I was vaguely familiar with the Marvel Comic series when I entered the theater to experience the much-awaited movie Black Panther. My students encouraged me to see the movie; many of them had purchased advanced tickets. They informed me that Black Panther was a movie I needed to see. “Needed?”
My students were correct. I needed to see Black Panther, a cinematic luxury that reaffirms my love of great art; however, not for the reason I initially purposed—to see a superhero movie with what some have deemed a group of stellar black actors. I am feeling its effect again as I sit with freshmen who have gathered to watch the movie.
Seemingly, Black Panther is a movie about the salient strength of African women. I love the theme of the female as a compassionate protector, friend, and warrior. I love the rhythm and costumes created to enhance the theme. I love the nationalist allegiance of the Wakadans to their own people. It anchors a flash from the past in my memory. I thought of Moefi Asante and his theory of the Afro-centric idea (read his book). I even find my own inspiration, i.e., dedication to the people whose parents suffered through the Middle Passage. And that is where the marvelously conceived implicit message celebrating the Black American as the sacrificial lamb and the healing vein of America and Africa glued itself to the lens from which I view this beautiful epitaph to the world.
Though apparently zealously angry in his approach to saving other nations beyond Wakanda and destroying his relatives who killed his father, Erik Killmonger is the authentic/real superhero in this film. And just to think. He began his life on a signature of Black American culture–a basketball court looking up at the apartment where his father has been killed by his brother. How Middle Passage is that! An African brother kills his African brother and leaves his brother’s child in the world to fend for himself because he says, “. . . there are some truths you must omit.”
A truth: Black Americans suffered through the Middle Passage because they were sold into slavery by fellow African brothers. And if that is not enough, the African (American) son in Black Panther tries to right his African father’s wrong. The real hero of this movie is the African child-come-man left orphaned in America—Erik Killmonger. It is that orphan boy whose final epitaph carries the movie home. It is his voice that compels me to include the movie in a freshmen composition course thematically entitled: “Wakanda.” Listen to that voice and experience your Wakanda rite of passage into transformative sacrificial living: “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jump from the ships . . . they knew death was better than bondage.”