While watching Black Panther, my mind, body, soul and spirit were transported to an amazing afro-futuristic, sci-fi world beyond my wildest dreams. I was brought into a world that I, like many others, wish existed — a world where the Wakandans shielded themselves from the atrocities of a white supremacist world; a world where an African nation could exist without the evils of colonization and chattel slavery.
As the film began to play, my body could hardly control its excitement; my cheeks still hurt from smiling at all of the wondrous melaninated skin that was gracing the screen. There were references of blackness legitimately for us by us. From Shuri making fun of T'Challa's sandals by yelling "What are those?!," to the sound and pace of the drums from scene to scene, to the wide array of blackness and Africaness in form and function — in Black Panther, we are everything we could ever dream of being. We play all parts, and occupy all roles, as fully human .
My heart began to swell because finally — finally — black folks and all of our greatness was being represented on the screen for all to see. We were not drug dealers, crooked cops, athletes, rappers, impoverished or enslaved. On top of black greatness, the real truth about whiteness, slavery and colonization was openly discussed during the film. The Wakandans do not think very highly of outsiders, particularly white people, and it was amazing to see black people, for once, be carefree and unconcerned about colonizers, their thoughts or white tears. It was empowering.
As the film reached its apex, I began to grow worried, concerned and even upset. Not because the film disappointed, but because of how the film depicted African Americans. N'Jadaka (aka Killmonger), in my opinion, represented the voice of African Americans that have been left by the wayside of the great Wakandan empire. N'Jadaka's rage is a rage I have often felt growing up in a nation that has proven itself time and time again to hate black people. He has seen and experienced firsthand the oppression that black Americans face every day — from mass incarceration and drug-pumped communities, to educational inequality. N'Jadaka was angry because the world he should've had was not the one he was able to experience and know. He knew there was more out there in the world, not just for him, but for everyone.
N'Jadaka wanted to free black people from their white oppressors. This made him dangerous. It made him a threat, not just to white folks, but to Wakanda, too. This goal, matched with the rage he felt because of his uncle’s murder of his father, and his paternal family’s abandonment, consumed him, making him formidable (like me on most days, when folks want to try me).
As I watched this movie, I was hoping that N'Jadaka would not meet his demise. I was hoping that he would survive, that he would make it out of this situation. I didn’t necessarily want T'Challa and N'Jadaka to be friends, but at the very least, I wanted them to find a way to work together to bring a Wakanda-reality, and its resources, to black communities. I wanted so badly to see different parts of the African diaspora working together.
N'Jadaka was not trying to keep his newly acquired status of king from the world; he was living by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "No one is free until we are all free." From a diplomacy perspective, placing weapons in the hands of oppressed folks may not have been the move. But after living the life of a second-class citizen in the U.S., where black lives do not matter, it is not hard for me to understand why N'Jadaka wanted to change the world with violence. As N'Jadaka believed, our oppressors will understand violence because it’s the language they speak and the terms they create. But T'Challa wanted N'Jadaka to forget all of the years of pain that white supremacy and dishonesty caused.
N'Jadaka was the only African American character in this film who lost his life trying to free others. When he went “home” — to his father’s homeland — he was STILL considered an outcast after winning his trial by combat. N'Jadaka was the Black Panther — he was African, he was American, he was Wakandan. N'Jadaka also died. He was not welcomed, nor treated, as a Wakandan, and this all makes me question whether or not the fate of Killmonger is also the fate of African Americans? Is there a place for us on the continent of our ancestors, or will we also be seen as outsiders by Africans from the continent? Will we be beaten down so much by a white supremacist society that our lives will be consumed with righting wrongs for our people at our own expense?
Our nation of origin is the continent of Africa. But, like N'Jadaka, even if we mean well, I fear we will not be accepted. Africa is not our home, but our place of origin. Like the film displayed, we also are not welcome here in the U.S., despite regularly enduring great pain and sacrificing our lives far too often.
As a black person, I could not be more excited about Black Panther. As an African American, I am wondering what this means for our fate as a people.