I sat in the back of the theater excited to visit Wakanda for the second time. A few of my friends had seen the movie more than 5 times and I felt like I was so behind the curve. As I sat in the back of the theater with my large popcorn and tasty beverage, I smiled at the anticipation of seeing Michael B. Jordan and Lupita n them kill it on screen.
On opening weekend, my husband and I saw Black Panther at AMC Camp Creek. We were surrounded by a variety of men and women of color who had all been anticipating this epic, life altering, moment in history. There were dashiki’s and head wraps. There were people in all black. Cars were parked a mile from the theater and drones of people were flooding into the building at 2:00 on a Thursday afternoon.
About 10 minutes into the movie, I could detect a stark contrast in the air. This ride into Wakanda felt different from the first. I scanned the room and realized I was sitting among middle class, white America. I was not in Wakanda, I was in Midtown.
It pained me every time a joke went unanswered in that midtown theater. There were no laughs when Okoye threw her wig in the casino during the epic fight scene. No laughs when Klaus said he made it rain (one of my favorite jokes simply because he made himself laugh). There were obviously no laughs when Suri said “yay, another broken white boy to fix.”
The black culture jokes and songs with Afro Hip hop beats weren’t the only elements that made it clear who black panther was made for. The deeper we got into the movie, the more intrigued I was with the atmosphere of the theater. I began to wonder just what people were thinking. Were white people offended by these jokes? Did they understand them? Did they think it was just a good superhero movie? Were they uptight because it was soooo pro black? Did they have some animosity towards us because of all the fuss over the opening? My questions went on and on and on.
It wasn’t until I was walking out of the theater that I realized the problem. Black panther, was not made for white people.
Here it is, we have a prominent superhero movie sponsored by two large production companies. They’ve brought us movies from the Little Mermaid to Ironman. We’ve seen countless white faces on the screens. Thousands of lines dedicated to the focal audience. Situations and writing that cater to and resemble the lives of those it was made for. And this movie, well this movie was different. It wasn’t made for them. It was made for us. It was made for us to relate to and feel proud of ourselves. Not just because we had a black superhero. Certainly not because of that. We could relate to this movie because it, like so many other stories, was the literal embodiment of our experiences in America as people of color.
Not only have we felt marginalized and ignored. But we’ve felt powerless and disconnected. If you want to take it a step further, we’ve been the outcome of colonization, enslavement and what happens when you invade a space meant for one thing and turn it into something else, all for selfish gain.
When Killmonger invaded Wakanda, he began a war among the tribes that would have never happened otherwise. He created division by imposing his own agenda and starting a war that had nothing to do with the people in the country. Isn’t that what has happened in our neighborhoods? Our communities? Our families?
For once, Black people could see themselves on screen, relate to the pain yet leave feeling triumphant because Black Panther was a beautiful depiction of African pride, intellect, beauty and the reality that in the end, we win — we always win.
I’m not sorry for my white friends who sat in that theater with me. It was nice to see them squirm through colonization jokes and the general detest for Americans. For once, it wasn’t about them. For once, they weren’t the main topic of discussion or the main focus of the film. For once, we didn’t give a fuck about their lives or their money or their help. We didn’t care about their music or their president or their politics. In that moment, watching Black Panther, all we saw was us. And if you ask me, black people are more than deserving of a moment where we can sit in a theater in this country and not be reminded that we never really feel as if we belong.
I left the theater with a sly smile on my face. The white man in front of me caught wind of it as he got up to leave. I didn’t reduce it or explain it or change it. He knew what it meant. I was a proud Wakandan and for once in his life, he was the outsider.