We joined our friends Fangirlish for a roundtable to share all our Black Panther feels…and there are many!
By now, the whole world knows that Black Panther is EVERYTHING. Certainly, it has all the elements we’ve come to cherish about Marvel’s big-budget, hyper-action, superhero flicks. From beginning to end, Black Panther is a sensation. But I think what makes this film extra special is, in a time where we’re engaged in public discourse about inclusion in media and politics, Black Panther is a brilliant, shining star. The film makes very nuanced contributions to conversations about power and neocolonialism, Black identity and Pan-Africanism, Womanism and intersectionality, plus more. Basically, I couldn’t get enough and I’m hella grateful to Fangirlish for putting together this roundtable to break down all the ways Black Panther gave us life! WAKANDA FOREVER!
Team Fangirlish came up with the awesome questions, which I’ve included below along with my responses and Lyra’s (Fangirlish) and Lizzie’s (Fangirlish) contributions. The full roundtable post includes a total of five contributors, so definitely check it out HERE.
1. Use a gif to describe how you felt after watching Black Panther.
2. Why is Black Panther so important? To you? To children who are first seeing themselves on screen? To a community underrepresented in media?
Funmbi: REPRESENTATION MATTERS. I was born in Nigeria, but have spent the majority of my life living in the U.S. As such, I’ve always felt an odd positionality. My connection back to the continent is explicit; however, I’m very much part of the Black diaspora. I’m African-American, but not necessarily in the same ways as those descended from Africans kidnapped from the continent and forcibly trafficked to the U.S. I’ve always wrestled with these parts of my identity and various tensions with family and friends. And then BLACK PANTHER! In this film, Coogler and his team have woven together a story that’s unapologetically Black in all it’s fabulous variations. To be Black is to be beautiful, brilliant, strong, compassionate, and resilient. This film is a celebration of all these things. At the same time, many of the debates and anxieties within the Pan-African community are reflected on-screen, as we see T’Challa, Killmonger, and others wrestle with what it means to be Wakandan and the extent to which they “owe” assistance to Blacks/Africans across the globe. I’m so grateful for BLACK PANTHER for these heartfelt portrayals that truly resonate with my experiences. I’m grateful for BLACK PANTHER for it’s message of hope, that whether on the continent or in the diaspora, we are connected and, together, we can change the world for the better. I’m grateful for BLACK PANTHER because young people are treated to this message of the truth of their beauty and potential. I’m grateful for BLACK PANTHER for demonstrating that the Black/African story is the human story. REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
Lyra: Black Panther is important because every single kid deserves to know that they can reach unimaginable heights and succeed. It’s important because these young kids are going to grow up different from how we did. They’ll have that superhero in the back of their minds that defeated the bad guy, saved the day, and came out stronger for it. It’s a symbol of changing times and a Hollywood that understands that those who consume their media aren’t looking for another white superhero. We’re looking for diversity and we’re ready to put our money down for it. So give us more movies like Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and A Wrinkle in Time. We now understand what it looks and feels like to see different people represented on TV and in movies and WE WANT MORE!
Lizzie: It’s so important because, first of all, it sent a message that diversity does sell, that people are tired of the same white protagonists telling the same story, but also because it flies in the face of stereotypes that the community has had to put up for so long, and as silly as it sometimes seems to say that we need positive portrayals in media to change people’s minds, it helps, it really does and above all of that, it just feels so freaking good to see someone that looks like you on screen, and we should all have that.
3. T’Challa had the weight of his kingdom, powers, and the outside world, on his shoulders. Why and how did he ultimately succeed?
