Wakanda Forever #TheReconciliation

Ohhhhhhhhkay everybody take a deep breath. We’re going to talk about Black Panther.

*SPOILER ALERT* I mean this feels like it should be understood but if you don’t want to read about major plot points in the movie, you should probably go do something else. Namely, watch the movie and then come back.

Okay so first of all, HOLY SHIT. As I’ve said to literally anyone who will listen, Black Panther far exceeded my expectations. It would have been easy to create a regular ass superhero movie, with a regular ass supervillain, and a regular ass storyline, and still have made a hit. It would have been easy to make white people the villains, turned it into a story about Africans exercising agency against the “colonizers”, and that movie would have not only been a hit, but also scored points for political relevance.

But the story Black Panther told was beyond all of that. It was beyond even what I have had the bravery to examine in my own life, existing at the cross section of several cultures. The story Black Panther told was about the complicated relationship between Africans and Black Americans. (Also, as we begin this discussion, I want to draw attention to my use of the term “Black American” here rather than “African American”. The zeitgeist hasn’t yet officially decided whether or not “African American” will go the way of “Negro” and “Colored” into the abyss of condemned terminology, but I’m choosing to use “Black” largely in part because, as Trevor Noah pointed out: it seems that there are African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans, but who gets to be just “American”? Right. [Psst! It’s usually white people.] So I use the term “Black American” to honor our Americanness but also specifically delineate skin color, because it matters.)  

This tension (between Black Americans and Africans) is personified in the contest between Killmonger and Black Panther. Killmonger, of Wakandan descent (his father being the murdered Prince N’Jobu — also, Sterling K. Brown?! Come ONNNNN okay sorry I’m getting distracted), grew up in Oakland, knowing nothing but stories about his history and ancestry. Fueled by the bitterness of being abandoned by his family, he grows up angry, hellbent on returning to his homeland to fuck shit up — and by fuck shit up I mean make available Wakanda’s incredible vibranium resources to the rest of the world, particularly to those spread across the African diaspora, so that they can rise up and fight the oppression they’ve faced for centuries. Same same.

The obvious central conflict then becomes how to stop Killmonger from revealing Wakanda’s millenia-old secret; however a much more complicated conversation begins with the question “What do we do about this man?” In a scene where T’Challa re-visits the ancestral plane, he confronts his father, “Why didn’t you bring him back?! He is a monster of our own making!” Killmonger is both family and stranger, native and foreigner. What are the rules of relationship among kin so far removed? This is the question that’s plagued the bond between Black Americans and Africans since the first boats left Africa’s western coast. After being separated by centuries, generations, cultures, and a whole ass ocean, do we still belong to each other?

I mean, there’s been a great deal of in-fighting for sure — an inherent distrust of the other side. I’ve seen Africans who find themselves somehow superior to Black Americans, as though the only reason they can still call themselves Africans isn’t by pure happenstance (i.e. whose ancestors were taken, whose were somehow spared). I’ve seen Black Americans guarded and resentful, outraged over a culture that’s been stolen, longing to be able to trace their lineages back. Misconceptions on both sides due to a severance neither orchestrated. And in this time, in this hundreds-years long schism, descendants of Africans brought here have done the incredible. They have created a culture that is all their own — the miraculous work of coming together in an environment intent on their isolation and destruction. What do we do with that? Does the presence of the Black American culture mean that they cannot also be welcomed to their African one?

Throughout the film, the theme of abandonment runs at fever pitch. T’Chaka forsaking his nephew in America, Wakanda leaving their brothers and sisters to suffer across the diaspora. Something I’d never considered before was if that feeling of abandonment also ran in the hearts of the people who were brought here to be enslaved. Did some hope that their relatives or tribes would save them? How heartbreaking must the realization have been when it landed that they were and could not? While I would loveeeeee for this next statement to be false, Wakanda is indeed fictional. (Right? Okay I’m still holding out hope.) As of yet we have not seen an African country capable then, of saving the enslaved or now, having a swift reversing impact on global racism. So where does Africa(ns)’s power of redemption lie? What would it look like to heal the sting of abandonment here? Is it in our ability to reconcile with each other, to re-embrace and share each other’s cultural secrets?

It’s a big conversation y’all. Issa BIIIIIIIIIIIIIG conversation, and I am both floored and humbled that Black Panther decided to take it on. We need more stories like this. We need more of us on the margins telling our own narratives. We need more complicated villain/hero relationships (I mean, Killmonger low-key had a point). We need more conversations about reconciliation, kinship, and healing.

Go. See. This. Movie. I’ll even go with you if you need a buddy. #WakandaForever #NeverNotSeeingBlackPanther