Why “Black Panther” Is The Film That Is As Perfect As You Need It To Be
I finally saw Black Panther. The way it happened was poetic — thanks to my little brother’s invitation to join him on a wet Friday night. We’re cautiously making our way back to each other after a rough couple of years — and this outing serves as one of many icebreakers.
As I’ve mentioned before — the excitement around what has to be described as a cultural phenomenon has been infectious and even before I had the honor of finally of participation — I was already captivated by the responses both at home and abroad.
I remember feeling the intense pressure to downplay my “Africanness” when I moved to the States for college back in the early nineties.
Something Nigerians dubbed “419” — which was basically ascribed to any criminal activity that duped innocents into cleaning out their bank accounts — was becoming a global virus that cast an embarrassing halo over anyone remotely connected to the country of my heritage.
There was also the urgent desire to assimilate without standing out especially when you have to spend a good chunk of time explaining the meaning of your name each time you introduce yourself. I was always told how “pretty” and “different” my name — was which was ironic when you consider that “Ezinne” isn’t that unique among the Igbos. My given name “Oyidiya” — which I inherited from my paternal grandmother is actually way prettier and not at all common. My father insisted that I use it as my official name — but out of concern for strangers in America who won’t be able to handle the task of pronouncing it — I assigned “Ezinne” as my given name.
I’ve come to regret that decision. But I certainly understand the incentive behind it — just like I know exactly why I hardly wore the native attire that my mother would bring for me while she visited us. Of course now that the continent is booming with recognition and fascination — I would be all for it!
That’s probably why the “movement” behind Black Panther — affected more than the film itself.
Don’t get me wrong — I thoroughly enjoyed the gorgeous spectacle that was even more thrilling in IMAX. That experience helped to exaggerate the majesty of the women who were built for worship — and sported the svelteness of hues that quite frankly left me breathless with wonder — as I realized how I’d never been treated to such endless display on the big screen — ever.
Another bonus was the loveliness of Lupita Nyong’o who plays the kickass beauty — Nakia — who obviously has the heart of T’Challa and that chemistry was amazing to behold as we were able to watch a Black woman — with black skin and African features — channel both her warrior spirit and vulnerability as a loved being. The best part as most have pointed out — is the fact that she’s darker than her King — which is another refreshing update from the standard default.
The rest of the film plays like any action film where good and evil collide — and the superhero is challenged to be valiantly heroic in his pursuits — in order to fulfill the cumbersome requirements of his sainthood — so that destiny is given the flexibility for a just ending.
While I tried to block out the loud snoring coming from two rows behind me — I was struck by how much more responsive I was whenever a different language other than English was spoken — and then when it reverted back to accented English — a wave of disappointment would hit.
I suppose the nagging sadness stems from the realization that when Nigeria was colonized by the British — we were forced to adopt the English way of life. I didn’t have the pleasure of existing when missionaries invaded villages and townships — but I read a lot of globally-esteemed writer — Chinua Achebe’s earliest work — and his protagonists vividly demonstrated the tragedy of watching your given religion — vandalized — for the sake of options that were either borne from the loins of a former English King who needed to legally marry his mistress or carried the endorsement of White men who believed in the sovereignty of their descendants.
Nothing can erase the imagery of my Igbo tribe — fighting like hell to protect their jeweled deities from the dilution of influences that could never compare to our primal texture and yet — through the violence and deaths of structure and dignity — we managed to maintain some of our scribes.
I remember slowly sliding into my seat with shame as I tried to replace the English lines in the film with Igbo and quickly realized that I had forgotten way more than I assumed. My parents have always championed their children to speak our language with pride and authority and I never grasped the importance of that until — now.
Perhaps that’s why Black Panther filled me with mixed emotions that seemed to center on the irony of Wakanda and how the quest to be isolated in power and might with natural riches seems fantastically-inclined — when you consider that the characters were speaking variants of a language that exposes the potency of colonialism.
The cast did a supreme job with the accents since it all seemed to flow organically — but it didn’t match the overall themes of splendor that emanates from the audacity of an African nation — existing without the handle of White thievery.
After the colonialists exacted their damage — the residue that lingered cursed our tribes into submission when it came to perfecting the English language. There was the need to prove your worth by fluently speaking “Queen’s English” and Nigerian villagers who were less likely to benefit from this privilege had a more difficult time assimilating into city life — and were often times considered “unpolished” or “illiterates.”
Pidgin English also known as “Broken English” became the street language for those who lived in urban areas — with limited education but the energy of hustlers. It eventually became the preferred means of communication for the vast population since it evolved into the convenience of vocal currency across the board. It was the means by which we could converse with each other — regardless of tribe or gods.
You could say that “Broken English” is the funky version of the real thing. Or it came to be — as a way to include everyone in the narrative of how we got here and why we are still searching — long after the soldiers of war targeted our resources for infinite ownership.
Once the film was over — my brother and I walked to the car — in the soft rain that gave the night a glow. We both enjoyed Black Panther as much as any offering that demands that emotion — but ultimately we agreed that it’s a film that is only as perfect as you need it to be.
I don’t share the level of enthusiasm for it that would entice me to see it multiple times in a row — but I appreciate its presence at a time when we need it the most.
I’m grateful that the accents weren’t overly distracting — but I can’t help but imagine how much more authentic it would’ve been if the characters were speaking a language other than English with subtitles to boot. The logistics for that happening is almost impossible to accommodate — but that’s just how I feel.
Black Panther isn’t a perfect film and I will be remiss if I didn’t point out the weirdness of the special effects that didn’t seem all that consistent or compatible with expectations — but the delivery of the cast was superb.
The urgency of its messaging was also hard to miss and the echoes do stay with you — long after you vacate the premises. It all syncs with my maturity and the ability to mourn for all that was lost — during a time when my ancestors were brutalized into submission against their will for a future they did not want and a language they did not need.
The fact that my viewing exercise came together in such a precise way — makes Black Panther the natural accompaniment to my current tendencies of awareness and strategic activism — and for me that’s good enough.
Actually — its perfect.