Funmbi: For me, T’Challa is the highlight of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR. And though there’s only a week between the events of CIVIL WAR and BLACK PANTHER, it seems to me that BP-T’Challa is vastly different from CW-T’Challa. In CIVIL WAR, T’Challa (perhaps overwhelmed with grief) is hell-bent on avenging his father’s murder, but by the end of the film, finds his way towards mercy. And it’s this thoughtful and merciful T’Challa who returns to Wakanda. He wants to do right by his people, but he also wants to do right by the kings who have come before him. To me, that legacy and the “Wakanda first” isolationism are what weigh T’Challa down. But it’s Nakia and Shuri and Okoye and Ramonda, these gifted woman, who guide T’Challa to other possibilities. T’Challa’s willingness to listen to these women allows him to strike a balance between protecting all the things that make Wakanda special, while recognizing that changing with the times provides opportunities to forge new paths that strengthen Wakanda and her allies across the world.
Lyra: T’Challa ultimately succeeded because he knew he had a powerful team supporting him every step of the way. He wasn’t alone in this and the fact that he knew that made everything easier to handle. And it was quite refreshing seeing a superhero that wasn’t trying to take everything on by himself. If he can ask for help then why can’t I? We don’t do this alone. Never. And if there’s anything that you take away from Black Panther it’s that lesson right there.
Lizzie: Because he listened, I think. Because he didn’t think his truth was the only truth in the universe. Because he wanted what was best for his people, even if the best wasn’t him. He cared enough to put his ego aside and try to be fair. And ultimately, because of that, because he cared, he really did, not just about individuals, but about Wakanda. That’s why he was fighting so hard.
4. The women of Black Panther were powerhouses who led change and defended their nation no matter what. Who was your favorite female warrior? What does it mean for Wakanda that women are the warriors, spies, and creators?
Funmbi: Nakia and Okoye are my homegirls, but COME TO ME SHURI! Shuri is who my 16-year old self wishes she could be. Hell, as a 33-year old, Shuri is my shero! Letitia Wright has done such a good job of bringing the character’s multiple, fierce facets to the screen. First, Shuri is a little sister–she’s quirky and a little annoying at times, but when it’s all said and done, she loves her big brother and has his back, no matter what. Shuri uses her scientific intellect to serve her country and also to make sure her brother is able to carry out his missions and safely return home. And when the time comes, Shuri is ready to grab a weapon and enter the fray to defend Wakanda and the people she loves. Despite being a patriarchal society (in that the kingship is passed from father to son), Wakanda’s very backbone is its women. Wakanda’s women are her defenders, her leaders, her innovators, and much more. It’s glorious to see Black women front and center on-screen, as we certainly are in our own communities in real life.
Lyra: OKOYYYYYE! I KNOW THIS IS WEIRD AND YOU WON’T UNDERSTAND IF YOU’RE NOT A FANGIRL, BUT…I WILL SAVE MYSELF FOR OKOYE AND DEDICATE MYSELF TO HER EVERY TEACHING! *deep breath* Now that this fangirl moment is over let’s talk the women of Wakanda. Okoye is my favorite, hands down, but it’s amazing that I didn’t have to pick a favorite and I knew it while watching this movie. They didn’t just separate the women into the boring categories of “lover, friend, fuck, family, etc.” The women of Wakanda don’t have time for those silly and simplistic views of women. They’ve got a nation to protect, ass that needs to be kicked, and white boy colonizers that need to be healed with their amazing technological marvels. These women are an example to little girls that you don’t have to fit into anyone’s little box. You can multifaceted, weird, funny, and so damn brilliant that you put Tony Stark to shame. You can be anything you want and there’s no stopping you, especially when you have a group of like minded women behind you!
Lizzie: I CAN’T PICK ONE. I just can’t. I loved them all, so much. But since there are questions about the other two, I want to focus specifically on Okoye and how it felt to see her not just kick ass, but kick more ass than anyone in this movie, T’Challa included. It made my heart soar and tears come to my eyes more than once. Being a strong woman is so often reduced to enduring pain or things like that and Okoye just obliterated all those stereotypes. She gets to be a “strong” woman in the actual physical sense of the word, and she does that not because she’s physically imposing, but because she’s trained her ass off to get there.
5. Nakia wasn’t just T’Challa’s love interest. She was a warrior, a leader, and a woman who wanted to help those who needed it. How important is it that Black Panther chose to take this route with Nakia?
