Michel Gomes—Contributing Writer
felt amazing to walk out of the cinema, and think, “Hell yeah, Africa Forever.” It felt great to see our wildlife, garments, musical instruments and beautiful scenery on screen. But it also felt great to see a movie which brought in dialogue on an old problem. In Black Panther, we see several themes, and one is the family reunion between the mother and her long-lost child.
The Scramble for Africa created a situation that could be compared to a mother being torn from her child. The motherland saw its children being shipped abroad, never to see them again while it endured the violence and abuse of colonialism. Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo were forced to produce goods for its invaders. If tribes could not match the quota of the day, they would just have their hands chopped off. If Senegal offered troops for World War I and asked for compensation, every soldier who fought would be lined up and be gunned down. The West took, and gave little to nothing back, but Africa had to keep producing. Meanwhile in the Americas, generations of Africans were alienated from their culture, from their identity. They were given new names, assigned a new religion and forced to speak the language of their masters. The African American only had memories of their grandparents (when they were fortunate enough to grow up with them) to use to think about their identity. Growing up, they were treated like and trained to think like cattle. The African American man would almost never be around to raise his children. While he was on the fields, his babies might be in the master’s house and treated like pets, while the mother might be forced into satisfying her master’s unholy desires. Africans were taught to neglect their children, and their American counterparts taught them to live without parental guidance.
Black Panther had one character from each side of the problem. T’Challa is king of Wakanda. The utopic ethno-centric state is the beacon of technological advances and progress through the scope of African culture. Wakanda really represents Africa, as the movie borrows music, instruments, clothing and jewelry from all of sub-saharan Africa. Wakanda, however, is not the exotic Africa in which tribal chiefs wear leopard skin; T’Challa is not the messianic prophet king that blacks around the world hope for. Wakanda echoes forgotten mighty African civilizations that, for most of human history, were at the forefront of cultural and technological progress. And to see ourselves portrayed in a positive light, even if Wakanda is fictional, rekindled the fire in our chests. It reminded us that African history did not begin with colonialism.
Erik Killmonger, T’Challa’s cousin, knows that history. He heard the stories from his father and shaped his entire life in preparation for going back. The problem with which Erik struggles is a problem that much of the African diaspora faces: How do we root ourselves back into our mother culture? The attempt to do so often creates a misunderstanding of the original culture. For example, scarification. In Black Panther, Erik scars himself for each man he has killed. The practice of scarification is old, and predominant in West Africa, but it is not used for body count, rather it is used for showing membership to a family or social status.
The meeting between T’Challa and Erik shows the clear divide between the two cultures. Erik grew up in the projects with no father. He made it through life by holding onto the dream of one day returning home and reclaiming what was denied to him—the riches of his ancestors’ past included. T’Challa is faced with the difficult choice of whether he should or not be inclusive to his neighbors. Africa’s present situation is largely due to the fact that, when the West found out about our resources, it stripped us clean of them. Wakanda is rightly afraid of being transparent about their resources, for fear of enduring the same fate as the rest of Africa. But for nations who are beginning to break free from the aftermath of colonialism, do we have a moral responsibility for our diaspora brothers?
The end of Black Panther has T’Challa buy the buildings from the area Killmonger grew up in. There, T’Challa plans to put an embassy and exchange the technological advances from Wakanda with the world. The end scene is powerful, as T’Challa personally takes over the projects, and begins to offer a way out which empowers African Americans.