I know… The Back Panther movie has been out for several months already, and I’m a late comer to the debate. But this is a good thing, because I know you all probably have watched it already, so I won’t be spoiling anything for you! I actually just watched it with my kids on a DVD borrowed from the library (yes, that’s how frugal we are!). One of my kids had watched it in theatres when it was first released, and had loved it. I had read many reviews, and I was particularly interested in the African American view of it, which was somewhat mixed, though overwhelmingly positive. It was very uplifting to see so much satisfaction being expressed, and so much pride surrounding the movie, and I couldn’t wait to see it myself. But Hollywood being Hollywood, I was cautiously optimistic, and in this… it didn’t disappoint.
I LOVED that it felt completely natural to have an almost completely African and African-American cast. It was beautiful, artistic, well thought out, from the various fictional tribes reminiscent of actual tribes, to the costume design, to the use of an actually existing language. Although on this point, I wonder why the Xhosa language was chosen, which is one of eleven Native languages in South Africa and doesn’t even make the top 10 in Africa. Why not Swahili, which is the most widely spoken language in the continent? I don’t know, perhaps it has something to do with the allure of the clicking sound present in Xhosa, but that’s just a guess… there might be a much more noble reason for choosing this language that I’m not aware of.
I appreciated the fact that many women had strong, well-rounded roles, this is probably the biggest PLUS of the movie, as no other individual group has been as systemically under-appreciated as African women, though one may argue women of color are vastly underrepresented in general. It’s strange, however, that an African American actress was chosen to play the role of T’Chala’s mother, whereas nobody represents Killmonger’s mom, her absence is felt ubiquitously.
Nevertheless, I have three very specific rants about the movie:
Muslims are singled out as the terrorist, slave-traders of the continent, and the fact that they don Palestinian koofiyyeh is … I’m at a loss for words … is it disgusting? Is it hypocritical? Is it ironic? I don’t know. What I know is that it felt like a literal slap in the face, especially now, with the ongoing atrocities happening in Gaza, not to mention the most recent and shall I dare say completely ironic acceptance of legal Apartheid in Israel? May I remind you that Xhosa is spoken by some Natives of South Africa, who themselves were only twenty-four years ago freed from their own Apartheid (which was for decades supported by the US Government, and only relented thanks to ACTUAL US CITIZENS who stood up against their own democratically elected government’s foreign policy, pressuring it to change its ways). Way to go Americans! I’m pleased to see that Jewish US citizens are calling out Israel for this new Constitutional change as well, but honestly, the message doesn’t seem to be hitting home in the general population yet. Ugh… But getting back to the movie… what can I say? Gross? What on earth does Boko Haram (which the khimar-covered girls who of course need rescuing (talk about cinema cliche), remind us of as they are kidnapped from their villages to be transported to guerrilla-held territories) have to do with the Palestinian struggle? What the fudge?! Do I really need to say it? Not all Muslims are terrorists, and Palestinians are being massacred by well armed soldiers for peacefully demonstrating against the de-facto internment in the Gaza Strip? Whose brilliant idea was it to make this poisonous cocktail of Islamophobic misrepresentation?
The only white hero of the movie represents nothing other than the bloodiest, most intrusive body in the world: the CIA. Is that supposed to be funny? I can only wish! What the heck?! It makes me wonder if the producers had to get the movie approved by the CIA before release, because… come on! COME ON! Ask any African, Asian, or South American country what they think of the CIA, and I am quite certain you’ll find very few, if any, who will consider it a heroic organization. Please! Stop patronizing us!
The African American anti-hero… well… where should I start? Is it just me that thinks that this is the biggest cop-out they could have ever come up with? He’s from the ghetto and dreams of returning to Wakanda, just to destroy it and destroy the rest of the world with it? He becomes a military hero killing people of all stripes (mind you the Muslim ones dominate) in preparation to killing the real hero? Is this an attack on foreign intervention? Somehow I doubt it, since not only does he win the battle initially, but the mind behind the operations, as mentioned in Rant#2 is precisely a white CIA dude, who is seen smiling agreeably in one of the previews to the upcoming sequel. But my biggest problem, and this is what left the bitterest taste in my mouth, which I still can’t wash out, is that he dies asking to be buried in the ocean, where slaves being shipped to America chose to plunge into rather than serve a life of bondage. What? So all the African Americans who didn’t kill themselves on the way to America (and elsewhere) were the cowards? What the heck is wrong with whoever decided this was a fitting end to Killmonger? I am so disgusted I can hardly contain myself.
What the heck is wrong with Hollywood that the only time they actually honker down and make an actual movie about African descendants succeeding they have to side-swipe it with some of the most racist, underhanded, disgusting political double talk I’ve ever seen outside of propagandistic movies?
After all this, I’m sorry I watched it. It literally gave me indigestion. Are we really so low on the moral scale that this is as good as we can portray Africa? And am I overreaching if I dislike the notion that the only way Wakanda can contribute to the world, a contribution which it apparently selfishly withheld so far, is to provide the UN with free access to its natural resources? Is it just me or is this deja vu? Talk about colonizing mentality! Ah! I want to scream! That’s just sad. It really is.
So as beautiful, well cast, and uplifting as the movie might have been aesthetically, the deepest lacunae were left unbridged, and they speak loudest as to the current state of racial affairs in North America. Let me know if you got the same or similar feelings, or if you disagree with this assessment. I’d like to know!
Thanks for reading