Funmbi: love that the first time we meet Nakia, it’s while she’s undercover in Nigeria, working to save women and child soldiers who have been kidnapped by insurgents. In this scene, we see that Nakia is T’Challa’s equal in every single way. She’s strong and willing to put herself on the line to do what’s right. Nakia is very much her own woman with her own journey to take. In BLACK PANTHER we see her reconcile her love of Wakanda (and T’Challa) with her calling to make a difference in the world. (Please keep in mind, Nakia is the FIRST PERSON to call for Wakanda to end her isolation and share her technology, resources, and influence to help the world’s vulnerable.) It knocks me off my feet to think about how T’Challa is so nervous the first time he sees Nakia again. He’s so in awe of her. He’s so in love with her. Together, T’Challa and Nakia will make Wakanda even stronger and save the world. I believe that.
Lyra: It was important to make Nakia a warrior, a leader, and a woman who wanted to help those who needed it…not because T’Challa “needed” a strong partner in life. It was important to take this route with Nakia because WOMEN ARE THIS MULTIFACETED AND IT’S TIME THE WORLD KNEW IT! She wasn’t defined by T’Challa and she didn’t have to give up her dreams and aspirations for him. This woman was doing things to the beat of her own drum and she didn’t care who knew it or if T’Challa didn’t like it. It’s independence, it’s breaking those chains that have tied female love interests to the men in their lives. AND IT’S SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL! Because of how they wrote Nakia, because of the fire and passion in her to do what was right no matter what, I and probably T’Challa too, have come to respect her and would be honored to have her as a partner in my life.
Lizzie: I think it made the love story all the more powerful, because it wasn’t just about their love, and the drama between them wasn’t some silly drama, it was something real and profound, that didn’t, in any way, affect their feelings for each other. I also truly appreciated that they made Nakia her own woman, and that she had a journey of her own to take in this movie, and that she could come to realize that she could achieve what she wanted and be the person she wanted by T’Challa’s side, that she didn’t need to be alone to do it.
6. Use a gif to describe how you felt when Okoye snatched her own weave and used it as a weapon.
7. Erik Killmonger was the kind of villain you want in your movie, tragic in the way that he became who he is today, and ultimately longing to be accepted. What did you think of Killmonger and motivations to rule Wakanda?
Funmbi: *SIGH* KILLMONGER. So, I read this fantastic thinkpiece, “The Tragedy of Erik Killmonger” and, for me, Adam Serwer hits the nail on the head. Yes, Killmonger has legitimate grievances against Wakanda and legitimate goals. T’Chaka should not have killed N’Jobu… at the very least, he shouldn’t have left Erik to fend for himself. Erik’s abandonment is indicative of his larger resentment: that Wakanda would have the ability to liberate oppressed Black people around the world, but instead chooses to keep those resources so Wakanda alone thrives. Once Killmonger arrives in Wakanda, he immediately initiates his plan to seize authority and turn Wakanda’s resources to pursue Black liberation worldwide. Killmonger is very much “by any means necessary.” Kill Klaue, kill Zuri, kill T’Challa, burn all the Heart-Shaped Herb plants, kill the Dora Milaje, kill Nakia, kill Shuri. Nothing is off limits, including replicating the processes and institutions of the White colonizers. But as Serwer says: “Black Panther does not render a verdict that violence is an unacceptable tool of black liberation—to the contrary, that is precisely how Wakanda is liberated. It renders a verdict on imperialism as a tool of black liberation, to say that the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.” The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house!!!!!!!!! And so, while I sympathize with Killmonger’s cause and I didn’t want him to die, I can’t get behind his eye-for-an-eye imperialism and hyper-violence towards Black women (even his own girlfriend!). If Killmonger’s plan succeeded, I totally believe we would all be worse off. However, I have to acknowledge that Killmonger AND NAKIA (!!!) are the catalysts for change, whereby Wakanda turns outward, to Oakland and wherever there are those in need.
