I’ll be the first to say that my thoughts on Black Panther as a white woman are to be taken with a grain of salt. It doesn’t really matter how I experienced the film because at the end of the day, the film wasn’t made for me. And that’s okay. I’m going to share my thoughts on Black Panther anyway because I’m glad I saw it, and I want you to go see it, and I want to talk about the important conversation that Black Panther is allowing us to have right now.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Black Panther was a triumph. Watching the film made me feel like we were witnessing a victory in place of a string of crushing injustices and defeats that can so easily dominate the conversation about race relations in America in 2018. It wasn’t my personal victory, but it was thrilling to witness nonetheless. I watched the movie in a theater located in a predominantly black suburb outside of Philadelphia, and just witnessing the audience reaction added a great layer to the experience of the film.
The scene that most grabbed me happened early in the second act, during a car chase. (If you don’t want to know anything about the film before seeing it, now might be a good time to navigate away.)
In the car chase, King T’Challa was chasing an ensemble of (white) criminals who were fleeing an auction. Not far behind was the leader of his royal guard, Okoye. At one point, it looks like Okoye is imminently going to crash. At the last moment, she throws her spear, and uses it to stop her momentum and avoid a collision. This is the only point in the whole film that the audience erupted in cheers. I realized that, were this some other movie that was more concerned with upholding the status quo and falling back on old stereotypes, Okoye’s character would have died then. Black women in film are expendable, especially if their deaths can be used to give the male lead something to emote over. But not this time. Okoye saved herself, and the whole crowd cheered her on. It was truly a special moment to be a part of.
Most fascinating about the film was the conversation around colonialism. Wakanda, the film suggests, is what any of the African nations could have been without the corrupting and exploitative influence of the white colonizers. The film never shies away from this comparison, with the Princess Shuri at one point referring to Martin Freeman’s character as “colonizer”. The film asks us what vital contributions to technology, politics, and culture the African nations never got to make because of the effects of colonization. The film further asks what Wakanda’s role and responsibility is to the rest of the African-descended world who live in oppression.
Black Panther flips our American perceptions of Africa on their heads by giving us a world free from colonial influences, flourishing, powerful, and proud. Wakanda is not the beneficiary of aid, but rather its provider. A masterful scene at the very end of the film shows King T’Challa addressing the assembled league of nations with the intention of sharing Wakanda’s advanced technology and the secrets of their successful, flourishing kingdom. The other leaders, previously made to believe that Wakanda was just another “third world country”, look around at one another and ask what Africa could possibly have to contribute to the rest of the world. Just you wait and see, says King T’Challa’s playful and ironic expression.
If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, do yourself a favor, and go be a part of Wakanda’s world for a while.