Wakanda Forever: Black Panther
I have been a Marvel Comics fan since I was 6 years old. When I was in first grade, I was excited about the end of the school week because I was spending the weekend with my godfather Tony. Growing up, I had the best godparents ever. Spending time with them always meant an insane amount of fun was going to ensue. It usually involved amusement parks, arcades, movies, burger joints and toy stores. Little did I know this particular Friday was going to blow my mind.
Tony picked me up from Woodcrest and we immediately went on a journey before heading home to his house. Our first stop was a comic book store where he bought me an entire collection of Marvel's X-Men, Vol. 2, #1 (October 1991) with the tetraptych cover. This was the year before X-Men the animated series debuted on Fox Kids. Though I'd seen some of these characters before, I wasn't as familiar as he would have liked. I was grateful, but a little underwhelmed because I'd hoped he was going to get me one of the toys when he saw the look on my face. He didn't. Instead we headed over to Blockbuster, new comics in hand, and he also bought me a copy of Pryde of the X-Men (1989) on VHS. Our last stop was Pizza Hut to grab a pie before digging into this tape.
We sat we ate and...I was officially hooked. Those 22 minutes made X-Men my favorite fictional franchise for my lifetime. To this day X-Men is still my favorite comic book series, with Wolverine being my favorite hero, having opened me up to an entire universe that I'm still as enthralled with as I was in first grade. For the remainder of the night, I watched the episode over and over again. The next morning before he woke up, I'd heated up leftover pizza and he found me on the couch doing the same thing. I couldn't believe how awesome these characters were. Each possessing their own unique powers, but also looked at in their society the same way African Americans and other minorities are in my own. I think those were the two things that resonated with me most as a fan. I've always attended schools that were strong on the history of Black people in this country as well as teaching me and my classmates pride in ourselves.
From there, I became an avid reader of X-Men and when the animated series was launched it took my fandom to another level. I was now able to associated voices and mannerisms with these dynamic characters I'd fallen in love with over the past year. Because I was so aware of myself as an African American boy, I couldn't shake the nagging feeling of lack of representation in these shows. Sure, X-Men had Storm who was bad ass and second in command. Eventually they even introduced Bishop who was a time traveling mutant with dope powers, a huge gun and a terrible Jheri curl. But it wasn't enough for me. Especially when Halloween rolled around or I'd visit Toys R Us and there was no costumes or toys for me.
Enter Black Panther.
I'd seen T'Challa pop in and out of some of my favorite Marvel Comics throughout my childhood and even some of the cartoons. As I got older I even started reading his comics. I became more intrigued as an adult with this particular fictional nation in Africa given it's back story and the union of Storm and T'Challa only made it better. Here you have the most technologically advanced society in the world due to an alien metal that'd fallen from the sky centuries before complete with royal lineage living in complete secrecy from the rest of the world. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were absolutely a head of their time when they created this property.
When Marvel announced the introduction of T'Challa into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain America: Civil War, I was shocked. Already having introduced Falcon and War Machine I was sure they'd met their diversity quota. I was even more shocked at the announcement that followed that it would be getting its own film.
The buzz around the movie only continued to build with each approaching day and then my time came. February 12, 2018 was the first time I'd truly ever experienced an emotional response from what can be classified as a comic book movie. I saw an advanced screening with my friend Adrienne sponsored by Twitter with a live interview with the cast and crew before the movie started.
Black Panther starts and ten minutes into the movie I'm crying my eyes out. The first wide shot of Wakanda hit me right in my gut and it was then I realized THIS is what my childhood fan boy had always wanted and needed - representation. Seeing Wakanda imagined and illustrated in the comics is one thing and actually seeing it rendered and realized on the big screen with a $220 million budget was another. Sure, I also grew up on and loved Meteor Man, Blankman, Blade and Steel. But for some reason this was and still is different. Monumental.
After 4 solid weeks in the box office and just having crossed the $1 billion worldwide threshold, Black Panther has surpassed all the so-called hype around it. It is an incredible film, that like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight, is so much more than a comic book movie. I could go on for pages about it's impact on the world and me, but most of those things have already been written. Here's what I will say:
I loved it! Ryan Coogler and the entire cast and crew did an amazing job of bringing what was in between the pages of a fantasy to life! It's ignited and united us in ways that no form of media has been able to do for years. We've seen classrooms with children dancing in celebration of it's release. We've watched footage of kids of color seeing themselves in the heroes. Girls have realized their power and intelligence through Nakia, Okoye and Shuri (who's arguable the dopest Disney princess ever). We've taken photos with our friends and family in our beautiful Afrikan attire at theaters.
"Wakanda Forever!" is not just a catch phrase from the movie for me. We're all aware that this is place is nonexistent. Instead it's a call to action. A state of mind. A way of being. Pride in self. It means unity. It means power. It means brother and sister. It means that this is the beginning of something bigger than a movie.