(*SIDENOTE* I didn’t even know that Sterling K. Brown was in BLACK PANTHER until hours before I watched the movie, but he was so brilliant and heartbreaking as N’Jobu. My sympathies and criticism about Killmonger definitely apply to his dad, too.)
Lyra: I’m gonna be honest with you…at first I thought Killmonger was just any other villain. No one loved me so I’m gonna go and destroy these peeps. Same ol’ same ol’. That was me during the first part of the movie. Also, Killmonger is HOT AF and I’m having problems not rooting for him. All very valid feelings, really. Ok, let’s talk the second part of the movie after the revelations were made and you found out what he was trying to do. All I could feel then was…pity and almost like we failed him. There are probably thousands of little boys and girls who have had their families torn away from them like Killmonger did, minus the tales about Wakanda and going back home to it. And those kids, those lonely kids, have no one to help them, to guide them, in a world that’s constantly looking down on them. It makes it so I can’t really blame them for when they twist themselves up and turn out like men like Killmonger. They were set to fail from day one and it leaves me wondering what we can do as a people to help kids from falling like Erik did. Because everything he did, his motivations to rule Wakanda, were to make it so no other kid had to go what he had to. And I can’t really blame him for wanting to save someone from the pain he had to endure.
Lizzie: I think Killmonger might be the best Marvel villain to date, or at least, he comes close, not only because his background makes him feel kinda of justified, in a way – which Loki also had – but because his ultimate goal is not a bad one, even if the means he uses to achieve it are. So, there were moments where I actually thought, well, what’s so bad about what he’s saying? Isn’t it what T’Challa ended up doing in the end? Except it isn’t, and Killmonger wasn’t doing it because of the goodness of his heart, he was doing it out of anger and a need for revenge, and that’s what makes him a villain, and yet what makes him so relatable.
8. Being the lil’ sister of Black Panther didn’t sideline Shuri or make her story any less compelling. She was the smartest Wakandan and led a technological revolution. How did you feel about her character? Do you relate to her relationship with her brother?
Funmbi: I’ve already shared all my Shuri feels above, but I’ll never pass up and opportunity to flail all over my homegirl/little sister. I’ll just mention one of my most favorite scenes–Ross has woken up after recovering from a gunshot wound and is stumbling around Shuri’s lab. He creeps up on Shuri and she startles: “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” I. DIED. Oh goodness, that line still has me cackling, and it reflects everything I love about Shuri–her wit, humor, brutal honesty (because Wakandans will always find White people to be suspect), and intellect (after all, her tech saves Ross!).
Lyra: Shuri being a young woman of color at the head of the technological revolution of Wakanda…I need a moment *deep breath*…IT’S BEAUTIFULLLLLLL! First of all, there aren’t enough women in STEM fields and here you have this smart AF and funny AF young woman, creating marvelous things that will change the world. It’s groundbreaking and makes me want to see her come up against Tony Stark to see the snark explosion that occurs! It’s compelling and I hope young women see her as a shining example of what happens if you follow your dreams and enter STEM fields. You might not be the technological powerhouse of Wakanda but you can lead change and create. And that’s amazing in itself!
The fact that this movie spent extra time showing the playful side of having a sibling…SOLD MEEEEE in the first quarter of the movie. You have to respect a movie that takes time to put some love into a relationship like this. It makes the movie more relatable and hooks you with a tale of siblings, something most of us know all about.
Lizzie: I have a hard time picking a favorite between the women, but I felt very connected to Shuri, not just because she was smart – and I believe she could run circles around Tony Stark – but because she wasn’t treated as just a silly kid with a hobby. Everyone recognized how smart she was, she got the tools to work and do wonderful things and then, when she did them, no one was like, they were made by a girl, and a teenager at that! No, everyone was like cool Shuri, you’re awesome, what else can you do? And that, again, speaks to how well balanced the picture is and to the kind of society Wakanda was able to build.
Also, her relationship with T’Challa was adorable, and needed, because so often POC only get stories about violence and broken families and it’s so important to show this loving relationship because, as silly as it sounds, we need the good examples.
