Why Black Panther is More Substance than Hype

Anna Sarayna

I can’t quite put into words the feeling I felt sitting in the theater and seeing a movie – a major movie; a movie that was well written; a movie with a good plot, subtext, context, and inspiration; a movie that was so full-bodied and heavy – that represented me. It featured people – not a person, people – who look like me; a cast that was not made up of the one token black man or one token black woman. It was a black cast. Yes, there were a few white characters, but they were relegated somewhere to the background. Everything was about celebrating blackness and otherness.

In response to critics’ some of whom probably mean well concerns around the fact that most of the money will not go to Blacks, the movie was still created by a white studio profiting off of black talent, blah, blah blah…

I understand the impulse to go dark. I understand the impulse to be cynical. But for me, the movie was so amazing that the negatives cannot possibly take away from everything that it was.

On the matter of why the movie was so impactful and why it continues to be so inspiring for even persons of other races/descents, here’s my take on it. Black Panther is not a Black movie. I would venture to say it’s a non-white movie – and by that I mean, it is a movie that says to everybody who is other, everyone who is not white – it is possible to celebrate our excellence outside of the scope of the white man’s gaze; outside of the scope of the alleged authority on excellence.

Here is a story that does not depend on that. Here is a story that is about us. And while it will never fix racism (We’re not delusional. We understand that’s not its job) and black oppression or the ills of the world which we understand to be legitimate issues, for me the movie was a celebration in spite of them. Yes there are issues, yes there is oppression, yes racism is a thing we’re facing. But for me, it was more like, we’re going to do this in spite of that and we’re going to celebrate what is to be celebrated in spite of that. We can’t necessarily change how you see us, but it is not going to prevent us from celebrating who we are and how we see ourselves. And I think that is a pivotal part of the struggle. The viewing of self.

To the critics who discount the movie and raise the issue of racism and the movie’s inability to fix that – Black Panther was never created to fix racism. It was created to provide us with a view of ourselves in spite of the white man’s gaze.

Black Panther for me is that. I am not your negro. I am this. I am powerful beyond the scope of how you define me. I am so much more. We are so much more. We are kings and queens; princes and princesses. We are advanced; we’re smart; we’re intellectual. We’re compassionate; we’re humane rational beings. And the perceptions that you have and the definitions that you’ve cast on us will not serve to diminish this light. It is for this reason that Black Panther was so remarkable for me. There is such a sense of pride that nothing external could take away. I think it’s a testament in many ways to the Black spirit (and the spirit of anyone who is/has been oppressed) that in spite of external forces that sense of self transcends everything else.

And yes. I hear the cynics – a baton to your head, police brutality, racism, and oppression don’t change because of how you see yourself. I understand all of that, but I also know that that view of self that one takes on has the power to change so much. And while there are external forces at work that we cannot control, how we choose to see ourselves and our place in the world is to a great extent significant to the fight. And so I believe that’s one of the things the movie brings to the table.

I am in no way associated with the producers, writers etc so I cannot speak on their intent but for me, that was what it embodied and represented for me. An announcement of self – a declaration of self that says who I am is enough, who I am is more than enough, who I am is remarkable and so I have no qualms standing in the face of whatever you bring to the table because I am enough.

That’s what it meant for me as a black woman living in the Caribbean.

I’m curious to hear your thoughts if you’ve seen the movie. If not, tell us, what are you waiting for?

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