Warning: If you haven’t seen Black Panther yet, there are spoilers ahead.
Black Panther is making waves culturally for all people of color (POC). It’s giving us representation in a medium where we rarely get it, or if we do, then we’re in a typecast role that really doesn’t do justice to the depth and experiences that POC have. Black Panther is a film that shows the POC experience. It reminds us of where we’re from, where we are, and where we can go. It is a film that reveals a story of caution and hope.
The film opens with a young T’Challa asking his father, T’Chaka, their origin story of how Wakanda came to be. T’Chaka tells him of how a comet fell to earth depositing vibranium on to the site of what is now Wakanda. He talks about how his warring ancestors became united under one warrior who took an herb which gave him the powers of the Black Panther. T’Chaka gives T’Challa a history filled with division and unity through vibranium, but also a history that he can be proud of and derive a sense of identity. The history and ancestry of Wakanda reminds POC of our origins, that despite our differences we have a history that unites us, giving us an identity to be proud of.
Despite history, there are more recent events in the move that reminds POC of where we are and what we experience. T’Challa is crowned king of Wakanda after his father’s death, with his mind filled with uncertainties about how to fill his father’s place as king now that he’s gone. As young POC come into adulthood it might be difficult to figure out how we step in to positions of leadership when the leaders that came before us cast such large shadows. At the same time, we have Klaue, who is representative of current threats that POCs and other minorities face. Klaue is a thief, a murderer, and exploiter who uses the riches of other cultures for his own gain and their destruction. Klaue is a reminder of the dominant culture and makes us consider how we as minorities respond in turn.
T’Chaka and Erik Killmonger are two sides of the same coin in response to current threats like Klaue, and the current state of minorities and their place in the world. T’Challa can end up taking two different paths as king: either he can be like his father, and keep Wakanda and himself isolated from the world, or, he can be like his cousin and exploit the wealth of Wakanda to wage war and do what the world did to minorities. T’Chaka and Killmonger become a mirror to what we as a minority culture can grow into, providing a cautionary tale.
But near the end of the film, T’Challa fresh from regaining his power as Black Panther and king after defeating Killmonger, gives us a glimpse of what we can do with our future. When addressing the UN in the end credits scene, T’Challa says, “In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.” We all must be part of one tribe, one Wakanda, to unite and fight for a single goal to unite the world instead of dividing it. To be able to look past our differences, to connect and help support the world through the privileges we can provide, then the future that T’Challa strives for at the end of the film may become a reality.