Monday, February 19, 2018

The weight of armor

Without giving anything away, there is a moment in the movie, Black Panther, when a little African American boy in inner city Oakland approaches King T'Challa of the fictitious African nation of Wakanda, who is also the Black Panther in civilian garb. "Who are you?" the little boy breathes. Tears sprang to my eyes, and when I looked to my side, my husband was wiping his eyes, too. We went to lunch and tried to understand why we had become so filled with emotion and why, even as we dissected the movie afterward, our throats filled again with tears. The closest we came to why this film set in a comic book universe ended up being so affecting was the sudden wonder in the little boy's eyes, which revealed the sentiment underlying his question: Who could I be?

We reflected that when black people in America walk out the door each day, we reflexively brace for the possibility of a negative racial interaction, a potential so ever present we aren't even aware of the weight of our armor. But this movie allowed us, for a moment, to take off that armor, to see ourselves not as America sees us, but as we might be if our ancestors had never been colonized and suffered all that ensued from that original trauma. In a sense, the film's epic battle was between two versions of black history as embodied by the characters of T'Challa, played to perfection by Chadwick Boseman, and the movie's villain, Killmonger, in a complex role that Michael B. Jordan absolutely slayed. And then there was the portrayal of women—powerful warriors, technological geniuses, humanitarian change makers.

Even so, we felt as if we had not quite articulated the effect the film had on us, and so when, the next morning, I found this review in the New Yorker by historian Jelani Cobb, I rejoiced, because someone had put into words everything I didn't know how to express. If you're wondering why this film is resonating so deeply for some folks, read the New Yorker piece. It's a brilliant piece of writing, and the richest cultural contextualizing of the film I've seen to date.

That said, I've had conversations with several white friends this weekend, some of whom loved the film and some of whom really didn't like it. One friend found some of the portrayals of Africans to be stereotypical, which I didn't find at all. She had hesitated to mention it, because she didn't want to sound racist. I love that we delved into it anyway. "It's hard for me to talk about," she said. "If millions of African Americans are blown away by it, what am I missing?" Ultimately we agreed that one could love or not love the film while acknowledging that others received it differently. Art is subjective. No doubt, when I sat down to watch the movie, I gave director Ryan Coogler my trust. And for me, he delivered. I reveled in the experience of seeing so many beautiful black people own their power and possibility on screen. I'm not naive enough to think this film is going to resonate for everyone, but it resonated for me.



16 comments:

  1. I WILL be seeing this film! Thank you for your thoughts, A. Your insight always makes me open my eyes a little wider.

    ReplyDelete
  2. And now I must go see it. From everything I've seen and heard and read, it is powerful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mary, it is powerful, at least i found it so. It's a comic book fantasy, but thought-provoking and revelatory nonetheless.

      Delete
  3. I want to see that movie. Thank you for your impressions and for the review by Jelani Cobb.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. am, i think that review by Jelani Cobb is pure brilliance.

      Delete
  4. i love this take! and i love thoughtful conversation, even if you're not all in agreement.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Candice, you said it was going to be groundbreaking!

      Delete
  5. I am not a movie-goer but I would like to see this, and I will go if I can. Some movies rise above the formulaic and predictable. From both your comments and the New Yorker review, this one does that and more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. jenny_o, honestly, i hope everyone goes to see it, whether it ultimately resonates for them or not. i'd love the film to be wildly successful because it does take risks, and and it shows hollywood that films outside the narrowly accepted template can be blockbusters, too.

      Delete
  6. Your comments were so brilliant about the movie. They were the hit of Carl's Facebook page!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elizabeth, i loved having a discussion with Carl about the movie through you! xo

      Delete
  7. Thank you for this insight.

    It brought back memories of the day in 1988 when I first arrived in Africa, where we lived and worked for several years.
    I had just turned 30 and prior to that day, had met only a handful of people of African and African American origin in my life (GIs stationed in Germany and in Ireland, various African nuns and priests attending seminars and a small number of South African exiles who were sheltered by my trade union), my concept of African Americans was based on reading James Baldwin and Angela Davis, on MLK and documentaries of Black Panther, I was an ignorant self proclaimed 'feminist' and 'trade unionist' thinking I had all the right answers and I was absolutely and totally unprepared and completely overwhelmed by our arrival in a small country where seemingly every person was a black person. I came to witness a well functioning, educated, emancipated, democratic African society where literally nobody needed me and only asked for my opinion out of politeness.
    We were made welcome, very much so, sometimes we were only politely tolerated, eventually we were included in circles of friends the way it always happens after a while, but we remained guests in this gorgeous, fertile, stunningly beautiful country that existed and blossomed not because but despite of us interfering expats and NGO workers from Europe and elsewhere.
    It was and still is a lesson in humility and mutual respect. And it has changed my life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sabine, this is a most extraordinary and wonderful comment. Thank you for this sharing, and for your heart, which was open to be changed.

      Delete
  8. Both the article and the movie blew me away! Shuri is my new heroine.
    Xoxo
    Barbara

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Barbara, Shuri was my favorite character too!

      Delete