The Importance of Black Panther

I began to appreciate comic books as a child in the late ‘70’s. Although I occasionally read some DC Comics, I primarily read Marvel and idolized several of their heroes. Spider-Man has always been one of my favorite characters. I was fascinated by the complexity of Moon Knight. But, I always gravitated to Black heroes because I loved seeing heroes who looked like me. I read the X-Men not just because of the iconic character of Wolverine, but also because Storm was a team leader. I really enjoyed Heroes for Hire because of Luke Cage was from Harlem like me. I started reading Iron Man when James Rhodes replaced Tony Stark who was dealing with alcoholism. But, there was one character who I found most intriguing: T’Challa, King of Wakanda, a.k.a. the Black Panther. Black Panther has remained my favorite comic book character for decades. Why you might ask?

  1. Wakanda. Seriously. Here is this African nation that was never conquered, never influenced, so it’s purely African. And it’s the most technologically advanced country in Earth! So many of my fellow African Americans struggle with our heritage, because it usually dates back to slavery. Our family trees often remind us of this fact as well. But, here’s Wakanda. So different. In some ways, a symbol of what could have been.
  2. He is a genius! T’Challa’s intellect rivals that of Tony Stark, Reed Richards, and Hank Pym.
  3. He is a King. He’s not only a superhero, but he is also in charge of an entire country.
  4. That costume has always remained dope. And it’s made with Vibranium, the most desired metal in the Marvel Universe.
  5. The role is inherited. T’Challa wasn’t the first Black Panther and won’t be the last. Even his sister Shuri was Black Panther for a stretch.
  6. T’Challa has been a longtime member of The Avengers, served for awhile in the Fantastic Four, and even replaced Daredevil in Hell’s Kitchen. His versatility and ability to be a stellar teammate has always been remarkable to me.

So, yeah, I was beyond excited to see Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War. But, my excitement is on an entirely new level now. I have never been so excited to see a movie in my entire life. I might have been the only person not happy when Marvel Studios got Spidey, because Homecoming pushed back the release date of Black Panther. To finally see this icon of Black Excellence have his own movie means everything. What I feel when I see anything connected to Black Panther is pure, unadulterated joy. It just feels so good to see a film that looks and sounds like this being made. To see a major Marvel film with a cast that includes Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner Angela Bassett, Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo, fellow Oscar Winner Forest Whitaker, award-winning playwright Danai Gurira, new Oscar nominee Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, and Emmy and Golden Globe Winner Sterling K. Brown. Wow! Seriously. And let’s bring it back to the strong, brilliant, beautiful Black women for a second. Black Girl Magic is in full effect! What a great era in film for my superhero loving daughter and her unapologetically blerd father.

Speaking of my daughter, what makes this all even better is my daughter’s ever increasing interest in Black Panther and all things Wakanda. After a bitter “breakup” with Captain America due to the events in Captain America: Civil War, my daughter decided that her husband was now T’Challa. So, for a little over a year, her husband is Black Panther. Honestly, I have mixed emotions about this. It basically means I can’t dress up as Black Panther for Halloween because I would be dressing up as my daughter’s husband. That ain’t right. But, I absolutely love that she has developed such a profound appreciation of T’Challa and Wakanda. She is able to play with her Shuri and Nakia action figures, put together her Black Panther LEGO set, read Black Panther children’s books, and wear Black Panther apparel that wasn’t just in the boys section. She is so excited to see this film for her “husband” as well as for the amazing powerhouse women in it.

Recently, my daughter and I were invited to Good Morning America for a truly special reason. Chadwick Boseman was to be a guest. Camilla was selected to ask T’Challa himself a question and made the most of her moment.

 It has been so wonderful to see the reaction to this film in the Black community. We are so hyped for this film and everything it represents. I can’t get enough of it. However, some of the comments on Facebook I’ve seen over the last few weeks and the failed effort to sabotage the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score have me thinking. Black Panther is now mainstream, and I don’t want it to lose its impact and relevance. Most white people I know see what looks like a damn cool movie, and that is truly wonderful. I hope they come out and support the film, buy toys and apparel, and discuss it positively in social media. But, please understand that some of us Black folk see something very different. We see something we just haven’t seen before at all in film. We see something uniquely beautiful. We see a major studio film that seems so comfortable in its Blackness. We see something empowering. We see something we might have forgotten how much we needed. Lupita Nyong’o said it best on GMA. “We all see ourselves better when we can see ourselves in someone else.” Exactly. Wakanda Forever!

Additional reading - The Many Meanings of Black Panther’s Mask - New York Times