Marvel’s Black Panther has been a long time coming.
I remember when the making of the movie was first announced early 2017, I eagerly waited and hunted for any trailers, photos and behind-the-scenes footage that I could feast my eyes on. “Finally,” I thought, “a movie full of people who look like me and my family.”
The weeks leading to the movie, I watched as my African friends (some from Nigeria, some from Ghana, some from Liberia) planned their outfits. I was so enamored by the outfits they were able to put together so quickly, as well as the plenty of options they had to choose from. “Where did you buy all of these clothes from?” I asked, hoping for a plug.
“Oh, I didn’t buy these. My mom had a woman make them for me the last time she went back to Nigeria.”
As I was lying down on my friend’s bed scrolling on my phone while she rifled through her outfit choices, the sleeve of a beautiful dress in her closet caught my eye.
“This is fire! Why don’t you wear this dress with these shoes and necklace? You would kill the game.” I took the dress out of her closet and placed it across her bed, knowing that she would agree to how amazing of a choice it was.
“Girl, put that back. You know how bad it would look for me, an actual African, to wear all of this together? That dress is only for super special occasions.”
It only took that little moment for me to remember that I knew nothing about African culture or traditions. She definitely didn’t mean to make me feel that way, but did take that moment as a chance to educate me.
There have been several times throughout my life that I’ve become aware of the distinction between Africans and African Americans, but there were only a few times that I have had to head-on address the fact that we are culturally different.
I decided to play it safe by not rocking some African print that could have a meaning that I didn’t intend to the premiere of Black Panther. Plus, I honestly got too lazy to dress up anyways.
While I opted to wear my Wakanda Homecoming tee with a printed head wrap, I saw my friends on Instagram had shopped their closets or the closets of their family members to create these vibrant, colorful head-to-toe ensembles. I loved seeing them make the most out of the premiere and I definitely feel like I did the same in my own way.
Now in the theater, about a quarter into the movie, we are introduced to Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the villain of the story. The moment you see him, you know that you are supposed to hate him. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder that he displays through destruction.
When Killmonger finally arrives to Wakanda, I remember getting a feeling in the pit of my stomach, as it was just revealed that he was actually a Wakandan living as a second-generation immigrant in America. I felt conflicted knowing that his father, N’Jobu was sent to America as a Wakandan spy and that T’Chaka left Killmonger by himself in America after murdering his father.
I walked into the theater prepared to hate Killmonger because everything in the comic books portrayed him as a traitor to Wakanda; however, I left feeling more connected to his narrative than to anyone else’s in Wakanda.
Was Wakanda actually a traitor to him?
When Killmonger came to challenge for the title of Black Panther, there were arguments of whether or not he was an outsider or if it was his birthright to have a chance at the throne. He was almost seen as much as a threat as a colonizer, even before the wrath of his rage was displayed.
Even when he did eventually take the throne, Wakanda was never truly his and never could be.
He could never reclaim all of the culture that he was never exposed to growing up in lower class America. He would never be able to relate to the importance of the traditions that kept Wakanda standing. Even during his vision sleep while becoming a Black Panther, he was transported back to his old apartment in America.
As he burned Wakanda to the ground, all that I could focus on was the pain in his eyes as opposed to the evil joy you typically see in an antagonist. His final words when he ultimately met his demise stayed with me days after I left the theater.
Killmonger was royalty tainted by the demons of American colonialism. He became a culture orphan. By the time he reached the throne of his birthright, the demons seem to have taken over.
I know that many Black Americans feel like culture orphans and in a sense, we are. No matter how many countries in Africa my DNA test says my ancestors are from, I know that I can never claim Africa. I can move there, raise my family there, hold positions of power there, but would still be tainted by American colonialism in the way that I think, the way that I speak and in my beliefs through experience.
If you are a Black American and are feeling a similar way after watching Black Panther, remember that this is a moment in history that should be celebrated forever.
While it can be hard to swallow that a Black American is the villain in your new favorite movie, the distinction between Africans and African Americans is a necessary conversation that we are now finally having. Recall that before pride for African culture became a trend, the shoe was on the other foot.