For our Family Movie Night last week, we watched Black Panther. My family as a whole are huge Marvel/MCU fans. We’ve seen all the movies. After hearing of Chadwick Boseman’s passing due to cancer a few weeks ago, my kids have been asking to see Black Panther once again. My daughter even asked for it over Captain Marvel (her favorite). As I watched it, my mind couldn’t help but stop and think and analyze the movie. A I watched, I realized that the movie wasn’t meant for me, a white dude in his 40’s. I’m used to movies catering to me and my age group. When you’re part of the dominant culture, you get used to that. This movie wasn’t that. It was for the African-American community. It was written by, directed by, and starred Africans and African-American peoples in the entertainment industry.
The movie begins in Oakland 1992. On the TV in the small rent-controlled building is the news showing the Rodney King beating aftermath and the riots that happened then. A divisive time. As the movie goes forward to the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War where we first meet T’Challa who is the Black Panther, we begin to see other areas of social concern in the African continent–wars and human trafficking. The Black Panther breaks this up. He protects the innocent and helps the helpless.
T’Challa is the the king of Wakanda now, a mythical nation of four tribes hidden in the middle of Africa. It is technologically advanced. It is peaceful. Though there might be issues not raised, they appear to live in harmony with one another. My wife (a history PhD student) pointed out what might Africa have looked like if there had not been colonization and the slave trade.
My mind couldn’t stop thinking.
I’m not going to go into a bit by bit replay of the movie. It was overwhelming. I realized my own racism and personal biases. Both T’Challa and Killmonger had valid arguments on why they did what they did. Killmonger was angry about how his people were treated, how the oppressed were treated. He wanted to help the oppress raise up and defeat the oppressors. And he had every good reason why. I have never cried for a villain before, but I cried for Killmonger.
My mind went back to college. Back in the days when I claimed to be “color blind.” I was in the play The Comedy of Errors. The cast somehow had gotten into a discussion of gender and race. I had received A’s in both Women’s History and African-American Literature and thought I knew what I was talking about. I said I believed it was important to be color blind. That’s when Damon spoke up. He looked at me and said “No! I want you to see my blackness. I am a proud black man and I want you to see that in me.” That has stuck with me ever since. And then I thought about T’Challa and Killmonger. How did I see them?
As I watched, I saw how Black Panther was not only a celebration of the African-American community, it also dealt with the social ills that have plagued it since the forced diaspora. There was pain and there was celebration. There was also the message that those who have should help those who don’t. There was a message of mentoring, of aiding the needy, of being willing to build bridges rather than divide.
Once we finished watching the movie (a true Marvel fan watches all the credits until the very end) I turned to my wife and said “This movie wasn’t meant for me.” She thought about it for a moment and said “No, it was, it was meant to teach you.” We then had an hour long conversation with our children (ages 14 and 11) about systemic racism, the history of it in the United States, how it’s led to the protests we have now, and what we could do to help. We spoke of how God calls us to help those in need. He calls us to help those who are on the margins. He calls us to be a reflection of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And so I wonder. I wonder about my own issues. I wonder about how I treat other people. Do I treat them as image bearers of God or not? Do I live as one reflecting the Kingdom of God? Do I fight systemic racism enough? Do I do my part as a follower of Christ to be a reflection of Christ to others? Do I live as Christ wants me to live?
And yes, all of this and more because of one movie.
What are your thoughts?