Reflections by Benjamin Hunter, Chloe Collyer, Jamil Suleman
Photos by Chloe Collyer and Susan Fried
A Reflection on a Night with Black Panther
By Benjamin Hunter
Have you ever been so excited about a thing that in anticipation of that thing, you wore a smile the entire day? Almost to the point that your face hurt? That was me Thursday. The anticipation of Black Panther had put the entirety of Black America on pins and needles. I was anxious the entire day. I’ve been anxious for months now. Watching trailers over and over again, just in case I missed something.
Reading about Wakanda (the Black Panther’s mythical native country), so to understand the superhero’s history better. Looking up his family tree and seeing who came from whom. I wanted to celebrate this movie as if it was my own history. I was going to celebrate Blackness unlike any other moment in my life.
Black people have been given superheroes before. Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston, Muhammed Ali, Maya Angelou, Magic Johnson. We’ve seen the strength of Black people in politics, sports, social movements, and perhaps most often in entertainment, but never like this before.
We’ve had Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier to help pioneer those faces in the movie industry, but they’ve never played a character this self-assured in his presence. Confidence that comes not from the strength of the individual character within a corrupted and oppressive society. Rather, confidence that comes from the strength of an entire society that uplifts and supports one another wholly, completely, unapologetically.
This feeling that I have isn’t mine alone. Black folks all over the country are having these same feelings. Especially, our youth. A film that illustrates the utter brilliance and excellence of the African diaspora. A film that describes the honesty, defiance, pride, patience, wisdom, and camaraderie that exists within a nation that has been left alone to develop as they see fit.
Without even seeing the movie, Black Panther is able to instill the dreams and aspirations of a Black community unaffected by white colonialism, unfettered by appropriation, commodification, and the oppression that removes the face of Blackness in order to celebrate the genius of it.
The feelings that I had before the movie were a mixture of all of these thoughts, these dreams, this science fiction. But it wasn’t a type of fiction that one reconciles within movies like Game of Thrones, or Superman, where we’d like to be a part of that world but understand that we can’t. Everything about Black Panther and Wakanda, is totally graspable. The strength of the superhero doesn’t come from his own super powers, it comes from a much deeper and more spiritual place, rooted in togetherness, family, and honor.
The strength of Black Panther is a Black People unified.
That’s what it felt like in Columbia City on Thursday night. A unified Black community, sharing in our collective history, style, struggle, swag, and rhythm. We were excellent and brilliant and alive. The street buzzed with an energy that was demonstrated in the clothes that we wore, the confidence we imbued in one another with a head nod, a handshake, a look of appreciation that we are all here, and we all look all kinds of fine!
This night was made possible by the 4 Us Collective, whose mission is to bring experiences to Seattle area Black folks, where they feel welcomed, celebrated, and are surrounded by Black Excellence in all forms.
Why don’t we do this every night? Well, we do…but I think the better question is, why don’t we feel like this every night?
That answer is a little harder to explain, but not as hard as we might think to accomplish.
Our story in this country is one wrought with a lot of pain and a lot of struggle. That experience manifested because of inexplicable greed, violence, and judgment. It’s what our country was founded on. This is our conflict, because as has been demonstrated by this movie, by the great writings of our literary greats like DuBois, or Baldwin, or Morrison; by the music of Leadbelly, Holiday, Coltrane, and Wonder; by the examples of the Civil Rights movement and Black Lives Matter, we are our most excellent when we are together, unified, and supported. Greed isn’t part of our history. Violence isn’t a natural occurrence. Judgement should be deliberate, not compulsive. But these tenets are integral to our American lifestyle.
We don’t feel this way every night because we live in a society that constantly invites us to judge each other, be suspicious of each other, and vilify each other. This isn’t our natural state. This isn’t our history, this isn’t where we come from.
In this small Black and Brown community that we have here in Seattle, we do find ways to celebrate each other. There is Black Brilliance all around. I get to witness artistic achievements daily, I get to read brilliant writers and poets, listen to extraordinary musicians, be inspired by wise leadership, and attend events and parties intended to celebrate Black joy, togetherness, and excellence.
