There is so much I want to tell you about my recent trip to the world of Wakanda ... or rather a special Saturday showing and celebration in New Haven of the highly anticipated new film Black Panther.
But I can’t. No spoilers allowed during Black History Month. (All bets are off if you don’t see it before March 1.)
I will, however, tell you about how we moviegoers showed up to the Criterion Bowtie Cinemas dressed in our finest Ankara prints and dashikis for a 10 a.m. private screening of the hit movie that transformed 86 Temple St. into Wakanda for a few hours.
The event, billed as “Shit Bougie Black People Like,” was organized by WNHH FM’s own “Werk It Out” radio host Mercy A. Quaye, Jennifer Quaye Hudson, and Paul Bryant Hudson. The hosts made sure that there was no ashy skin or unmoisturized hair in Wakanda — a feat to be sure during winter in New England — thanks to special goodie bags filled with staples like the ubiquitous (at least for black Americans without easy access to cocoa or shea butter) petroleum jelly.
I’m pretty sure with all that advanced technology in Wakanda, the fictional hidden African country in which the movie takes place, Princess Shuri surely has created something that defeats ash and keeps your twistout soft an supple no matter the weather. (No humidity or cold, dry air formed against me shall prosper.)
As at similar opening-weekend celebrations across the nation, New Haven’s delegation to Wakanda showed up and showed out. Colorful headwraps and face paint were on display as people greeted each other like long-lost cousins at the Wakanda Family Reunion. Some attendees even decided to go for a Wakanda-Meets-Zamunda costume-mashup by adding fur to their ensembles. People had been building for this buzz for two whole years. Fans got their first glimpse of the Black Panther character 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War.”
Marvel Comic movies and events are renowned for attracting the hardcore costume players who arrive dressed as their favorite superhero of the hour or their favorite character in the comic or the film.
But for many of us, it wasn’t cos-play, but culture. We were dressed as citizens of Wakanda, cousins of King T’Challa and ‘nem. And we were so very proud. It was like a family reunion, homecoming at an HBCU, Black History Month at Yale, graduation day, and a little black church sprinkled in thanks to that royal purple carpet.
The film, and the land of Wakanda, represents an answer to a What if question. What if there had been no colonizers? No slave ships? The fictional world of Wakanda represents a wholeness for black people, where we are well within ourselves. We have all the capabilities that we need. There’s nothing that has us downtrodden. We are victorious in Black Panther. But not as conquerors of each other, or other people.
The future is ours, and we’ve already won it. It’s not a future that says, “Other people can’t exist here.” But it is a future where we are self-sufficient. It’s a representation of what a utopian black Diaspora might be if we were left alone.
It also represents to black folks, and dare I say the world, what it could look like for us all to be equal. Where even though a male king is the ruler, he is advised by women. And that advice is never scoffed at. Where because all are equal
— well at least all Wakandans are equal — women fight as well, or better than men. They are as intelligent, if not more so than men. And that is not played for a joke. The men of Wakanda aren’t threatened by smart, strong women. They respect them. They fall in love with them. The women of Wakanda never have to pretend to be anything or play to the male gaze.
Women are respected even in fierce physical and intellectual battle. And an act of submission is simply a level playing field for Wakandans and not a condition of one’s gender. In Wakanda, men have no qualms submitting to women when they are bested. Gendered insults are not hurled like lightning strikes. Such ignorance only comes from outsiders. Where there is trust there is no shame involved.
During the movie, we talked to the screen. We laughed and talked to each other. And we were floored by how a superhero movie, this superhero movie, could have so many layers. The action is as dynamic as I’ve seen in all of the Marvel movies that I’ve watched over the years.
But the level of storytelling in “Black Panther” isn’t something I expected. There are layers to this thing. Layers that spoke to all of us who hail from the African Diaspora. Layers that can spark so much dialogue. Layers that might even be healing.
I was wowed by the cinematography and overwhelmed at seeing on display what Carter G. Woodson tried to tell the world when he led the charge to celebrate Negro History Week, which later became Black History Month.
Black is beautiful. Black is powerful. Black is smart. Black is equal. Black has contributions that can save this world. Bet on black.
Listen above to a discussion of Black Panther on the latest edition of WNHH FM’s “Pundit Friday” program.