9. What do the two cut scenes at the end of Black Panther tell you about what’s coming next for the people of Wakanda and Avengers: Infinity War?
Funmbi: Remember in the first post-credit scene where T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye are at the United Nations? T’Challa shares that Wakanda is ready to open up and one White ambassador in the audience is like “What does a poor African country have to offer the world?” If you were like me, I rolled my eyes and (internally) screamed “Just you wait!” So, first, Wakanda is going to open up and share its innovation and resources with the world. I imagine this would also make Wakanda a target for plunder and exploitation by Earthlings and Extraterrestrials. (I’m looking at you, Thanos!) Therefore, it totally makes sense that Wakanda would be ground-zero for the battle to save the world in INFINITY WAR. As far as Bucky, AKA White Wolf, I just wonder what he wants for himself now that he’s (presumably) no longer plagued by the Winter Soldier “curse”. Is Bucky going to become an honorary Wakandan? What will his reunion with Steve and the rest of the Avengers be like? I’m also interested to see the badass tech Shuri has for him.
Lyra: The battle to end all battles is coming to Wakanda and I just can’t. KEEP MY BABIES SAFE, AVENGERS: INFINITY WARS! I can’t have them being hurt or seeing their home destroyed after just revealing it to the world. Also Bucky…CAPTAIN AMERICA IS GONNA DIE! THERE I SAID IT! You know it, I know it, and Bucky is going to step up and take that mantel. Do I like it? No. Is it going to happen? Yes.
Lizzie: I think it means the battle is coming to Wakanda, and that’s probably not what T’Challa wanted, but honestly, the kind of war Thanos is bringing on the world isn’t exactly something you can sit out. As for the Bucky scene, I think it clearly means the Winter Soldier is gone and Bucky Barnes is back – which just makes me think Cap’s gonna die and Bucky is going to take on the mantle because WHAT ELSE CAN I THINK? Infinity War is the culmination of so many years – they can’t all make it out, right?
10. Was there anything we didn’t mention above that left an impression on you long after you left the theater?
Funmbi: SO MANY THINGS, but I’ll highlight three–
(1) M’BAKU M’BAKU M’BAKU!!! My thirst for M’Baku is so very real and I wasn’t expecting it. Winston Duke totally blew me away! First, M’Baku and the Jabari are Nigerian and no one can tell me any different–the accent, the swagger, the arrogance, the shade–all Nigerian! Second, M’Baku and the Jabari totally come through in the clutch and help the Dora Milaje to stop W’Kabi and the Border Tribe. Third, WInston Duke is so very fine as Thick Daddy M’BAEku, a whole snack, as the kids say 😉
(2) I’m still intrigued by the relationship between Okoye and W’Kabi. They’re deeply in love, but that doesn’t stop them from going head-to-head in order to pursue the causes they see as right. It’s fascinating because I believe Okoye when she tells W’Kabi that she would kill him in order to protect Wakanda and the throne. W’Kabi must believe her too, because he throws down his weapon and kneels. Yet, I have a feeling that there are no hard feelings, and Okoye and W’Kabi probably went home and had awesome makeup sexy times!
(3) Can we talk about how the White characters (Klaue, Ross, Becky at the Museum of Great Britain) are purely tools to facilitate the central stories of Black characters? As it should be.
Lyra: M’Baku. If there’s anything that you do for yourself today…make it that you go on Tumblr and look him up. The thirst is real and the art is beautiful.
Lizzie: I just …go back to the female characters, and how Wakanda’s an utopia not just because it’s a technological marvel because hey, equality! And that equality makes it so the male characters are devoid of the toxic masculinity that many -if not all – other superheroes are guilty of from time to time. T’Challa doesn’t see why being guarded by an army of women is strange and he feels no shame in asking for help from a woman – but he also has no problem expressing his emotions, because the world he grew up in didn’t teach him that was a bad thing. And that’s the kind of society we should strive to live on.
Black Panther is now playing in theaters.