Some topics feel too big, too complex, too unwieldy, just too dang difficult to write about. You may laugh but that’s how I feel when it comes to taking on Black Panther – not even as a movie or particular narrative but as a social phenomenon. More than ‘a thing‘, Black Panther currently informs my jokes, several social interactions both online and off, my wild imagination and continues to impact my spending choices. (Yes, Disney, take my money!)
The evidence: Here’s what comes up on Twitter in a search for “@edifiedlistener + #BlackPanther”:
I’m writing this based on the assumption that you already know what I’m talking about when I say Black Panther. If that assumption is false, feel free to fix that.
I have seen the movie three times so far and I’m ready for the 4th, 5th and 6th times. I am smitten, charmed, enchanted, and awash in this peculiar pop cultural wave. I feel celebratory and buoyed, animated and emotional. Here’s some of what I think is going on:
The whole production is a giant shout-out to Black folks all over the world.
I not only feel addressed, I feel welcomed and embraced to claim that shared identity in a way I have never experienced previously. Before the film I don’t think this was on my radar as a distinct need or desire. My emotional involvement since tells me a different story.
The women in the film are phenomenal and I’m thinking maybe I could be that, too.
Identifying with characters is one of the reasons we can enjoy and participate in fiction at all. The women of Black Panther are exceptional because as one fan so aptly put it:
“I want to take a second to thank the Black women, too, because they were so strong on their own terms and answered to no one but themselves. They weren’t strong because they were angry, they weren’t strong because they were hurt, they were strong because they were strong. And that meant the world to me. Thank you.” (at 4:50 in video)
— Fallon Tonight (@FallonTonight) March 1, 2018
I could not describe it any better. I have watched this video a couple of times and hearing Black folks like me talk about what the movie has meant for them, I feel both understanding and also understood.
The other piece of relating to these strong women characters is seeing myself as also strong on my own terms. After opening night I was on my way home and had to stop for a moment and shed a few tears. I was shook. I had so much going on inside. It was heavy. We say, “representation matters,” but when it is still so rare and rarely so nuanced and complex, we just don’t realize what a difference it can and does make to individuals, to groups.
Watch this. It may help you see what I’m talking about:
For once, I am part of the in-group.
I’m not much of a movie goer so my range of popular character references tends to be limited. I am also celebrity-recognition challenged. I don’t retain the names of recent or past stars very well either. I did however follow the pre-release hype on Twitter and once I saw the movie I joined the club. I understood the jokes, I could echo the praise, gobble up all the extras.
Black Twitter has always been central to my social media involvement and diving into the #BlackPanther #WakandaForever stream, feels like a new rite of passage. I’m swimming in the stream and the water is just fine. I’m living my blackness a little differently and relating to blackness wherever I find it a little differently. Fiction can grow us if we let it.
I typically hate fight scenes. Seeing powerful women warriors in this movie changed my tune.
It’s not that I’ve become a new fan of cinematic violence. But after over 40 years of watching men fist fight, hold shootouts and the like, I understand why suddenly I could watch some of the battle scenes in Black Panther with protracted interest. It was those women warriors entering the fray with incredible finesse and savvy that caught my interest and held it. That and recognizing how this in no way diminished their femininity. And my favorite character has turned out to be Okoye, T’Challa’s general (it took me 3 viewings to decide). She is fierce, principled and of a distinct physical grace to which I can only aspire.
My 10 y-o and I have a whole new source of shared jokes, plus a wealth of conversation topics to explore.
I was not entirely prepared for the host of thoughts and questions seeing Black Panther with my 10 year old son would spark. But wow! it has been a revelation. We’ve been twice so far and his take-aways are so interesting. On our way home we debated the merits of identifying with Killmonger (his favorite character “Hey, Auntie”). He has also stepped up his humor game:
OK, there I’ve said it. I loved Black Panther and I’m excited to be living in this moment. Many thanks to so many friends and family members I’ve been able to share this ride with. Who knew?
I’m so glad I joined when I did.