I want to live in Wakanda

Black Panther fed my spirit.

I’ve always enjoyed superhero stories. I love science fiction and fantasy, and comic books almost always contain a little bit of both. I’ll admit that before the movie came out, I didn’t know much about Black Panther other than the fact that he existed. I watched the miniseries back in 2010, but that was it.

As you can see, the production value is decidedly subpar. But the story was good and the voice talent (Djimon Hounsou, Jill Scott, Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard) was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but promptly forgot it existed as I had no real expectation of ever seeing  a live action version. I watched Blade but never really got into it. Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men movies was a disappointment, Halle Berry as Catwoman was an even bigger disappointment. Don Cheadle was good as War Machine but he was still a sidekick. It was a feel good moment, but not one that made me run to theater.

Then Chadwick Boseman showed up as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, and Marvel announced a Black Panther movie and I was excited. As casting news kept trickling out, I got even more hyped up. My brother (an OG comics nerd) has watched all the #BlackPantherSoLit and #InWakanda feverishness with a detached skepticism. I’m a skeptic too, but I couldn’t suppress my inner child on this one.  We went from a low budget cartoon on BET to this:

I GLADLY bought my opening weekend movie ticket almost two months beforehand.

*******SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON********

Black Panther was EVERYTHING. It felt so good to watch a movie where black people and black problems and black culture were the focus, and not an afterthought. The production was loving and thorough, as each Wakandan tribe incorporated references to actual African cultural clothing, hairstyles, and rituals.

Best of all, the women were the black women I know in my own life–fierce, sexy, competent, multifaceted. Wakanda’s elite fighting force is all female. They rock bald heads and armor but still retain their femininity. Their general had a black male lover who respected her. T’Challa was in love with a covert operative who wants to serve not only Wakanda, but disenfranchised people all over the world–and we catch her in the middle of a mission to save African women from being sold into the sex trade. And all four of the women featured in the main cast are brown to dark skinned. It just felt so good to see women of my complexion being both objects of affection and trusted advisors to royalty.

T’Challa flanked by his love interest Nakia, on the left, and general Okoye, on the right.

So often the token black person in media is lightskinned; recently, more and more often they also look mixed and/or racially ambiguous. Kill all the diversity birds with one stone, as it were. But Black Panther is different. Because Wakanda is an African country untouched by colonizers, the Wakandans are overwhelmingly dark skinned–with natural hair! I’ve honestly never seen this in a movie that wasn’t about slavery. Wakanda is the Africa that exists in every black American’s mind, a myth of what could have been if slavery had never happened.

Lupe Fiasco captured this feeling in the track “All Black Everything” on his Lasers album. It’s one of my favorite songs of his, but it makes me feel so emotional that I can’t just listen to it at any old time. The first time I heard it, I felt chills down my spine and tears pricked my eyes. I’m an African American descendant of slaves; I’ve actually seen my ancestor’s burial grounds and the record that reduces his life to a mark on a tally sheet and a  comment  in the margins that “He was a good slave”. I am also descended from the Muscogee/Creek Indian tribe, a tribe whose remnants exist mostly on a reservation in Oklahoma.

But Black Panther takes us a step beyond the color blind utopia that Lupe imagined, into a world where Blackness is, at least in one corner of the world, undefeated. It’s supreme, even, and because the Wakandans were  more concerned with pursuing excellence than being conquerors, no one else had to be oppressed in order for them to thrive. However, their choice to remain isolated means that the rest of history still unfolded as we know it. Could a small but technologically advanced country have defeated colonization on the African continent, creating a unity of nations so powerful that it stopped slavery long before the Civil War? We don’t know. But Erik Killmonger’s (righteous) anger at Wakanda stems from a feeling of abandonment, that Wakanda was strong enough to help its brothers and sisters in the diaspora and chose to turn away instead.

Killmonger was a powerful villain because in him, I recognized the same anger I feel whenever another black person is gunned down by the police, or gets a sentence three times harsher than the one given to the white person who committed the same crime. I feel that anger when I hear rhetoric about welfare queens and entitlement mentalities. To keep it 100% real, I felt that anger when I heard Africans complaining about black people wearing kente cloth and dashikis to the movie theater. My roots are lost to me. Ancestry.com can tell me I’m from Nigeria and most likely of the Yoruba tribe. But I don’t have a cousin whose house I can stay at. I don’t know what village I’m from. And anti-American sentiments are widespread enough in Africa that I wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed if I went exploring to find out.

The conflict between Killmonger and T’Challa is one that every African-American descendant of slaves faces. Do we fight and live  solely to protect ourselves and our families from the dangerous forces of white supremacy? Or do we share our resources in order to preserve Blackness across the country and across the world? It’s a hard choice, especially so because white supremacy is so vicious and the resources that we have are not nearly as much or as organized as Wakanda. We don’t have vibranium weapons to ship to the hood, or a superpowered king who can bring in allies from the United Nations. We all we got.