This movie has reminded me, and I expect many more, that our Black Joy must be celebrated all the time. When we do, an entire street lights up. An entire neighborhood is transformed. In those moments, we are our best selves, because we make it safe for all of us to express our Blackness. Safe from the outside world, and safe from within our world.
Black Panther was everything! It was strength, it was care, it was ours, but we don’t need a movie to realize our caliber. The movie was amazing, but it was the icing. The cake was the Black brilliance walking down Columbia City, looking all kinds of fine, feeling all kinds of fine, and being all kinds of fine to each other!
The Black Panther Movie is Fueling Movements
By Chloe Collyer
For South Seattle, this year’s Black History Month has been especially celebrated. February started strong with ‘Black Lives Matter in School Week’ held by teachers, students, and the northwest NAACP branch. Now, Black Panther is making box office history after its weekend release, setting a record for President’s Day weekend in route to a total holiday haul of $370.5 million worldwide.
Seattle theaters were packed at every showing, and many were completely overtaken by huge crowds of fans. One event, Black Panther So Lit, was a birthday celebration turned pro-black dinner party and was described as “a coming together of the citizens of Wakanda and Lovers of Black Panther”. On Friday night, somewhere between 100 and 200 people waited in line for this event dressed in colorful African prints and costumes from the film. VIP tickets included a cupcake, a plate of soul food and glass of champagne and children were given copies of the current run of Black Panther comics.
Another event held by the Seattle People’s Party raised over $12,000 to reserve showings at Columbia City’s Ark Lodge Cinemas. Hundreds of black youth were invited to attend the movie for free, with a concession voucher and free poster provided to each child.
Later in the day was NAAM’s Black Job party thrown as part of their Black Futures month. In the gallery space hangs Everyday Black, a popular photo exhibition depicting large portraits of black Seattleites, as well as art by local black artists and a comprehensive timeline of black history in the northwest. A “self-care lounge” even offers free back massages for all guests. Most in attendance had seen the movie and gathered to celebrate black joy and community.
So, Black Panther: Let’s get into it.
Although there will be Marvel trademark all over this franchise, Black Panther seems to have evolved from his early days. Co-created by two white men in 1966, the character has been both loved and criticized by black communities. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee introduced Black Panther as a background character who later evolved into his own series, but the two deny the character having anything to do with the Black Panther Party which was formed six months after the first appearance of the superhero. The character of T’challa has now been passed down many times, with the most recent installment of the comics written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
The comics have often included real-life struggles of African Americans, like in the early 90s when the crack epidemic came to Wakanda, or the issues where Black Panther fights the KKK. Now in 2018, the movie touches deeply to struggles of black communities, the roots of the black panther party, and depicts modern-day black youth in Oakland as becoming inspired by the futuristic technology the Black Panther brings along with him. This movie’s release mirrors the same phenomenon as young, black fans spill out of the movie theater mimicking the movements of this new hero who looks like them.
There are multiple generations of comic lovers who have enjoyed Black Panther before this, and the story will most likely continue into new hands.
By Jamil Suleman
“Kendrick Lamar Bought Out 3 Theatres So Low-Income Kids Can See ‘Black Panther’”
“How The Black Panther Movie Can Impact The Children of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement”
“Voter Registration Happening At ‘Black Panther’ Screenings”
“Black Panther: 5 Ways The Movie Celebrates, Elevates Black Women”
These are article headlines giving life to the movie that has become a movement.
Story is so important, and as a storyteller, I know the most important stories are the ones we tell ourselves every day, about who we are. The story of our families, our ancestors, and most importantly, who we are as individuals in the World we live in. Are we the hero, or the victim? Are we powerful, or powerless? Are we in control, or being controlled? All these associations are decisive factors that help us create our “self-image” and dictate our behavior and eventually our own destiny.
