Film, as a genre of media has long been used to critique culture. In the past there has been Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day, John Singleton’s Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning and recently Ryan Kyle Coogler’s Fruitvale Station and Black Panther. Historically, film or multimedia has been used in research methodology as a tool or method with a small “m.” It has been used as a means to record data, contribute to narrative theory and/or discourse analysis to name a few. I want to be clear; I am not conflating the use of film/media as a methods tool with media studies. That discipline is at as its foundation rooted in communications. What I will attempt to do with Black Panther is to look at the film systematically and see if any themes of analysis come up.
BLACK POWER & COLONIALISM
I only recently saw Black Panther for the first time. I wanted to go to the movies and pay money to see and support this film. Going to the movies in the context of American culture and not seeing other Black faces on the screen has long been normalized. Or Black and Brown characters have been typecast. Once in a blue, they throw us a bone. However, this film, which sits at the center of the largest media conglomerate—Disney—tells a story of Black Power. A white actor is in turn given the role of the sidekick and comic relief, but do we really need the inverse of current discriminatory Hollywood practices? The fictional kingdom of Wakanda can be replaced with the idea of the African nations that could have been, had we not been supplanted by colonial manifest destiny.
I want to argue language and the written word, as a colonial technology. Without the written word, then colonialism has no official way of creating ownership. No official way to sustain, systemically, the settler colonial narrative. Ownership, fungibility and exploitation of not only land, but people. With words, settler colonials have been able to create deeds to OUR lands, lands filled with natural resources taken to enrich foreign empires. With words, settler colonials have been able to reduce a people to slaves/indentured servants. With words settler colonials have been able to keep an entire people at war with poverty, education, and unfortunately with our communities and ourselves. With words settler colonials have been able to create justice for themselves and another kind of injustice for everyone else. With words settler colonials treat Black and Brown bodies as fodder for their bullets and necessary components for neoliberal prison systems.
BLACK PANTHER AS A VECHILE FOR CRITICAL RACE THEORY
The entire time that I was watching Black Panther, I felt proud. It felt good to see Black representation by a Black filmmaker on the screen. The entire time though, I have to keep it 100—I was thinking nahh they couldn’t have green- or Blacklit this project without some hidden agenda. I mean I know Disney is making bank because the money has already cracked a billion worldwide. But, is that enough to let this piece of Black brilliance shine? Wakanda has flourished under no colonial rule, juxtaposed to the Africa we know today. The people have no evidence of self-hate. However, there is an idea that they have hurt other Black people around the world by not sharing their technology in order to liberate and rule other nations. At the end of the movie Killmonger exchanges some dialog with T’Chala about beating the colonists at their own game. However, this is met with the idea that Killmonger in his hatred and anger has become just like them. That idea and the Black on Black violence just did not sit well with me. There was more to Killmonger than his anger and in some respect, he did everything right, everything Black Panther. Ultimately, King T’Challa reveals Wakanda for the technological powerhouse that it is, but seeks not to conquer other nations. I wanted them to forcefully reclaim Black lands with no reparations, because you know the colonizers are not giving that up without a fight, even the progressive liberal ones. But, I know Disney was not down for that ending. No Simba, all that the light touches are not yours and everything does not exist together in a delicate balance.
Film is nothing but sound and images. La Paperson writes in A Third University Is Possible that within these institutions steeped in colonialism there exists decolonial riders – Ryan Coogler is a scyborg. Mr. Coogler uses his authority and power as a successful Hollywood director to speak directly to colonialism on the one of largest commercial media platforms.
BLACK FEMINISM & BLACK QUEER THEORY
A very beautiful component of Black Panther were the women and their powerful representations. They all defied conventional gender roles, which speaks directly to colonialism as the advent of gender discrimination. It even speaks to something that is very taboo in the Black community: hair. General Okoye is undercover in South Korea and has to wear a wig; she describes the need to hide her beautifully bald and tattooed head as offensive. However, is this not also an advent of colonialism and hierarchy of ethnic features when it comes to beauty? Additionally, sexual orientations of the main characters are both explicit and also, purposefully androgynous.