Even though Black Panther grappled with some heavy questions, I left the theater feeling lighter spiritually. For a couple of hours, I was in Wakanda; and there at least, black people would get a happy ending.

WAKANDA FOREVER.

In Defense of Millenials

I love to see a good anti-millenial article. It makes me chuckle. Why? Because all this concern trolling intentionally ignores the fact that the world is fundamentally different than it was when our parents were our age. Like, 180 degrees type different. If I had graduated from law school in the 90s, I could have easily landed a $60k/yr job with full benefits at a local firm (BEFORE passing the bar) and that would have been considered mediocre. These days you’re ecstatic to get $40k/yr. And if you can get $50/mo on your health insurance premium and two weeks PAID vacation? Ballin’!

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So in defense of my generation, today I’ll be cheerfully dismantling some of the vicious lies spread about us. All aboard the Snark Express!

 

1. Millenials are responsible for stores being open on Thanksgiving day because they’re “more than happy to leave the dinner and go shopping.” Well, when you’re already living with your parents, Thanksgiving is just another Thursday! The turkey’s gonna last a week and we can DVR the football game. We definitely can’t afford a house and the new smart tv only goes on sale once a year. Fiscal responsibility FTW!

2. Millenials are destroying brands like McDonalds and Coke. When you can’t afford health insurance, you realize pretty quickly that your health is your greatest asset- and maintaining it means staying away from the things that you know for a fact are going to kill you. Coke? Nah, we’ll have the water without the side of stomach ulcer. McDonalds? We’ll save our dollars for Chipotle- at least their meat is 100% actual meat. *shudder*

3. Millenials are failures at dating and don’t know how to love.  Ha! Money can’t buy you love, but it sho nuff pays the bills. Between grad school, our unpaid internship, our minimum wage part time job, and our side hustle, who has the time (or disposable income) to date anymore? Sex is free and we can squeeze it in between class and updating our resumes. Besides, if the Greatest Generation had Tinder back in those days, they wouldn’t have bothered with dinner dates either. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

4. Millenials don’t know basic skills like sewing. I’ll take that L. The only thing I can do with a needle and thread is stitch a hole and put a button on. It would be nice to be able to make an outfit from scratch, but when you can just pick up a $12 shirt and $25 pair of jeans from Old Navy…why bother? Besides, these skills were usually taught in classes like Home Economics, which are getting cut all the time to make room for more standardized test cramming. Knowing how to make  Rice Krispies treats and wool socks isn’t going to get us into college.

5. Millenials are to blame for Hollywood’s excessive mining of nostalgia to sell movie tickets. When you’re thousands of dollars in student loan debt and can only afford an apartment by living with 3 roommates, you tend to take comfort in your childhood pastimes. Since our childhood memories are wrapped up in media that is still readily available, we can and do indulge frequently. The emergence of social media also means that our media consumption habits are amplified and easily quantified by the Hollywood brass. Sorry we’re not sorry! #TeamAutobot

6. Millenials are lazy and taking too long to grow up. Ah, the catchall indictment of 20-somethings. The great irony is that not a single one of us is really excited to be living the struggle life. I for one would love to have the funds to put down $10k on a house. I look forward to the day when I make $300,000/yr and don’t have to rely on a tax refund to pad my savings account. Unfortunately, the business world simply can’t (or won’t) support the influx of young, educated people at a wage where we can achieve complete financial independence. Sure, many of us are entrepreneurial- but it usually takes 3 years for a business to turn a profit. In the meantime, our choices are a) hit up mom and dad; b) sell drugs or get on the pole; or c) give up and live in a box on the sidewalk.

All humor aside, any rational adult should be able to realize that millenials are just trying to make it. There were plenty of self-involved Boomers, they just weren’t visible on the same scale that we are. The only reason many of us seem “entitled” is that we know for a fact we’ve worked harder than previous generations and have zero to show for it. Think about it: high school math now goes through calculus; the SAT has an extra section;  many of us had to pass a standardized test just to graduate high school; college admissions are more selective than ever; and we’re competing for jobs with people who will work for pennies overseas. Expensive cars and home ownership are out of reach, so why not buy the new iPhone? Until the government intervenes in a big way- like forgiving some (or all) of our student loans, subsidizing mortgages for folks with advanced degrees and low incomes, or making corporate America funnel some of that bailout money into entry- and mid-level jobs that require professional skills- we’ll just have to muddle through as best we can. And instead of crying about it, we’ll smile- and take a selfie.