Our “self-image” is what carries us throughout life, and usually, we are taught from an outside source like our family, culture, and society about what that is. And when we find ourselves in a nation that has literally based itself on forcing a certain narrative to be upheld in order to maintain an unequal and harmful social order like White Supremacy, Patriarchy, and parasitic Capitalism — we know the story is in need of dismantling… and replacement.
So, as I sat in a Columbia City theatre Thursday night overwhelmingly populated by my Black friends and family members, young and old, supporting, celebrating and loving one another for who they are, I knew something powerful was about to be shown to us. A story that could have a lasting effect for generations to come, a story that could help us change the story we live in real life.
And it did just that. For two full hours, I witnessed brilliant Blackness like I’ve never seen. This is a Hollywood Blockbuster centered around an Anti-Colonial African Kingdom, so the production value is very high. With an estimated cost of 200 million dollars to produce, this ain’t the homie with the camera phone hoping to go viral. This is the big leagues, and for many of us, we’ve never actually witnessed People of Color being displayed in this capacity. Intelligent, patient, advanced, in control of their own land and resources… FREE.
As a Non-Black POC (I’m of mostly Pakistani/Indian origin), I was allowed access to the inner-beauty of the Black experience, the visionary world of Afrofuturism, the sights, and sounds of a Black experience made by and for Black Folks. The room was electric the entire time, we all laughed at the swipes at colonialism, and celebrated as our Black heroes (mostly Women) conquered their foes with ease and a sense of inner-strength you won’t get from your mainstream white superheroes.
And think about it, why would you? Do white folks really have a battle to fight? Are they really the heroes of the World we live in? It makes sense then, to show how the people going through some of the worst circumstances on Earth, are our REAL heroes. And they don’t need superpowers. Rather, their powers come from within, and the strength of their love, honor, families, traditions, and community was what allowed Wakanda to prosper and thrive.
As far as critiques of the film are concerned, my only issue was that it was just too short. To attempt to smash all of that backstory and lore into two hours is hard, and I think it took away from a lot of the character arcs. Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal as N’Jadaka aka “Killmonger” was so well acted, passionate and visceral, I wanted more time to understand his mind and motives.
Also, as a son of Third World immigrants growing up in the United States, I actually found myself far more aligned with him throughout most of the film. In order to get to a conclusion, they had to rush the ending a bit. Understandable; you need to lock down the big budget blockbuster before we get the sprawling Universe and multiple spin-offs. But if ticket sales are any indication, we’ll be seeing a lot more from Wakanda in the near future.
And I can’t wait, for so many reasons. I want to see the Dora Milaji (the elite all Women security force of Wakanda) get a Netflix series. I want to see a spin-off movie where Shuri puts on the costume and gets to work. I want to see more of those badass Rhino riders. I want producers to give us the detail, backstory, and depth they put into a world like Gotham City or Marvel’s Manhattan, into Wakanda. I want to see decades of content about this, with Black actors being centered in an ever-evolving Universe that captivates the World’s attention and helps us to change our own collective story.
I want to see Wakanda transform from a story, to a movie… to a reality we can actually live.
And it looks like that’s where we’re heading. What inspires me most about “Black Panther” is that it is evolving into much more than just a movie experience. It’s fostering a sense of community pride and activism that is literally leading us to manifest Wakanda in real life. That’s how important a story is, it changes the World we live in by giving us the clues of what we want to collectively build.
Here locally, The Seattle Peoples Party hosted several screenings to allow Black youth to watch the greatness of Wakanda, for free, and most importantly, together. This is happening all over the country, with Black led organizations like the 4 Us Collective hosting screenings, dinners, and conversation events all around Black Panther. On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party in Seattle, our screening was introduced to us by the actual leaders of the Black Panther Party, including Aaron and Elmer Dixon who so graciously joined us and shared the importance of the legacy of the BPP.
It truly is a movie that has become a movement. And it started, just like anything else, with a story. I left Black Panther wanting to bring to life powerful stories for my own community, and if that’s the legacy, I couldn’t be more honored to follow the lead of the Black community.