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Bankole: ‘Black Panther’ is a radical awakening

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Not since Alex Haley’s 1976 book and miniseries “Roots,” whose painful and powerful depiction of slavery forced a cultural reawakening among African-Americans, have we seen a phenomenon like the superhero film “Black Panther.”

Think about it. The Marvel epic, released last weekend with an almost all-black cast and directed by Ryan Coogler, an African-American, raked in $400 million in just four days and turned some movie theaters around the nation into scenes of cultural displays.

Some moviegoers were proudly wearing dazzling African clothing or African-inspired outfits during showings of the film, set in the fictional and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda.

The film, a Shakespearean journey into the complex yet organized and admirable life of the people of Wakanda and their dealings with the outside world, showcases Chadwick Boseman as King T’Challa (the Black Panther), who is bent on preserving his family’s legacy and honor, and Michael B. Jordan as Killmonger, the villain who wants to dethrone him.

Central to the film are the significant and brilliantly executed roles of black women. Danai Gurira plays Okoye, the top general in Wakanda, and Lupita Nyong’o is Nakia, the spy and King T’Challa’s lover. These women and others in the film are projected as intelligent and fierce and the guiding force behind Wakanda’s success as a country.

But “Black Panther” is more than just another record-breaking movie. It is more than just a fictional set of characters living in an imaginary world.

It is largely about expressing a strong sense of pride, history and culture for generations of blacks who have felt removed from their African identity since the first African slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619. The need to affirm one’s true identity has been part of the African-American experience, and is the theme of W.E.B. Du Bois’ book, “The Souls of Black Folk.”

“One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a negro, two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder,” Du Bois writes.

That strife continues to this day as issues of racial equality and our national identity take center stage.

And like “Roots,” which came into the public consciousness toward the end of Jim Crow and kicked off a needed national dialogue on race, “Black Panther” debuts at a time when we are grappling with identity politics evidenced by instructive racial flashpoints.

“’Black Panther’ is a cultural force and phenomenon. Any time you have black and white folks putting on dashikis and running to a multiplex to repeatedly experience a must-see movie directed by a woke black wunderkind about a heroic African prince from a fictional country, there’s no question,” says Detroiter Tracey Martin, a local attorney who watched the film and agreed it reminded her of “Roots.”

The film also underscores the power of a giant move to redeem the battered image of the continent of Africa, which has been projected in mass media propaganda and in films like “Tarzan” as a land no man would claim despite its vast natural resources.

Black children can see humanity in “Black Panther,” which in turn can influence how they view themselves and the world around them. The movie presents an opportunity to see a very successful and commanding superhero who looks just like them and has the unlimited potential to do great things.

“Black Panther” and its powerful dose of images rooted in African culture and Xhosa, the South African language, will have a lasting and tremendous impact on our national conscience.

It is about time it came to the big screen. As civil rights leader Malcolm X said, “I’ve had enough of someone else’s propaganda. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”

That sentiment is shared by many who view “Black Panther” as the beginning of a powerful wave toward meaningful cultural representation and equity in Hollywood. The substance of the movie, which unapologetically extols the virtues of black pride and excellence, and reimagines a dream nation for the descendants of slaves, should not be forgotten.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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