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It’s beautiful to be black: Reflections on Black Panther

May 07, 2018 | Caroline Escobar

Currently the highest rated superhero movie of all time, Black Panther has captured audiences around the world, amassing $201.7 million in its opening weekend. It’s for good reason too – the movie is absolutely amazing. Not to mention, it’s also the first movie in the Marvel Universe to feature a black protagonist. However, the king of Wakanda has been breaking records since the 1960’s, being the first mainstream black superhero in American comics, showing that its impact is here to stay. We caught up with intern Inioluwa Bankole, who recently came back from serving in Peru and now works at Simon Fraser University, to see what the impact of Black Panther means to her.

Tell us a bit about yourself, your home in Nigeria, and when you became a Canadian.

My name is Inioluwa Bankole. I’m currently an intern at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I joined P2C – Students August last year. I moved from Nigeria in 2012 to start my university education and I became a Canadian citizen last year in December. I think my favourite memory from Nigeria is the hustle and bustle of the city life. I think there is just so much going on that you can learn and pick [up] from different people that you meet or that you observe as you go about your day-to-day activity. [Nigerians] just have this way of not giving in quickly, even though things might be hard. Everyone has this go-getting spirit.

Black Panther is the 18th movie in the Marvel Universe, featuring for the first time a black protagonist. What is your overall impression from the movie?

This movie was so good – I literally cried. In the cinema, as I was watching it, I was just like, “Yaaaas girl! Yaas!” I wish I could have yelled in the movie theatre. I think it is nice to see a black protagonist that people can look up to and identify with. Even though it took 17 movies to get to that point, I’m glad it finally happened. I’m all about that melanin goodness: seeing the different cultures – the African cultures – portrayed for who what they actually are and not just [the] stereotypical way people think it should be. I also loved the cinematography and the costumes, the costume design was on point. T’Chala’s agbada – that’s what they call the dress the men wear – was really cool. I liked the intricacy of the detail in the dress. [Everything] was really amazing, I loved it.

Many people praise the movie for its accuracy of culture and representation. Being Nigerian yourself, what elements are most memorable for you?

I think at the beginning of the movie when the drums started, [it] took me back to Nigeria. We have a talking drum, which is a musical instrument. I think the drum is one of the many things in common with all the countries [in Africa]. That was huge for me. As well, the boy said ‘baba’, which is a word for father in my language – which is Yoruba. I also think the movie did a good job in representing not just one specific place in Africa – because most people think Africa is one country – [but many]. There was the Kenka material from Ghana, the clicking language of Xhosa tribe, the lip stretching of the Mursi tribe, body scarification like what we saw on Killmonger from a tribe in Papua New Guinea. [They did] a really good job of representing different countries in Africa.

[On seeing an actor with a Nigerian accent] It’s really cool because I remember when I first moved to Canada, I felt like I had to speak Canadian for people to understand me. Mostly because people didn’t understand me when I [was] speaking, even though I’m speaking English. But seeing your own accent or your way of saying something was really cool to see. [One example is] the way Shuri and T’Chala talked to each other was how African siblings would speak. The construction of the English and the way they would phrase it – that was so African.

A huge aspect seen within the plot is the difference of black identity, as seen through Killmonger vs T’Challa. What are your thoughts from each perspective seen in the movie?

The way I view Killmonger and T’Chala, I saw it as the movie speaking to Africans that are now living in a different country – mostly immigrants. As a Nigerian-Canadian myself, you have your African side and then your Canadian or your American side, whatever that might be for you. There is a struggle between trying to still hold onto who you are from your culture: for me it would be still holding onto my Nigerian self, but I [also] want my Canadian self to be recognized. There’s a war that goes on internally between those two cultures inside of you. I think from my understanding, the movie was speaking into that. You could see Killmonger: he had connections to Wakanda but when he came, they weren’t accepting of him. People weren’t really taking him for who he thought he was and he had this struggle inside of him. I think it speaks to [the] struggle that a lot of African immigrants might be facing when they move to a new country that is totally different and [that] they try to identify with. It’s kind of like you’re not fully Nigerian and you’re not fully Canadian – you’re in the middle, just hovering there.

I think most importantly [you need] to know that your identity is in Christ and not in where you come from. Even though where you come from plays a huge role – a very very important role – I think it is important to understand that your identity is in Christ. However, [you shouldn’t] try to cut off from any particular culture. For me, I have my Nigerian circle, I have my Canadian circle and I have a place for everyone to intertwine. I still hold onto the values and norms that I have learned from growing up in Nigeria, and I have also adopted some Canadian culture and values. It’s finding a balance between how you can understand and appreciate both sides, because those two cultures have now become one culture to you. Embrace it to the fullest and don’t try to distance yourself from either one – you must be willing to take the good but also the bad.

