Five Life Lessons I Learned From Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ [Spoilers]
Thembisa S. Mshaka celebrates the reign of the no. 2 highest grossing movie in the world, Black Panther, by sharing life lessons she learned.
Think pieces abound on the internet for a film that has captured the world’s imagination from everything such as its jaw-dropping costumes to its phenomenal box office receipts (you mad, Last Jedi?!). For many who have seen Black Panther it has been a reawakening of the senses, while showing Hollywood and the powers-that-be that diversity and inclusion are worth big bucks and redefine life for those who yearn to see themselves on the silver screen.
Black Panther become more than a movement, more than just beautiful black art in motion — it has become pure and true legend. Children see themselves in the characters, adults rave over the revolutionary tone used and all people of all races enjoy the fantasticalness of one of (if not the) best Marvel movies to ever hit pop culture. It is a project worth teaching in class (and not just film school). It is a moment in time that will never be forgotten as long as we exist on the Earth.
Okayplayer’s own Thembisa S. Mshaka has received life and love through watching those who look and sound like her make such a worldly impact. To share with us and those who are still going out to support the film, she takes a moment to bring to light five major keys from Black Panther into laserlike focus. Enjoy!
God doesn’t have to be a “he”.
In the record shattering, high octane, Negritude drenched superhero film Black Panther, Wakandans pray to and call upon the goddess Bast, represented as a black panther. If those who believe in God recognize that all humans have God within them and are a reflection of God, and since half the planet is not male…you do the math. While we’re on the subject of gender…
Women can do everything men can.
Women have been proving this throughout the continent of Africa for millennia. From woman pharaoh Hatshepsut to Queen Amina, black women have been leading from the front. But that is only part of the point: women can counsel kings as rulers. Women can lead entire nations (America is just not ready, and paying dearly for it). Women can be technological engineers, like T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri. Women can even be spies, like Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, who very intentionally brings back our girl from terrorist traffickers during a clandestine mission.
They can be generals and soldiers as demonstrated powerfully by Okoye, played expertly by Danai Gurira and her army of T’Challa’s protective force, the Dora Milajé. Nakia acknowledges Okoye as “the greatest warrior Wakanda has” and there was no “for a girl” disclaimer. I’d like to see a man try and wield a vibranium spear in heels and a floor length gown with as much grace as Okoye. I’ll wait. Because there is other work for the men that is way more important.
Guys, it’s ok to cry. You’ll still be male when it’s over.
It is relatively rare to see men cry on screen in American cinema. Because, machismo and centuries old programming about crying being akin to weakness or femininity (as if). It happens, but even less so for black men. We all remember Denzel Washington’s Oscar winning alligator tear in Glory. And to my point, men crying is so uncool, he only dropped one tear while being savagely, mercilessly whipped—to underscore how strong a man he was. Ryan Coogler has gifted his brethren (and all men and boys, really) with several moments of multiple male characters on the verge of, if not shedding full tears for a variety of reasons.
We get to see tears of disbelief from T’Challa at his father’s unthinkable commissions of murder and abandonment. We see tears of loss and longing from Erik’s father, Prince Jobu in Erik’s ancestral dream sequence. We see tears of rage and disillusionment from N’Jadaka, whose villainy, fueled by pain and vengeance, is absolutely justified and turns him into Killmonger. We even see brimming tears of regret and betrayal from Zuri, the shaman whose spiritual leadership could not keep him from the wrath of Killmonger.
Tears are human, cleansing, and necessary. They keep us honest and keep us connected to self and others. Shed them more often, fam. Black Panther’s blistering action has a tenor of vulnerability not seen in most superhero films. Coogler and the cast do a brilliant job of delivering on this without a single slice of cheese.
Listen to Spirit
There is something powerful about how Black Panther represents ascending to the “ancestral plane”. First, you have to surrender by laying down, then you have to get still, get quiet, and trust the process as it envelops you. We are probably not going to have red clay or fresh snow at our disposal, but the film reminds us that connecting to something bigger than and beyond each of us gives us power, insight and confidence to move forward with courage. The heart shaped herb is a device, and I can hear some of y’all now—but you really can get to these places without any enhancements. Prayer, meditation, silent retreats are all just a few conduits to higher awareness. It is not reserved for royalty. We all have access to this ritual tool for growth and empowerment.
Treasure The Elders and The Youth
These are tenets that permeate African cultures, and have transferred to the shores of the diaspora—but the bloodied waters of the slave trade made for murky navigation as familial structure was eviscerated through the Middle Passage, on the auction blocks ashore, and through centuries of policy designed to keep black families splintered: segregation, redlining, gerrymandering, mass incarceration, housing, finance and educational discrimination, police terror, and systemic criminal injustice masked as jurisprudence. All of this can make it feel futile to get too close to loved ones because we’ve been conditioned to expect them to die, disappear or be hobbled by the same society our ancestors built for free. Black Panther reminds us that elders contribute wisdom and stability; that young people provide innovation and fresh perspective. And that we need to hold tightly to it all.
Probability is high that Thembisa S. Mshaka may be related to King T’Chaka, based on her surname. She is the author of Put Your Dreams First: Handle Your [entertainment] Business.