Identity: The Significance of Black Panther
The absence of identity is a tragedy shared by the young black child sleeping in broken homes, growing up in forgotten neighborhoods, and left to compare inner ambitions with a distorted reality of the outside world.
Social media, bro. Also, our reaction to Blade was not as strong because - minus the vampires - Blade presented a modern day universe where the protagonist’s identity - albeit...daywalking vampire - was black. On the other hand, Black Panther presented depiction of the “what if” fantasy world often discussed around this time of the year: a world untouched by the advent of slavery, and the subsequent scrubbing of our cultural identity that followed, leaving us with black as an appropriate cultural identifier. What’s more, Black Panther pits the two worlds - minus the bloodsucking vampires - against each other in the form of (I don’t care what you say, I’ma say it anyway) a showdown between two protagonists, T’Challa and Killmonger.
In 1919, Illinois native, Oscar Micheaux, wrote, directed and produced Homesteader, making him the first African American to bring the world a full-length film. In 1931, he became the first African American to produce a full-length “talkie,” with The Exile. Though Micheaux is remembered for being a pioneer on the screen, it was his determination to address American history and provoke discussions on the implications of racism in society that has made him a name that should not be forgotten. Micheaux understood that his platform was powerful enough to highlight the differences that divided a nation, using his God-given talents to bridge the gap of differing perspectives.
Fast forward to the year 2018: Compton-born Black Panther director Ryan Coogler has captivated the world by using the platform of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his follow up to previous projects such Fruitvale Station and Creed with added nuance to the discussion of black culture. This time he pokes at the differences within Black Identity itself: a notion that, while the world may react to us based on our physical appearance, it is the internal, individual, identity that which makes issues of race so polarizing and worth discussing.
Furthermore, it is the topic of where our identity comes from within our Blackness that strikes a chord with viewers and makes Black Panther one of a kind. On one end there’s T’Challa who, strip away the superhero qualities, suit, etc. is the fairytale representation of what the presence of our cultural identity, unadulterated by the advent of slavery and colonialism, looks like. On the other end there’s Killmonger, who for all intensive purposes represents the modern-day Black American: physically removed from his cultural identity, stripped of his traditions, even the person most likely to connect with him with the two: the black father. Left to find and and define his own identity in a world that has predetermined who he is before he was even born.
In the words of Killmonger, there are “2 billion people in this world who look like us” and therefore share some part of the sentiments argued over between the two protagonists. The thought of Wakanda, a Black Utopia, aided by the strength of social media created an event-like reaction by the masses. With the first steps taken by Oscar Micheaux decades ago having set the stage for Coogler to bring our story - the one that lives in our heads and hearts, not just portrayed by the color of our skin - to the big screen through the Disney-Marvel platform, we are able to experience the perceptions of our realities (AND OUR DREAMS) played out before our very eyes. And that is a beautiful thing...