So I went to see Black Panther the week it opened. I’m African and I have serious pet peeves about movies based on or in Africa. I loathe the way they make Africa seem like a country, how the continent’s diversity is erased and how Africans are all treated as culturally homogenous and interchangeable. It chaps my ass how the characters and the continent is usually romanticized and denigrated at the same time. I also hate it when people do African accents. They can never be bothered to do the research to get it right! You’ll see an episode of a medical show where the white doctor’s heroism gets to be displayed through him saving a child from the Congo. The child’s Congolese mother will make an appearance … and then speak with a Nigerian accent. The writers will always have some plotline where the woman does something superstitious with a talisman made of hippopotamus teeth or something equally ridiculous, and they will use the word ‘shaman’ to refer to any kind of spiritual or mystical healer/diviner. The only thing is that a medicine man would almost never be called that. Sangoma, jujuman, mallam, feticheur, voodoo priest etc.? Yes. Shaman? No, homie, no. Put some respek on my name.
So all of this is to say I was prepared to be very irritated by Black Panther. I only went to see it to lend financial support. I try to give my money to as many black movies as I can because the success of those projects make black movies bankable, which then drives financing for future projects. So my theory is that even if I hate the movie I am seeing, the money I am spending on it will have a multiplier effect and increase the chance that the kind of images I want to see on screen will be created. So yeah, I sometimes go see movies I dislike and I expected this to be one of them.
Boy, oh boy, did I feel like a hater as the credits rolled. Great story? Check. Polished and edited to perfection? Check. Visual effects, CGI and all kinds of amazing techy cinematography? Check. Comic relief, pacing and puns? Check. Political commentary that was mind-blowingly brave and deep? Check. Heartfelt, evocative storyline? Check. Nuance and layered characters and motivations? Check. And fine black men dripping chocolatey deliciousness all over the goddamn screen? CHECK. I swear when Michael B. Jordan emerged shirtless in the waterfall scene I wanted to lick every single one of those murderous scars on his body. And most of all, most importantly, great powerful female characters? Check. The movie was like a lovesong to black women, like this extended ode that showed us in all our possibilities. We were political thinkers (Lupita Nyongo as Nakia), fierce fighters (Danai Gurira as Okoye), wise and regal matriachs (Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda), groundbreaking tech geniuses without whom Wakanda would be basic as hell (Letitia Wright as Shuri), and fearless martyrs (Florence Kasumba as that Dora Milaje soldier who got her throat slit and went out like a badass with a battle cry).
It’s like the director and the writers put as much effort as possible into showing the prism that is sistahood. It was impossible to watch this movie as a black woman and not feel like for the next few hours nothing could diminish you. I loved Black Panther for many reasons but the biggest one is for all that amazing black-on-black love. I feel as if I don’t see enough of that lately, like interracial relationships are being deified. The best thing about the smorgasbord of ‘black sexcellence’ in the movie is how the female characters weren’t reduced by it — they were in relationships that functioned on their own terms. The lead character T’Challa keeps pursuing his ex, Nakia, but she doesn’t want to marry him and reign as queen. She believes she can do more good being a spy, infiltrator and special operative who saves women who are being victimized throughout the continent. Seeing Lupita’s honey-streaked bantu knots crowning her amazing face as she resists T’Challa’s attempts to make it cuffing season made my heart sing every time.
He is the one who freezes when he sees her; he is the one who keeps trying to get her to settle down; he is the one who has to be rescued by her after being battered and thrown off a cliff; he is the one who owes his recovery to her quick thinking and ingenious bravery. Finally, he is the one who follows her lead and eventually does what she has always suggested, by opening Wakanda’s resources up so other black people can be liberated too. Through it all, Nakia just keeps kicking butt and taking names and making men cower in their boots at her roundhouse kicks, while still remaining the sexiest thing in the room. You hardly ever see black women like this — self-assured but not over-confident; loving but not needy; reluctant but not coldhearted; witty instead of just sassy; revolutionary but not lonely. Nakia is not in need of any man to enthrone her as his ‘Nubian queen’ and she has the love of a good black man but treats him like a partner instead of a king. Their love story had no kissing (that I can remember); no hot steamy shower scenes; no melanin on mocha on melanin on caramel on melanin on cinnamon slow sensual lovemaking, yet it was one of the most romantic love stories I’ve ever seen. It’s the kind of black love I want. It’s the kind of black love I think more of us need.
As if that wasn’t enough black sexcellence, the storyline between Okoye (Danai Gurira’s character) and her husband W’kabi gives us the perfect foil. She is the head of the Wakandan army (the Dora Milaje, an all woman warrior-crew) and he is the head of one of the five tribes in the country. The Negro loses his mind for a brief second and supports a crazy murderous usurper to the throne. The Dora Milaje back the true king T’Challa. The thing devolves into an actual civil war. And now these two black people who love each other are leading fighting forces that each believe their cause is just.
This is where, based on a lifetime of shitty tropes from movies that make us these narrow, flat characters, we expect one of two things to happen. The black woman to be like “Yo, this super-soldier, woman-warrior thing is aight but a good black man is hard to find and I love me some him so let me go to bae in my sexiest lingerie and try and work this thang out.” Or, for the black woman to be like “Fuck that mo’fo, disloyal-ass niggas always wanna play a good chick, you know what they say: ‘the triflin’ gonna trife,’ begone withchu bruh, you betta call Tyrone).
But none of that happens. Instead Okoye focuses on her job, leads her warriors to victory and puts a spear to her husband’s throat until he calls off the civil war. He asks “Would you really kill me?” And she says “For Wakanda, in a minute” (I’m paraphrasing here, I’ve only seen the movie once.) And though in the end they reconcile, it’s clear to everyone that this black woman is not defined by this man’s love. She pledged her allegiance to a noble cause and she will be aight whether he is in her life or not.
This might make her sound cold or remote but she is far from that. So is Nakia. They want love, they accept love, they reciprocate love, but they don’t need it. And they are all the more loved for their self-reliance, self-assurance and their self-actualization. There was black-on-black love between the men and the women in this movie and it gave me my whole entire life. But, more than that, there was this black-for-black black-by-black self-love that the women embodied.
Just a couple of days ago someone asked me wakanda woman I wanna be when I grow up. And I told them to go watch Black Panther because my answer is on the screen.
F.N. is a thirty something Ghanaian free-lance writer who alternates between living in Accra and Washington, DC.