This Is Why Black Panther Is Such A Big Deal

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 
Sa'iyda Shabazz

Let me start by saying that I am not a comic book person. I’ve never actually read one, and I can count the amount of Marvel superhero movies I’ve seen on one hand. I understand the appeal, but it’s just never been my thing.

But when I found out about Black Panther, I knew it was something I was going to see. The world has never seen a black superhero of this caliber before, and it wasn’t until I saw the first trailer that I fully understood just how big this movie was going to be. Not just for me personally, but for all of the black kids in the world who love superheroes. Who knows, maybe if Black Panther had existed when I was a kid, I would be more into superheroes now as an adult.

Black Panther is a celebration of blackness that we just don’t see in films, especially not superhero films. It is about a nation of black people who are proud of where they’re from, and willing to protect their homeland at any cost. Wakanda is the most powerful country in the world, despite presenting themselves as “third world,” because they know if white, Anglicized people get their hands on Wakandan resources, it’s over.

Wakanda is the realization and reclamation of blackness. In Wakanda, you can be as black as you want, and no one is ever going to kill you for it.

The timing of this film couldn’t be better. When we’re being told that, as black people, we don’t have a right to exist, T’Challah is the superhero black kids need. Heck, the superhero we all need.

A black man is king of the most powerful nation of the world, and arguably the most powerful and indestructible of all the Marvel superheroes. What a refreshing change in narrative from the news, where black boys and men are portrayed as thugs and criminals and slaughtered at the hands of white police officers.

He’s also the embodiment of the shift we need to see in masculinity — he acknowledges his vulnerabilities and uncertainty about his place in the world, and in spite of being secure in his masculinity, he doesn’t flex it in everyone’s face. He is thoughtful, caring, and a little insecure. Even though he is a powerful superhero, he is still very much human. He is proud of his heritage and his homeland, but he has to figure out how he, as a man, fits into it all.

T’Challah may be the Black Panther, but let’s be honest, the true heroes of the film are the powerful women. T’Challah is protected by the Dora Milaje, a troupe of powerful, kick ass women. And these women are incredible. They fight with spears, they’re bald, and they’re in charge. Okoye, the general, protects his life and her country with so much fierceness you will be absolutely slack jawed every single time she’s on screen.

By the end of the film, I wanted to shave my head so maybe I could begin to feel as fierce as Okoye. If seeing a dark-skinned black woman with that kind of power is transformative for me as a 30-something woman, I can’t begin to imagine what it would have been like for me to see her when I was ten years old.

Then there’s Nakia. Sure, she’s T’Challah’s ex, but she’s so much more than that. She is a strong, independent, fierce as fuck warrior. Her beliefs of social and economic justice are strong, but her ties to home are just as strong. She knows that Wakanda has the potential to be something even bigger than it is, and she is determined to get T’Challah to agree with her. She makes it clear that she doesn’t need him or their relationship to fulfill her, because she has a bigger plan in play. She never once compromises her beliefs.

But the real MVP of Black Panther is Shuri, T’Challah’s baby sister. She is the brains behind the extensive technology in Wakanda. Seriously, the stuff she has come up with will have you saying “Tony Stark? Who dat?” She is funny, she is sarcastic, she is effervescent, and she’s a fucking genius. Like, seriously, she saves the fucking day, and her brother would get his ass handed to him if it weren’t for her and her genius brain.

Shuri is proof that black women belong in STEM, and hopefully seeing her not only as literally the smartest character in the entire Marvel universe, but also one of the most kickass, will encourage little girls to follow in her footsteps. I want to be like her when I grow up, and the character is only sixteen.

After I saw the film, I ended up behind a group of black kids who had gone to see the film with their moms. They ranged in age from about fourteen to one year old, but I was most fascinated with the girls. They had come outfitted in beautiful tribal prints and spent fifteen minutes posing for Boomerang videos of themselves mimicking the tribal pose from the film. Their eyes were filled with power and ferocity, and I was awed by the power they were exuding. These young girls got to witness some serious black girl magic for two solid hours on a big screen — something that definitely didn’t exist back when I was their age.

We’re living in troubling times, and time and again teens are the ones showing up to teach us adults what’s up and how to get it done. These girls already knew their power, not just as women, but as black women. Even the nine-year-old girl knew she was worthy of greatness.

THIS is what we need more of. This is why so many people are raising money for black kids to go see Black Panther. Representation matters, and black kids need to see more movies where people who look like them are the people in positions of power, where the white people are the villians and the tokens and the comic relief. After years of being fed Captain America, Iron Man and Spiderman, it’s important to realize that black people are their own saviors. Yes, I know Black Panther fights alongside them, but he doesn’t need them to save him or his country. He is all Wakanda needs. He is not just their token; he is their equal.

Now, black kids have superheroes who look like them that they can dress up as for Halloween, wearing the clothing of their ancestors.

It’s important for white audiences to see, too, so that they understand that we’re more than just a stereotype. We all need to see that blackness can be celebrated, and that we are bigger than the sum of our parts.

Young girls need to know that they harness all the power in the world, and that they can be the true heroes in the story.

Boys need to see that they aren’t just “thugs;” they can be the most powerful man in the world, and yet, still remain true to their feelings.

Black kids, and subsequently, adults, need to see that we matter, that we can contribute something beautiful and powerful to the world. They need to see faces like theirs plastered across billboards, on T-shirts and have action figures to play with. They need to realize that they have power to create something amazing.

Black Panther is the beginning of a shift in the narrative of what it means to be black in this world. And if this is the beginning, then the future looks bright.

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