Black Panther and the Dialectics of Modern Black Life: A Disappointing Mirage

A friend of mine tells me this resembles the Wakanda greeting

There is only one plausible explanation for the shooting of an unarmed man in the back by a law enforcement officer while said unarmed man runs away from said law enforcement officer. Considering the multiplicity of such occurrences and the repeated claims that these officers react so drastically because they fear for their lives further bolsters the reasoning behind this explanation. It must be concluded that black men in the United States of America have superhuman powers; because the only reason to fear an unarmed man is that there is a possibility that s/he can disintegrate you to ashes with their killer Cyclops-like stare or cause lightning to electrocute you to death as X-Woman Storm can. Maybe the officers think that like Magneto s/he will mangle their guns into useless metal balls by sheer mind-will, leaving them defenceless to death by mangled-metal-mass-embedded-into-brain-ification if they do not shoot fast enough? Or worse still the supposed assailant can take over their minds like Jean and cause them to turn their guns on themselves.

This is where the recently-released movie, Black Panther (BP), enters the discourse. As I write this, I have not seen the movie – not from a lack of effort on my part I must emphasise. I also refuse to discuss it with anyone who has as I still hold out hope that I will see it one day and would like to form my unbiased opinion about it. However, based on my gatherings form the massive social media outpour and snippets caught from a variety of conversations, I can imagine the hypothetical light bulb going off above the heads of many a scholar worldwide. This is glorious academic fodder I tell you. Thank you, Marvel Studios. I can imagine the Film Studies postdoctoral fellow booting up her MacBook Air to write a proposal to her supervising professor, and the flash of inspiration in the mind of the African History undergrad previously agonising over a thesis subject. And, there is me who literally (and I specifically mean ‘not figuratively’) dreamt up this piece. That is, I, while sleeping, dreamt the title and content of this piece the night after my last failed attempt to see the movie.  Before I go on, I must state that this is, of course, an oversimplified and ill-informed treatise on these matters considering that I 1) am not an academic in the strict sense of the word; 2) have never lived in the US, my blackness is of the pure African kind and I cannot wholly identify with racial discrimination as is in the US (excuse my use of ‘we’ on occasion) and 3) have not seen the movie. So, please bear with me.

Now, back to BP. There is a black dude who has superpowers of some kind. Remember I still do not know the specifics of this power. He must be the embodiment of all things white US police officers fear, right (see paragraph 1)? He can possibly exterminate them all with a glance, fly, kickbox and other cool stuff like Superman can. Here is hoping his superhero-ness is not of the Batman-who-only-has-fancy-gadgets breed. I would surmise that white police officers did not go to see this movie. It would be like an arachnophobe going to watch Spider-Man. Or Tarantula. Two hours of living in your worst nightmare immersive as 3-D movies can be.

Any-hoo, let’s step out of Caucasian police officer boots for a moment and into the heart and soul of African-Americanism. Finally, a black superhero. Finally, badass melanin-saturated men and women kicking butt all over the place. Finally. We love Storm and Halle, but her token-ism in X-Men does not come close to the sheer blackness of BP. Oh, joy. The dynamics are so weird and warped in the most ironic sense: the po-po (as referenced in numerous Hollywood movies) be thinking that blacks had super powers all along, while blacks be rejoicing that they are finally empowered, if not physically, on-screen is good for now. What changes? Nothing. Oh, and the real-life Wakandas? Umm… not nearly as technologically advanced. Nonetheless, perhaps this is the power of film – to help coax reality into matching up with fantasy by illustrating what could be. Furthermore, its role might be even more subtle than that. Perhaps the chain of change consists of much smaller links than I imagine. I cannot say, but it would be a delight to get some real water in this desert.

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