I never like to go to movies when they first come out. I prefer to be able to sit comfortably and really pay attention to a movie without all the side chatter. And so it was, this past Sunday I went to see “Black Panther.” Now, from what I heard, there were some other folks who went to see the film this past weekend — Bill and Hillary Clinton. My older daughter Aubrey has seen the movie twice, she loves it. My wife Angela and Austen has seen it once. Angela was not as impressed.
I’m no film critic but I do enjoy the comic book film genre. Of course, I’m a serious Batman fan, especially since I grew up with Adam West as a kid. The Dark Knight trilogy with Christian Bale is my favorite…but I do enjoy the Marvel comics. Stan Lee was such a visionary. With that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed Black Panther. It was entertaining, and tied into the introduction of the character in the previous Avenger movie. As I drove home from the theater I reflected on several messages in the film. However, it was during my Monday morning run, at 4:30am, that it all came to me.
The underlying theme, the message, that Black Panther centered on was the absence of black fathers. The critical line came when in his second trip back with the ancestors, King T’Challa confronted his dad and asked him, “why did you abandon him?” That was after he learned the back story behind the film’s antagonist who had, he thought, killed him. Once I understood that point, the entire movie fell into place. Sure, it was all special effects and cinematic, but the writers of Black Panther were trying to convey a very important message for us all.
First of all, consider the country of Wakanda; it was truly a black utopia. It was a thriving city, modern, and technologically advanced. It was a place born of conflict that had come to understand peace and prosperity. It was a place that sought to covertly use its power to protect the weak, as with rescuing the African girls from the terrorists — no doubt that was a Boko Haram correlation.
The real contrast that the film showed was using Oakland, California as the background for the movie’s antagonist. It compared the black utopia of Wakanda to an inner city black community. If you remember the start of the film, the boys were playing basketball using a milk cart. T’Challa’s uncle was planning on creating a revolution in the streets. His plot was uncovered, he was killed, and the son, T’Challa’s cousin, the film’s antagonist, was left behind.
What drove the rage and anger of the movie’s antagonist was the loss of his father and being left behind, abandoned. His anger drove him into the military where his rage found training and purpose, misguided as it was. You see, his blood thirst for killing had nothing to do with serving his country, but rather trying to satiate the hunger for violence. He was recognized for his skill in killing, and took pleasure in it.
And as the film developed, you saw his complete and total lack of reverence for life, as well as authority. His belief was that strength and power were the guarantors of success. As well, he was driven by a past, of which he was never a part, but wanted retribution for: slavery. The movie’s antagonist felt that the sins of the past could only be rectified by force, violence and payback using the technological power of Wakanda.
In contrast, there was T’Challa, the main character, the Black Panther. Here was a young black man with poise, wisdom, and education, well spoken, yet strong. His confidence came from being a servant to his people, his country. The difference could have not been more glaring, as we saw his mother the queen, portrayed by the elegant Angela Bassett…but we never saw the mother of the antagonist. For T’Challa, the Black Panther, it was about a vision for the future, while for his antagonist, the result of a fatherless upbringing, it was about rage, violence, anger, and living in the past. Even the representations of the two characters were truly distinguishable, the mannerisms and speech.
The internecine fight towards the end of the film truly epitomized the struggle within the black community today. The struggle between two factions, one seeking advancement by way of anger and rage, while another by way of fundamental principles and values. Even as the antagonist watches the sunset over the beautiful land of Wakanda he chooses death instead of being held accountable for his anger.
The ending to the film was truly touching and powerful. It showed King T’Challa, the Black Panther, back in the same Oakland neighborhood where his uncle had been killed, and his cousin abandoned. He realized from whence the rage had come and what he must do to prevent it, so he bought up the tenement buildings. He would place his highly intelligent sister in charge of bringing science and technology to the community –STEM. And the best part was when the Wakandan vehicle was revealed to the young kids and they all flocked to it.
You see, instead of the drug dealers’ cool car, they were watching a hovercraft, powered by a source found only in an African nation. But, when the little boy went up to T’Challa and asked him a simple question, “who are you?” That was the real power of the film. The Black Panther was a positive black male role model in a community so severely lacking such. And that is how the rage, anger, and violence will end.
In today’s America, the film actually casts the two sides as a Black Lives Matter-type of movement against a principled, but strong, black conservative movement. The two want somewhat the same thing: a better quality of life for the black community. One side seeks it through protest and street rage, the other by way of principled solutions and restoring the strength not just of the community, but the nation as a whole. There are probably some who, as it was in the movie, would see T’Challa’s character as weak, or maybe would refer to him as a sellout. What the movie Black Panther teaches is that rage and violence destroy all around it, but competent, wise, principled strength wins the day.
The greatest line in the movie is one all of us dads can take away, “A man who has not prepared his children for his death has failed as a father.” I pray that as each day passes, my two daughters are being prepared for my eventual passing.
I give Black Panther an A+. And perhaps, there will be those of you who’ll go back and watch the film and garner the same lessons. And oh by the way, I have a Black Panther tattoo on my upper right arm. Got it back when I was a captain stationed in Kansas, in the town of Junction City.
[Learn more about Allen West’s vision for this nation in his book Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family and Freedom]