What Wakanda Means to Me
This will be the answer I give when anyone asks me to name my favorite movie.
Black Panther was more than a movie. Watching it was an experience. I was immersed in a different worldview and aesthetic where people who look like me were not marginal but central.
This is a rarity in movies as illustrated by the thirty minutes of movie previews that ran before Black Panther aired. During my first airing, the only movie without an entirely White cast was the preview for A Wrinkle in Time. My second airing included a promo for a television series starring Tracy Morgan, The Last O.G. This sort of erasure of black bodies from the mainstream is as old as dirt.
But I did not fall in love with this movie from a point of scarcity. No, the movie was a masterpiece on its own merit. It had action, drama, suspense, romance, history, comedy, and political commentary.
When the father tells his son the story of Wakanda as the film opens, I had no idea this was Prince N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). I assumed it was a younger T’Challa and his father. When the movie revealed this nugget, it made the story more significant. That was how N’Jbou passed down the story of Erik’s heritage and made him into the child from Brooklyn who “believed in fairytales.” These sorts of clever plot devices filled the movie.
Every article I’ve read about this movie has stressed that Wakanda is a fictional place. That may be true, but it is a real place to me. It bridges the gap between my past and present. Slavery robbed African people of their homeland, language, history, and cultural heritage. They were not immigrants. There was no true homeland. In the transition from African to African American, blacks were dispossessed and universally maligned. Chadwick Boseman (Prince T’Challa), in an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, spoke about how this movie gave African and African Americans a sort of common story. I wholeheartedly agree. Many movie goers wore African attire. I donned my earrings and necklace made of cowrie shells and an African print stole.
For me, Wakanda inspired in me a deep pride in my heritage even though I do not know the details of my African ancestors. Wakanda is a metaphor for my heritage and bridges that gap. I am like Erik Killmonger, believing in fairytales.