The Black Panther pilgrimage
You think the Black Panther film is about “blackness”? No, it is about rage.
Black Panther is the bomb. I mean that it was both superfly and it has blown open conversations that we have carefully avoided. To get the obvious stuff out of the way: Yes, it was visually stunning. No, I did not like the rabid cultural mishmash representation of “Africa” via Wakanda. Yes, it is a fictional setting, so there’s artistic license, but, also, why is it that the only non-African who managed their accent was Andy Serkis? For shame, Forest. For shame.
So let’s talk about the big issues. Let me just present you with my controversial perspective early on so you can decide if you are going to keep reading.
This is a movie set in “Africa” about imagined Africans and imagined African-Americans, so you probably think it’s about “blackness” (whatever that even is). It isn’t. It is a movie about a lot of things, and rather nicely set in Afrofuturism, but we’re not going to talk directly about that colonial and post-colonial drama today. We’re going to talk about rage.
I know a lot about rage. Any writer who tells you otherwise might be lying to you. Any artist who tells you otherwise might be lying. The most beautiful things come out of a place of pain. That’s what art does – not exclusively, but to a larger extent than acknowledged. Black Panther was a supremely political piece of work that was pretty, yes, but it hit very hard and it came from a place of … rage. You can’t heal a wound until you acknowledge it.
And with due respect to my contemporaries and folks who like to say that Africans don’t get to see themselves on screen: please start with Senegalese director Sembene Ousmane and proceed along until you stumble through Nollywood and maybe even appreciate some of the gems of Bongo Movies. Don’t be basic, okay?
We have just held by-elections in Kinondoni, which is the constituency neighbouring mine and my native constituency, if there is such a thing. It did not go well. People have lost their lives, been imprisoned, been beaten, and been denied their rights by our security forces simply because they are vocal members of the main opposition party. Coming on top of the economic hardships that we are enduring as the result of inexplicable executive orders, and the social hardships that are a result of unhinged patriarchy, let’s just say: There’s a lot more of us now dwelling in the valley of rage.
It has an anatomy, you know. Mosquitoes are annoying. People who constantly interrupt you are infuriating. Racists are unbearable. Racists who consistently interrupt you like a mosquito make you count to 10 and pray for perseverance. But chauvinists of both and any gender who oppress you, quite knowingly, for the pursuit of power, while abusing the franchise that you gave them through your vote? They can induce rage. As Killmonger so beautifully demonstrates in Black Panther: Why not take the path of revenge?
Black Panther is a movie about injustice, what we do about it, how power factors into that.
I know you know what I mean. It doesn’t even matter what “colour”, gender, et cetera you identify with. You know what I mean because when someone stomps on your soul, dear Lord, it is hard to forgive them that wounding.
Black Panther is a movie about injustice, what we do about it, how power factors into that. So I want to talk to the Killmonger inside of all of us younger Tanzanians and fellow rage-riddled strugglers for peace and love: Yes, I know. Believe me: I know. There are days when I can’t go out because the siren song of righteous violence whips through my veins and I need to get into a fight …
Which is why we all have to go back to the root, so that we might grow the flowers of grace. The Black Panther movement in the US, which this movie references so heavily, started out as a pacific, education and social-services oriented organisation. Should feminists come after all men? Should “black” people come after all “Caucasians”? Should we all eat the rich? No. No. Definitely, roasted and accompanied by a lovely garlic sauce.
The writers spent time on this to break the silences. They talked towards feminism. They had a king rebel against the memory of his father. Both protagonist and antagonist got a chance to grow beyond their limitations and change their political positions, somewhat. If that’s not Utu, then what is? Sometimes, all the strength in the world comes from … yielding, and kindness. Nurture is a practice, and, in our world today, it is the radical choice, the antithesis. Daring to be kind is incredibly courageous.
Sure, and I will watch Black Panther again because I never say “no” to eye candy. But I will watch it again knowing that I identify both with the villain and the protagonist. I will do it knowing that harm is real, that ugliness should not be concealed, that sometimes, I am Killmonger inside. I will do it knowing that any opportunity to do better is a gift and that grace is … something to work towards, every day.
I will do this when I write, when I vote, when I grit my enraged teeth and forgive chauvinists of all genders and racists of all colours and that idiot who cuts in line at the bank – slash – doesn’t give up their seat to the heavily pregnant lady on the bus.
Wear your dashiki. Paint your face. Tell us all about the African-African American relationship. But when you watch Black Panther, really watch it for what it might tell you about yourself. And I have only just scratched the surface.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.