Wakanda Shows Us More About Representation Than We May Have Realized
We're here. We've always been.
February 22, 2018 at 2:57 pm
Fresh to death to go to Wakanda. Black folks ready with outfits they have been planning since October. Reenacting costumes from Coming to America at the concession stand, full with their kids stuffed animals over their shoulder. All to prepare to visit a place they’ve never been but looks like home. I watched folks with these outfits on walk through the theater. Hyped. Ready to see themselves on the screen. Ready to visit a place where we sit on thrones, a place where black girls are from the future and black boys are from outer space, a place that we have heard so much about but have yet to see.
The effect of Wakanda is representation, but how do we move from fictional representation to the impact of truth? Black children being able see themselves, dream and get lost in the possibilities of who we are. Consuming a world created where we see the beauty of black family, the possibilities of black love and excelling beyond other societies. The importance of seeing our reflection on the screen allows for blackness to not be monolithic, viewed in just one way. In mainstream media historically, we are often just sidekicks, extras or in need of being saved by someone who looks nothing like us. These peripheral characters often go unnoticed. But now, Black characters are moved from the margins to the center, and thus allow us time and space to celebrate ourselves through this reflection.
We see this need for representation in other aspects of our lives through the creation of television outlets (BET and TV One), magazines (Essence and Ebony) and holidays (Kwanzaa). Representation: needing to see our reflection in different forms as necessary. These special moments have allowed us to live the lives the generation before dreamed. My mother constantly marvels about seeing Marshall in the movie theater or the number of Black folks who she sees earning advanced degrees. We are now visible in ways that were not imagined in the past.
As excited as we all are about Wakanda, are we bringing what we see there into our day-to-day lives?
An Afrocentric fashion show in the lobby and bowing to folks with our arms crossed over our chest is the power of black folks seeing themselves in on the big screen. We are able to go into a place that gives us the space to imagine the possibilities of blackness. This is Wakanda. But don’t get it twisted, Wakanda is fictional but it is not made up.
Kemet brought Europe out of enlightenment. Black kings and queens exist today throughout Africa.
Wakanda may be a movement for right now but blackness has excelled in its movement and being throughout the world.
Do not limit black brilliance to the borders of Wakanda. Don’t let Marvel write this story and it is the only one we know. See how Queen Nzinga of Angola reigned after the death of her father. Or, how Toussaint L’Ouverture led Haiti to liberation from French colonization. Mansa Abu Bakari of Mali sailed over 200 ships to the Americas in 1312. King Huni of Kemet (what we call Egypt) reigned when the seven pyramids were built. Queen Nanni of Jamaica who defeated the British with her army. The brilliance is endless.
Marvel may have shown us the fiction of Wakanda, but we are the branches connected to the roots of African people all over the world. Don’t let them repackage it and tell you they made it all up. We owe it to ourselves to know the truth about who we are.
If we don’t, they will build Wakanda in a theme park, we will give them our money, again, and buy dashikis in the theme park's gift shop. The manufacturing of blackness is a commodity that can be bought and sold. If the power of Wakanda allows for Black audiences to pre-order tickets, plan showings months in advance and be a primary factor in creating Black Panther to be a Blockbuster film then let’s harness this power and create spaces to celebrate black culture regularly. We can teach our kids that the people in the film were not just characters, but represented traditions of the people of Ethiopia who wear lip plates as a sign of wealth. And that the headdress of the Queen Mother is normal for married Zulu women to wear during ceremonies, and the blanket like clothing W’Kabi wears is from the Lesotho Kingdom. We can teach them that this is real.Black folks do not have to rely on the beauty, imagination, and funding of Wakanda when we have it in our history already. It is our duty to unearth the stories and know them just as well as we know our favorite lines spoken in Black Panther.
Do you prefer ‘The Temptations’ or ‘The Five Heartbeats’? Is Jamie Foxx in ‘Ray’ one of your favorite performances of all time? Do you watch BET all day when 'The Jacksons: An American Dream' comes on? If you can answer any of these questions, vote in our Black Music Bracket here! You won't be disappointed.