are not White, nor Black, are trained to think that we are “lucky” because we are not Black.  Depending on where we fall in the racial spectrum, we are “lucky” not to have dark skin or kinky hair.  By internalising and promoting this insidious self-hatred, and hatred of other people, we are doing the world a disservice.

Black Panther challenges us to reimagine all that we’ve ever been trained to think about Black people.  It accords dignity to their history, reality and ability.  It’s a celebration of their humanity:  Something they should have never, EVER, had to fight for.

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