Black Panther Can Teach Us

Movies for life

In the past few months, there have been a couple movies that speak to diversity in a way that demands attention and is becoming part of global culture. “Black Panther” is one of them, and I wanted to see it on the big screen.

“Black Panther,” produced as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, premiered on January 29th and released internationally in February. Within a few weeks, it has grossed more than $1B worldwide, a momentous feat.

Why am I writing about a movie that takes place mostly in the mythical African nation of Wakanda? First, this is the first superhero movie featuring a predominantly black cast, director and production crew. So wrote the authors of the American Psychiatric Association blog. Millions of people, myself included, are taken by the notion of an extraordinarily advanced African country that masquerades as a developing nation. It’s an amazing movie, an alternate universe totally absorbing, incredibly imaginative and full of ideas, for example, about responsibility in the world. If we are doing well, but other countries are not, what is our responsibility to them? That’s one of the questions, the hero, T’Challa, grapples with throughout the movie. I won’t give away the plot line, but the question was resolved in a very satisfying manner.

The movie not only features awesome black heroes and smart, strategic and technologically savvy black women but in being black and women, it also addresses intersectionality*.

From the American Psychiatric Association blog quoted earlier, Uchenna Okoye, MD, MPH, a resident physician at UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and an APA Board of Trustee member, describes herself as a Marvel fan, but her excitement for the movie goes beyond fandom. “This empowering narrative is a step toward overshadowing and correcting the overabundance of negative and devaluing images of African Americans. It serves as an agent of social change by countering this unjust norm. Black Panther more accurately characterizes our group identity and reinforces the positive attributes in us as individuals. There is a strong body of literature supporting that this bolsters self-esteem, and furthermore, positively impacts our mental health and well-being.”

Repeat worthy quotes

A number of Black Panther quotes are getting a lot of attention. Here are a couple.

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one single tribe.”

Even though the movie went into production long before last year’s presidential election, the subtext was not lost on the audience. Everywhere we look— whether between university departments, political parties, countries, and religions—we can see either what divides us or what unites us. We are one tribe. Building walls is foolish. Eventually, the walls will come down, but after what cost?

“Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

We can always get better, and we’re best off not waiting until something is broken to improve it. It’s hubris to believe we have final answers.

 

The future we’re training for and the students we’ll be teaching

As I watched the credits, which listed thousands of names, I became  anxious. How will schools of public health be able to teach tomorrow’s students, who will have grown up immersed in alternative universes such as the ones created for “Black Panther,” I wondered. These realistic images are not in the same world as our PowerPoints. How will we develop resources to design for that future? I’m not sure of the answer, but it makes me recall the maxim I mentioned above— Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved and its rejoinder, just because it works today doesn’t mean it will work tomorrow.

We’d better run even faster and further!

*The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. … ‘Intersectionality offers important and necessary nuances to our work around race.’

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  1. Blakely Moore

    Black Panther is a fantastic film. It’s progressive with a clear message. T’Challa’s growth not only makes him a better king; it also shows the viewer how to be a better person. Having wealth (as many of us do in the United States) comes with a responsibility to help others.

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