The Beat

Black Panther | A Narrative Retaken

You’ve seen the movie (I have six times, once we bought tickets and did not even go to the cinema), and now that is is on DVD I have seen it near enough everyday with my friends, nieces and nephews, alone… because it is such a movie that resonates with me. You know the story line and you know how it ends so I am not going to talk about that, rather, I want to talk about what it means to us. To Black People. To Africans, at home and in diaspora. Especially with our history of colonisation and slavery.

For many years, too many to count our narrative as Africans is one that has been written by everyone but us. Colonisers who came uninvited to our land, ripped apart our culture and rubbished our traditions. They replaced our stories with their words and ideas, and stole the riches of our land for their profit. Everything foreign was exalted over what was native to the land. The very essence of our being and our cultural and traditional identity was erased almost completely. And we became strangers in our own land and slaves in another man’s land; our names were traded for foreign sounding names, because our native names had too many twists and turns for them to wrap their foreign tongues around, meanings of which became jettisoned as were forced to take on images of idealism in the eyes of foreigners. Our homes became fodder for the benefit of the white man’s greed and we were left to scavenge and lost to roam the world like bastards.

For many years, Hollywood had traded on the narratives contorted by its forefathers and further traded on stories of our vulnerabilities, enforced narratives that saw us as the weaker people and them, the white saviour coming to free us from bondage. Bondage they created. Too many times they did not want to make movies that talked about our real heritage to do so would be to acknowledge the wrongs of their heritage. Rather, pushed the narratives of servitude and hurt.

And then came Black Panther.

This is not merely a movie or a Black movie, it so much more than that. It is a definition of a time when things really began to turn in our favour. This movie takes back that false narrative and replaces it with the truth, of what might have been if we had not been invaded. Who knows what the continent of Africa might have been if the West had just left it alone. Wakanda gives us an vision of a world we dared not imagine or dream. Wakanda pushes us to awaken the imagination of the land we call home, to embrace our history, our culture, traditions handed down from our ancestors, to take care of our home and be proud of it- Unapologetically so. That which was deemed “demonic” in the eyes of the slave masters is being shown on the world stage, things we eat, the way we eat, the way we worship, our use of herbs as medicinal remedies before the west made it into something acceptable for profit. This is a connection with our past and a way for us to preserve these stories for the future generations. I talk a lot about generations because the way of the world, the pace of the world means we are losing touch with an identity deeply rooted in us, we are slowly becoming disengaged from our roots and there will come a time when these stories will be all we remember. I would hate that. This movie celebrates us, uplifts us and places the shoe on the other foot. The cultures are African, the dialects are African, the colours are African, the landscape, the traditions, the rituals… from the Masai of Kenya to Hausa in Nigeria, Zulu to Swahili it is all intrinsically African and respectfully so. It shows off the very best of Africa, the Africa I know and am proud of; our story is not one of the perfection, we are far from perfect but ours is story still waiting to be told, our roots still being rediscovered and it is one the world deserved to know. Black Panther tells our stories, the colours, the sounds, the thread that needles our fabric together. It comes alive; its brash and bold and full and beautiful. Funny enough, it is no different in narrative to a Nollywood movie. LOL

In this movie our saviour is not White Jesus, our traditions are not from the West, our identities are respected as are our ways of life from the more traditional to the modern. It destroys the myth of “good hair” being European and fine- this was a very important theme in the movie, hair styles and textures. For an African woman, hair is an important part of our culture, not in the misinterpreted sense but it means something, its a crowning glory. There is a sense that every care was taken in the representation of Africa in itself, the narrative is not choppy or tacked together it is well thought out in a flow that represents a culture from back in time and pays respect to a continent so maligned by the west. The tribes and cultures and ceremonial aspect of the movie…This is the Africa that could have been if Africa was left alone to blossom for herself. Whilst some may see this as just a movie, most understand it is bigger than that. Our culture shapes how we interact with the wider world. Informs our behaviours and beliefs and our relationship with each other. Narratives, be it in movies, books, TV, form a part of that cultural definition. We mimic what we see, read, watch, listen to. It is the way of the world.

This is not just a movie, it is not a figment of someone’s imagination; Wakanda might be imagined but it is no less an avenue by which we become influenced to imagine what might have been if the West did not feel the need to claim superiority over its neighbours. So yes, Wakanda forever, this is not the end of the line, far from it, it is the starting point; our stories are plenty, our colours are bright and the world needs to know it. Know us. Mad respect for Black Panther!