I have been trying to analyze what exactly is fueling the astronomical and world wide success of this film. A recent Vanity Fair acticle proclaims a success that yielded a four day weekend release number of over 235 million domestically and over 404 million world wide in box office numbers. There are not enough comic book geeks to pull those type of numbers off but the amazing numbers of black folks turning out to see this film is worth some analysis.
I saw the film with a packed audience of mostly black folks. I sat between a young girl and her teen brother. I marveled at how they both became animated during the film. Leaning in close during the action scenes and how the little black girl clapped when she saw black women kicking butt onscreen. This film was simply affirming on so many levels.
A former student of mine Latrese, who now lives in Italy saw an advanced showing of the film and said that while she enjoyed the film she felt a little emotional because seeing what Wakanda represented left her feeling a bit like, “What if?”
After seeing the film myself I now understand her statement completely and also have a theory in why the film has been so inspiring, particularly for black audiences. When I grew up there were not that many black super heroes. So I fixated on the few like my favorite X men, Storm. Black Panther offers us not just a narrative of a super hero but a narrative regarding African culture, heritage, legacy and history that we typically have not been privy to consume.
Wakanda is a rich civilization that used its secret resource, vibranium, to nurture, conceptualize and build a vast nation rich in science, arts and technology. Because Wakanda chose to hide its ‘true” face from the world and allow folks to think that they were just another third world, agrarian culture. They were left alone. Why? Because other countries felt they had nothing of interest to conquer, colonize or pilfer. So Wakanda was left to its own devices to develop and flourish unfettered by outside influences.
I think that is the true success and world wide appeal of this film, especially for black audiences is that we get to see a what if scenario played out on the big screen.
What if so many other African countries had been allowed to develop uncolonized and not have their natural resources exploited and pillaged?
What if black women could be allowed to grow up in environments where their intellect and imagination were as celebrated as their beauty. Women like the phenomenal cast you see in the film including T'Challa's mother, played by Angela Basset, his sister the scientist and inventor, his crush the sensitive and independent princess played by Lupita or the wise, loyal and fierce General played by Danai Gurira, Mechonne from ‘Walking Dead’.
I found the ideological tension between Black Panther and Kilmonger reminiscent of Dr. King and Malcolm X. You have two passionate brothers committed to the liberation of their people but whose tactics were polarized. Kilmonger was a likeable antagonist because he was so woke but flawed. The writer and poet Audre Lorde illustrated the fatal flaw for Kilmonger when she wrote, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”Kilmonger could not change the world by utilizing the same tactics he studied from his oppressors.
T’Challa ultimately sees the purity of Kilmongers vision once the poison of revenge had been stripped away and gives us the most inspiring, what if of the film.
What if black folks could finance, control and orchestrate their own liberation?
What if the world could be remade through the gifts, talents, and culture of these African people? Where Wakanda controlled the narrative and how their gifts would be honored and not exploited? I believe that this, what if, scenario of an alternative reality is what makes this film so appealing, especially to black audiences.
That and the fact that Black Panther, the women and the world of Wakanda, in general, are just lit as hell!