Movies + TV, Pop Culture

As an African-American woman, Black Panther is like breathing for the first time

Wakanda forever!

To say that Black Panther came at the perfect time would be an understatement. In a time filled with political strife, racial tension, and Black people still working towards being represented equally in media, it wasn’t just a breath of fresh air. It’s was like breathing for the first time.

Before seeing the movie, I kept up with the hype through social media. Seeing other African-Americans getting dressed up in kente cloths and other traditional African garments, wearing their best black, green and red clothes, you would have thought that they were on their way to the Motherland instead of a movie. It wasn’t until I was walking into a theater myself, with a little boy no more than four years old wearing a black and blue dashiki in front of me, that I began to truly realize the cultural and emotional impact that this film was about to have on me.

It wasn’t until I was walking into a theater myself, with a little boy no more than four years old wearing a black and blue dashiki in front of me, that I began to truly realize the cultural and emotional impact that this film was… Click To Tweet

Since starting college, I’ve become more aware of myself and my identity as an African-American woman, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in that theater that I became aware of myself as a woman of African descent. There’s something so comforting and surreal about knowing where you come from and seeing that represented. The kingdom of Wakanda may not be a real place in Africa, but being able to see a hyperbole of something like it in a movie, and see it done so beautifully and thoughtfully, is enough.

The actors, as well as the production team behind the movie, knew the weight of their task and rose to the occasion. However, even though he may be our new favorite and wonderfully nuanced masked avenger, T’Challa, the Black Panther, is undoubtedly outshined by the women surrounding him. From the groundbreaking female characters to the creative direction, down to the effect that it will inevitably have on the future of representation in the movie industry, the film is a triumph.

Since starting college, I’ve become more aware of myself and my identity as an African American woman, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in that theater that I became aware of myself as a woman of African descent. Click To Tweet

As the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” Or in this case, great women. To begin, there’s T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri, the lovable comedic relief with the intelligence and technological skill to rival Iron Man’s Tony Stark, portrayed by breakout star Letitia Wright. Lupita Nyong’o is Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest and an undercover “war dog” spy for Wakanda. Finally, as the cherry on top of a phenomenal female lineup, Danai Gurira plays Okoye, leader of the king’s guard and Wakanda’s all-female army, the Dora Milajae. That’s right. All. Female. Army. 

This is the first film I’ve seen where the Black female characters aren’t bent to fit cliches or stereotypes. These are strong, intelligent women filled to the brim with complexity and depth. There was no stereotyping, no colorism, no body-shaming; just strong women. To see a new version of Black womanhood emerge from a poignant and prominent piece of art like this filled me with an immense amount of pride.

In addition to the predominantly Black cast, the movie was directed by Ryan Coogler and written by Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, two African-American men. The costumes, a true labor of love, were conceptualized and designed by Ruth Carter. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Carter reveals the magic behind all of the film’s fashions, going so far as to have some pieces made overseas and 3D printing others.

What the box-office and cultural success of Black Panther is saying to the industry is that there are powerful narratives to be told through Black voices. It looks like the world is ready to listen. Click To Tweet

Being set in Africa, all of the cast had natural hairstyles ranging from low fades and dreadlocks to Bantu knots and braids. There’s been some controversy in the past few years over traditional African hairstyles like these being culturally appropriated when worn by celebrities and dubbed “trendy” or “edgy” by different style outlets, so it was nice seeing them worn the way they were intended.

The movie industry is by no means perfect, what with numerous actresses coming forward about sexual harassment allegations, alleged racism when casting, and problems with representation on screen. In the rare moments that Black people receive accolades, it’s almost always when they’ve portrayed a secondary role, typically in race driven films as characters that are in poverty, or flashing back to the past acting as domestic help and even slaves. What the box-office and cultural success of Black Panther is saying to the industry is that there are powerful narratives to be told through Black voices.

It looks like the world is finally ready to listen.

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Jasmyne Ray

Jasmyne Ray

Senior Mass Communication major and Public Relations minor at the University of Montevallo and a strong advocate for mental health awareness. Believes that being surrounded by people from different walks of life provides unique opportunities to learn and understand one another.

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