“Great, another broken white boy for us to fix!” One of several funny lines from Black Panther delivered by Shuri in reference to CIA Agent Everett Ross. “What the hail!” My line when I left the theater on President’s Day with mixed feelings about the movie, but mostly about the droplets of ice which had just begun falling from LA’s South Bay skies onto my African head-wrap. Was this a sign? Movie promos had gone hard with Gil Scott Heron’s classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, I mused while trying to extract pieces of the odd weather from my son’s fro for inspection. But why not build a strategic alliance between African cousins rather than having T’Challa, in true bourgeois liberal fashion, make a Wakanda charity-case out of Killmonger’s Oakland after the fact? Mom, it’s not your story… Huh?! Oh yeah. It’s the fictional brainchild of a strategic alliance that works [cha-ching]! At least within the confines of its image-inary MCU-Hollywood play-space. I mean it’s not like Stan Lee’s comic-book pages and their silver-screen adaptations can transmit vibranium-like powers, mas[s]querading over historically-grounded minds in the real world where the good forces of humanity care also about the repair of black brokenness [symbolized in the mythology of Ausar/Asar]. Right, Agent Ross? “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” [another Shuri-ism]
Gil Scott Heron’s song title was a popular Black Power slogan within the era of Independence on the African continent, Civil Rights in America, and community activism of the Black Panther Party [founded in Oakland in 1966]. Maybe Black Panther’s brilliant Director, Ryan Coogler, was strategically pushing these buttons while preemptively managing audience expectations with lyrics about a “live” rather than screened “revolution,” feeding us another comical crumb through M’Baku’s silencing of CIA Agent Ross? In the real world, Black Independence leaders have been assassinated [e.g. Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, 1961] and overthrown [e.g. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, 1966] in routine CIA operations. There’s a reason federally-funded African Studies programs were installed in US universities in the mid 1950’s, way before Black Studies programs were fought for and finally acceded to within the Civil Rights era. San Francisco State University had the first Black Studies program. In 1968. Against this collective struggle, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby debuted their fictional Marvel Comics’ Black Panther character in 1966. It seems that White prescriptions of Black agency and dominion [trafficked as “entertainment”] are the drug du jour – either that or be fed another movie about African enslavement.
It’s troublesome when in 2018 – during Black History Month in an America whose president’s disparaging remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and Africa made recent headlines – a Ross can simply assume he has insider-status in a world divided and famined by his resource-manipulation and management skills, and we’re hungrily consuming this as entertainment. It’s ironic that, in the traditional African world, a Panther is one of the big cats which represent a rite-of-passage to one’s higher plane of consciousness and agency – guided by Khemetic feminine goddesses [e.g. Bastet & Sekhmet]. In our world of individual and communal s/hero’s journeys where so much has been so aggressively stolen from Africa over such a long stretch of time with no reparations in sight… it’s legitimate to question just how it matters if you’re Black or White? Black cultural and historical resources are still being mined, manipulated and managed by [neo]colonial powers from alternate [MCU-Disney] universes where Hollywood minders and spinmeisters tweak their gamesmanship on who gets to manufacture perception, compliance, control, and box-office receipts.
“Men need images. Lacking them they invent idols. Better then to found the images on realities that lead the true seeker to the source… If the Master teaches what is error, the disciple’s submission is slavery. If he teaches truth, this submission is ennoblement.” [African proverbs from the Luxor Temple of Amun~Mut~Montu]
Kudos to those who are mining for the deeper truths from sources beyond Black Panther‘s highly entertaining images and story-line! Art-for-life’s-sake is the creative order in an Africa-centered universe [as opposed to Ars Gratia Artis, MGM Studios’ logo meaning art-for-art’s-sake – a Eurocentric perspective]. Rites-of-passage are always accompanied by artistic expression and ritual in Africa, marking and aiding in the transition from one stage of life to the next when one’s vulnerability to spiritual forces is known to be greatest. One’s birth, coming-of-age, marriage, physical death (for example), are transitional periods in which artistic rituals are deployed as rites-of-passage, encoding in their culturally-vibrant expression the significance of one’s belonging to the visible/invisible and indivisible communal whole on either side of the threshold or passageway. Community values and protective assistance are thus artistically reinforced and mid-wived through these transitions.
Black Panther, the movie, has become such a communal event where folks have been showing up extra with drumming, dance, dress, etc. just to be part of the resonant “‘Wakanda forever!’ vibe” – a rite-of-passage that hopefully (and by many indications) marks a constructive shift in pan-African consciousness. It’s great that this phenomenally successful movie presents multiple points of interest if one cares to venture off of the MCU-Disney-helmed ship where vulnerability to spiritual forces nevertheless remains an issue. Individuals will and should differ on vital questions such as the Scramble for Africa and rape of her spiritual, natural, human [slavery], and cultural resources which were/are just as real as fierce Black resistance against these atrocities was/is – unlike fictional Wakanda’s isolationism that had Killmonger all twisted. After a failed hijacking of Wakanda’s resources following his rite-of-passage bid to become the Black Panther, Killmonger’s “sunset” speech handed the CIA its real divide-and-conquer spoils. Well-played, Agent Ross… No pan-African bonds here.
Then there’s the truly kick-ass all-female army in Black Panther’s fictional east-central Africa setting of Wakanda, referred to in the MCU-Disney mock-up as the Dora Milaje. Though they could conceivably represent the legendary Nyabingi female warriors of that same geographic region who fought mightily against colonial incursions, the Dora Milaje’s brilliant movie costumes are perhaps more reminiscent of the warriors of the Kingdom of Dahomey [present-day Benin, west Africa] an 18-19th-century all-female military regiment who’d sworn their allegiance to the throne. Known in Fon as Mino, which means “our mothers,” this west-African army conducted its military drills in true African fashion, employing drumming, song, and dance to accompany rites-of-passage observances occasioned by the nature[s] of their involvement. As I’ve written: Historically, spiritually-endowed women have stood out as leaders of liberation movements throughout the African continent – in part because, like rape, imposed rule has infringed upon the domains of the divine African feminine.
“Until the black panther tells her side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” [modified African proverb]
I love proverbs… bite-size pieces of ancestral wisdom to guide us toward the real vibranium in our Afrofuturist s/hero’s journeys/quests for answers. So. Many. Questions… which return me to one of my favorite sources of this wisdom whose guiding rite-of-passage principle is ~ “KNOW. THY. SELF!”
“If you would know yourself, take yourself as starting point and go back to its source; your beginning will disclose your end… The key to all problems is the problem of consciousness… The best and shortest road towards knowledge of truth is Nature… The kingdom of Heaven is already within you; if you understand yourself you will find it…” [African proverbs from the Luxor Temple of Amun~Mut~Montu]
Still watching the throne… ❤ M