The Marvel movie, Black Panther, has been an outstanding cultural phenomenon. It has broken records at the box office and has shown doubters that a movie about Black people can be economically powerful. The movie also provided an opportunity for a number of African Americans to advance their acting careers. It has some tried and true regulars, as well as some newer faces who will no doubt be seen again.
Why has this film had such a powerful impact? There are multiple answers. For one, the movie was not based on the deficit model of Black life. It was one of the first times that Black people got to see themselves as the dominant force in a society without having to worry about white oppression. People had strong traditions, wore beautiful Afrocentric clothing and jewelry, and lived peacefully in their own communities. Moreover, they possessed the power of “vibranium,” which gave them the power to control their society as well as excel technologically.
Though these elements no doubt influenced the popularity of the film, there is another, more esoteric point that has most likely contributed to the film’s outstanding success. It touched a chord deep in the subconscious psyche of Black people; it brought up primordial visions of what could be possible if life were different. It evoked the notion of life without poverty and degradation. It demonstrated competence. Fundamentally, it evoked a specter of a Black Utopia. Because of white oppression, many Black people have not had the opportunity, or foresight, to envision a life such as that which was depicted in the movie. The film filled a consciousness gap; it provided a template for what is possible, and it is the first time in recent memory that a story was told from this powerful standpoint.
As testimony of the power of the memes in the movie, life is beginning to imitate art. Already there have been conferences, panels, and other gatherings where people participate in cosplay, i.e., wear costumes depicting characters in the film. People far and wide are using the double-fist-across-the-chest salute when greeting one another. People are showing up at regular gatherings wearing “Wakanda-like” jewelry. More and more people are embracing their “Blackness.” All of these things are indications that there is a change afoot among Black people. During the age of an oppressive and backward presidential administration, there is a need for optimism. There are glimpses of intermittent, but subtle change. For example, on social media there is a constant pattern of Black people dissing one another; of Black people in conflict. Recently the comedian Katt Williams was asked what he thought about Tiffany Haddish. In his response he literally dissed her saying that anyone could read, but she hasn’t proven herself as a comic. A surprising thing happened – a number of African Americans took issue with his comments, criticizing his negative, unsupportive approach. This would seem to be a normal response, but it has been rare in a society where self-hate has been prominent.
In order to actualize a Wakanda-like society, we need a change of focus. We already live in a technically advanced society. We already have Black people who have mastered living in Western opulence; we already have Black people who are skilled in diverse areas, and we already have Black people who love to dress to the nines. Basically, what is missing is the will to work with each other, to love each other and to care for each other. The concept of Wakanda is possible NOW – a Black Utopia is possible NOW if we would just change our mindset by ridding our communities of Black on Black crime through mutual cooperation. With resources totaling more than a trillion dollars annually, we have everything we need to change our circumstances. The African American continent alone has some of the richest resources on the planet, which are not well utilized by Black people. All we lack is vibranium. But we already have that as well. If we begin to love one another effectively, that would be our vibranium. It would enable us to do miraculous things. Wakanda Now! Love and Unity Now!
A Luta Continua.