In one scene, Agent Ross remarks that Wakanda is a third world country known for its ‘shepherds, textiles and cool outfits’. However, as Wakanda proves, Africa is simultaneously traditional and innovative. How do you think media like Black Panther will improve the image of the African continent?

I think our stories [are] being retold as a continent. For the most part, media hasn’t done a good job of portraying Africa in a good light. I remember when I first came to Canada, a lot of people asked me really weird questions, “Oh do you have a lion in your backyard?” or “Do you have tap water?” [At the time] I was taking different classes and the teacher would show a video, it would be [of] poverty-stricken Africa – kids with sad faces. But I think the movie does a good job in showing the innovative side [of Africa]. That it’s not just a place where everyone is suffering and people don’t have the means to live – that is not to say that there is no poverty in Africa, that people aren’t suffering – but there are many places in the world where there is suffering. [However it] has just been Africa at the front line of that narrative. I think [the movie] does a good job of breaking down that narrative and building up a new narrative that is true to Africa as a whole.

I also believe that [Black Panther] will get people to think more critically about what they consume from media about Africa – what they consume from media as a whole – because there has always been one narrative, and most times people don’t take the liberty to do more research as to what it is. [People] just accept what they see on TV. There was a scene in Black Panther with Boko Haram [that highlights this]. I think when the situation started, that was all someone could talk about. [People] would ask me, “Oh, have you been affected by [Boko Haram]?” When the media puts out something about your country, people do not take the liberty to gain your perspective – they just assume. Then, they talk to you from that assumption, which I think is similar to what some Muslims might be facing from terrorism [in the media]. I do believe when things like that happen, it’s [an] opportunity for us to come from an approach of love, seeking to understand people’s perspective, not just assuming that everyone you see from that country or from that place is a symbol of what is happening there. Because of that, I believe [Black Panther] will lead to media appropriating our culture well and seeking to understand our worldview.

This is an incredible movie with many strong, yet feminine female characters. How does it feel not only being Nigerian, but also a woman to see this representation on screen?

Are you going to put “Yaaas”? Oh my gosh, the women were amazing – amazing! [They were] strong, yet feminine female characters. I think [Okoye in particular] speaks to a lot of things that we do find missing in our culture today, as some people are very quick to think there is a dichotomy between [strong and feminine], but actually they should go hand in hand. She breaks down this dichotomy [by] being feminine and strong. I think she really stands out to me. I love [her]. In the movie you could tell the women weren’t afraid to be strong and powerful; they were go-getters. You could also tell that the men were not intimidated by the strength of the women, and instead they walked together to fight for the Wakanda that they loved. I think in our culture today, we tell women to be strong but sometimes we don’t address the insecurities of men. I think [Black Panther] does a good job of portraying men that weren’t intimidated or insecure to be around such women. They all worked together.

I think one of the things that come to mind is what occurs between Okoye and her lover. You could tell she was ready to kill him when he said, “Are you going to kill me for Wakanda?” The movie trumps this idea of women will not step up to their calling because they have this affectionate love for somebody; once they fall in love they lose all sense of purpose or calling, but you could see that Okoye knew what she was called to do. She understood the gravity of her calling: to protect and defend Wakanda. She wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way. One other thing was between Nakia and T’Chala. She would have left everything [to] become the queen of Wakanda, but she understood her calling was beyond just living in Wakanda, but helping other people that are suffering. She wasn’t just going to give that up for a man. Her turning him down helped him realize how they have [the] same vision. [Black Panther] wasn’t just a regular, typical narrative of the woman leaving everything and running off with a guy, but they stood to their calling – [they] were firm and strong. It was cool to see how they changed the narrative into something that we all – as women – have always wanted to see.

[As women, we’re] not just going to run off with anyone – I have a calling and vision and things to do!

In particular, Letitia Wright plays the newest Marvel genius, Shuri. Unknown to many, Letitia came to know Christ after taking a break from acting. How do you think black voices can shape the Christian image in mainstream media?

I think it’s really good that we have black actors coming out to talk about their faith and how Jesus has changed their life. It shows that beyond our culture and racial background, the most important aspect of our life is the state of our soul. [Sometimes] you have ethnocentric people who are like, “I’m black, I’m all about this – melanin poppin!” But the most important thing is what do you believe and why do you believe what you believe – the state of our soul at the end of this world. There has been a rise of blacks and Africans coming to this belief that Christianity is a white man’s religion due to how Christianity has been a tool of colonialism. But I think it’s such a blessing that [Letitia] is speaking out about her faith. As one of my favourite spoken word actors, Daniel King, says, “It’s beautiful to be black, but it’s miraculous to be saved”. I think that is the key thing our culture – and our people – needs to hear today.

About the Author

Caroline Escobar

Caroline is a Brock University graduate and on staff with P2C – Students.

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