Updated: Apr 8
The date was Thursday, February 15, 2018. I was walking around Sydney’s Central Business District with no real agenda in mind except to enjoy the day and take cool pics. I’d already visited all the major attractions: the Opera House, the Circular Quay and Sydney Harbor, Queen Victoria Building, Paddy’s Market, Central Station, and several parks. I spent day and night walking around the city since I arrived, and it was now my last full day there before heading to Katoomba for the Blue Mountains Scenic tour, then off to Brisbane.
I saw a lot of chatter on social media about the Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) movie. I’ve never been into comic books or followed the Marvel franchise, but I had enough awareness about these superhero characters from family and friends who were diehard fans. In this case, having an African superhero as a featured installment in the franchise was a huge deal. A Black director, Black cast, blockbuster budget―it was revered as a cinematic dream. Folks representing the Black diaspora around the globe celebrated this film with intense excitement, channeling their Wakandan roots with the same cultural pride Black Americans felt for Zamunda in the eighties when Coming to America (Landis, 1988) was released. Then again, Black Panther took community engagement to a whole nutha level!
People fashioned intricate wardrobes in anticipation of the movie, putting me in mind of Comic Con-type cosplay. It was beyond impressive; I caught myself eagerly scrolling to see more designs and was awestruck when each costume topped the last. I’d never seen people so hyped about a movie in my life, and their enthusiasm piqued my curiosity. I just happened to be strolling by Palace Cinema and saw the advanced screening of Black Panther heavily promoted on the marquee with life-sized cutouts of the main characters propped throughout the gallery. I couldn’t resist whizzing to the box office to secure my ticket for the 8:15 p.m. showing.
I had a couple of hours to return to my hostel, freshen up, grab some dinner, then take the twenty-minute walk back to the theater. I wondered if I’d feel out of place because I had no substantive knowledge of the film, the Avengers series, or the backstories. I also worried that I would be an outcast sporting regular clothes while everyone else was draped in their Wakandan best―like they understood the assignment, and I didn’t. Thankfully, the latter fear was put to rest when I walked behind a mixed group fantastically dressed in everyday garb. I only caught bits and pieces of their conversation, but they were definitely talking about the movie, which cued me that we were heading in the same direction.
The line was out the door; so many people were waiting to see this movie. I loaded up on snacks in the Willy Wonka-style concession store and made my way up the decorative staircase to the second floor. Plush, oversized seats filled the room, and I instantly knew this would be a comfortable experience. As I scanned the packed theater for my seat, I was slightly taken aback by how diverse the room was. It was touching to see this movie enjoyed by fans of all colors, nationalities, and ethnicities. I just so happened to have the last open seat in a half row of friends―all White―and they welcomed me as if I came with them. They were the ones to let me know to stick around for additional footage after the credits rolled.
Now, I don’t need to go into the movie itself because we all know it was nothing short of spectacular. As I walked back to my hostel, I thought about what it meant for young Black boys and girls to see superheroes and royalty that looked like them, even if fictitious. The value of representation on the big screen is immeasurable. Exposure to nuanced images of what it means to be Black, gifted, and successful allows us to dream bigger. I imagined this movie would encourage kids worldwide to see themselves and their possibilities in a new light.
There were so many powerful messages that resonated with me: that of collectivism over individualism; the strength of the matriarch as the backbone of the community and protector of the family unit; the cultural, intellectual, and economic wealth of African nations that go unseen and unappreciated by a world more comfortable perpetuating the narrative of desolation and chaos; and the honor and duty one has in righting the sins of the father to prevent those roots from choking the seeds of the next generation.
My mind raced with thoughts and replays. I imagined where the storyline would go next, how the characters would evolve, and what threat Wakanda would protect itself from in the sequel. I wondered how the movie would be received globally and if people would be as enthralled as I was. I couldn’t wait for friends and family back home to see the film over the weekend so that I could talk about it with them. I needed to talk to somebody about this movie! And I wasn’t even into comics or the Marvel Enterprise. That’s the power of representation.