Black Panther showed the importance of fatherhood, strong women, individual and collective identity, responsibility to help others and the need for leaders to rise to the challenge while thinking of the good of all.
As I walked into the theater with my daughter, I didn't know what to expect. I read the Time magazine article about the film, which left me intrigued by the direction of the movie. The article spoke about the Black Panther character's birth during the Civil Rights Era. Also, the variety of roles the majority black cast could shed light on what it's like to be black not only in America but the world, and how those perspectives can be very different based on birthplace and exposure. I expected hidden gems mixed with subtle revelations to be present. In the scene where M'Baku (Winston Duke) challenged T'Challa, the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) for his throne, hearing the phrase "Show him who you are!" made me sit on the edge of my seat; the line was razor-sharp, cutting the tension. The throne of Wakanda was T'Challa's birthright, and everyone knew it.
Just then, I looked at my daughter. Her eyes were glued to the screen, while my thoughts lingered between the past, present and future. On a regular basis, I tell her who she is, followed by an always remember knowing there will be times when life will challenge her knowledge of self. At those times, she'll have to rely on what I've put inside of her. Identity is crucially important in the development of anything, even more so in the rearing of a child.
There's responsibility in the self-realization, too: After recognizing who you are and what you've been called to do, it's equally essential to walk in the full authority of your role.
"Stand up, you're a king!"
How many times have we waited for someone else to permit us to walk in an authority that we've already acquired? Leadership roles are often coveted and criticized. But leadership comes with responsibility, and it helps to be rooted and guided by a system of morals and values. When Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) took a bullet for Nakia (Lupita Nyong'o), and was subsequently facing death, King T'Challa said, "I cannot let him die knowing we can save him."
I cringed thinking about all the cell phone videos of incidents that occur in present-day society, wondering what would happen if half those filming would extend a helping hand. What would happen if, instead of criticizing an individual or community for their current situations, those with the ability to help did help? What would happen if, after you asked someone how they were doing, you paused long enough to hear their answer?
The contrast between Wakanda and America, in my opinion, is eye-opening. On the surface level, you have a king raised in an environment in which he learned how to become a man and eventually rule, whereas his cousin, Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), was left to fend for himself after his father violently lost his life. So instead of passing judgment on Killmonger, I took a moment to unpack the weight on the shoulder of his character. Erik found his father's lifeless body and was forced to grow up in an environment where he saw people brutalized, suffering at the hands of each other and systems. He played the hand he was dealt with a burning desire to avenge his father and aid his people, in the only manner that had worked for him. An angry young man with no guidance was figuring things out while maneuvering through life. In one heart-stopping scene, his body revealed a coat of tiny scars, each representing a kill he was responsible for. But these kills gave him no peace. On the other hand, while T'Challa wanted to do what was best for the people, he had a different approach based on his life experience. My immediate thought went to the statistics revolving around fatherless homes.
T'Challa also had the benefit of having influential women in every facet of his life, from his mother, Romanda, who acknowledged, "My son, it's your time," to General Okoye (Danai Gurira) who said, "Don't freeze." His sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) who said, "Just because something's working doesn't mean it can't be improved," which might serve as the single motivating force for Wakandians themselves. After coming to the knowledge of what his father had done, Nakia said, "You get to decide what kind of king you're going to be," illustrating how vital it is to have a team of sound counsel and the ability to put the wise counsel to use.
At the end of the film, Killmonger said, "Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage." I paused when I heard his statement, thinking of the historical accounts of slaves committing suicide rather than being forced into bondage in the new world. It spoke volumes, and resonates through the centuries.
Unlike T'Challa, Killmonger grew up on the streets of Oakland and saw many people lose their lives or be locked up for long periods of time, so without hesitation, he considered death the only option. He had no comparison in his memory of peace, love, justice or redemption. What other types of bondage (lack of employment, credit, debit, bad relationships, etc.) are people living with, and so, secretly dying inside?
Leaving the theater, I felt empowered and confirmed. Empowered, by definition, is to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. Confirmed, by definition, is to establish the truth or correctness of (something previously believed, suspected or feared to be the case). I take that to mean I have the authority and responsibility to impact my family and community in a way that paves the way for future generations to excel on all levels. Confirmed in the sense of knowing how necessary it is to have the hard conversations, step outside of one's personal feelings, making decisions that will impact the lives and direction of others while being out of my comfort zone, and leading by example.