I was a bit late to the Marvel’s Black Panther party. Well the actual movie, I viewed the trailer a year ago and I was immediately in love. So I waited for months and then after it was released I had to wait a while to travel across the border to see it in South Africa. Anyway I had read the reviews, seen the social media hype and I was pretty much excited, perhaps too excited.
As was promised, the men were hot, black men! You are hot. I watched the movie with all the excitement of a toddler and it wasn’t until it was near the ending that I realized I hated Black Panther. There was a white guy saving the day where I was promised a black superhero. For me, and I want to believe millions of black people around the globe, T’challar was what we had been waiting for. We had finally made it. A black superhero had a movie of his very own and we could one day show it to our children to prove that we could save ourselves and did not need a white messiah. But there he was, a white man and that is when I realized we do not have a black superhero yet.
For those who have not seen the movie, I will attempt a summary. T’challar, aka Black Panther, is the new king of the fictional country of Wakanda, ascending the throne after the death of his father. Wakanda has survived without colonialism or foreign aid largely thanks to vibranium, a metal that seems capable of protection and great technological advances. All in all, Wakanda is a perfect haven. They hide their true power from the world and masquerade as a typical third world country.
Now, the nemises is Killmonger, King T’challar’s long lost cousin who wants to ascend the throne and use Wakanda’s vibranium to save all black people from the effects of slavery and all the social ills currently facing black people around the globe. And so starts the bitter fighting that ends with T’challar back on his throne and Wakanda not helping, although at the end they plan on sharing information but still.
See that is the problem, white superheroes get to be superheroes by helping all and sundry, they help people they do not know and are motivated by justice above all else. White superheroes do not turn a blind eye, they are heroic. King T’challar of Wakanda is by no stretch of the imagination a superhero, despite being told first by his love interest that many are suffering across the world, his kind even he chooses to do nothing but hide behind his fortress of vibranium. He fights and kills a cousin who wants to help. He is the superhero that white people want. A powerful black who will do nothing to disrupt the status quo. T’challar is like many other educated and powerful blacks.
When Boko Haram kidnapped girls in Chibok, we looked to the Americans to help. Zimbabweans have been suffering for a while and the powers that be in Africa hide behind laws and statutes as to why they cannot help. Our SADC and African Union never really do anything except hold talks and spend money. Africa looks for a white superhero so perhaps it is not at all that surprising that even our black superheroes need the aid of a white man to get things done.
In that cinema, I got a glimpse of how white owned cinematic powers viewed us and I was angry at them. But thinking about it, I had nothing to be angry about. We have black actors, black writers, directors and black funders and a black audience that would consume a truly black superhero movie but we are not making them because we are waiting for white people to give us what we want. Then we get mad when he gives us a story that suits his ideal. I had no right to be angry; I suppose that is why many felt grateful for the movie, perhaps it was all we deserved since we do not want to tell our own stories.
Marvel’s Black Panther is not the black superhero that I want my children to emulate. We still need a black superhero.