Black Panther and It’s Positive Impact on the Black Psyche
I went to see the Black Panther movie by Marvel Studios and I have to say that I was highly impressed on multiple levels. First of all, it was a great superhero movie that fit in seamlessly within the current events of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.
I don’t know the exact timeline, but it seems this movie took place right after Captain America: Civil War. We finally got to see what ultimately got King T’Challa out of the Wakanda shadow and into the action and a part of the Avengers going forward.
It is even more fascinating to finally learn that what caused King T’Challa’s ultimate rise to power in Black Panther was the same thing motivating his appearance in Civil War – revenge for his father’s death. In Black Panther, the entire plot was based on N’Jadaka (Eric “Killmonger”) seeking revenge for his father’s death at the hands of King T’Chaka, decades previous. Both of those pursuits ended in growth, learning, and a realization that rage and revenge ultimately lead you nowhere.
The presentation of the characters, the flawless clothing, the high tech city of Wakanda, the weapons, spaceships, the tradition and culture, and the classiness were all on display in this movie. One of the things that go underrated IMO are the presentations of the characters and environments in movies. It’s what made the Lord of the Rings trilogy so awesome because of the care and consistency of how everything and everyone was displayed, from orcs to kings to caves to spiders. The same detail was given in Black Panther. We actually saw tech in this movie that you haven’t seen anywhere else, a necessary and critical detail, if Wakanda and its metal vibranium are to be set apart from the rest of the world. Shuri’s tech lab was just as competitive as the Bat Cave or any of Tony Stark’s labs. Her intellect was on clear display as a brilliant mind who was a major contributor to the evolution of the Black Panther’s suit. The trains, hover crafts, and weapons were all dope with unique designs and technology behind their operation. Even details like hair and makeup for the characters was first class.
*Side note* DC Comics haters, please skip this paragraph. Switching gears for a moment, I found the plot of Black Panther to be eerily similar to the Dark Knight Rises. In both movies the protagonist from the past is the ultimate victor – The Joker in the Dark Knight and N’Jobu in Black Panther. They were both the victors because they ultimately managed to change their respective cities and governments forever. In the Dark Knight Rises, the veil was finally lifted on the false heroic image of Harvey Dent, which resulted in a more equitable justice system in Gotham, while in Black Panther, N’Jobu ultimately got Wakanda out of the shadows and into the world to have a proactive influence on mankind as a whole. Both protagonists proved that 1) all humans are flawed and 2) putting our faith in heroes and false prophets, rather than the inner hero, isn’t a solution for peace and prosperity. Lastly, Batman and Black Panther both survived near death experiences at the hands of their primary nemesis only to miraculously come back and defeat them in the end. In both movies, it was another character (Bane and Killmonger, respectively) with their own agenda that ultimately completed the goals of the original protagonist (Joker, N’Jobu).
Psychology, the Subconscious Mind, and Neuroscience
But let’s cut to the chase. How is a fictional movie character and city something that can possibly elevate the consciousness of black people in America and the diaspora? I guess the same question can be asked about the movies Coming to America, Harlem Nights, and Boomerang. I guess the same question can be asked about Michael Jackson’s video Remember the Time with Eddie Murphy, Magic Johnson, and Iman dressed up in royal Kemetic (Egyptian) attire. I guess the same question could be asked about how having a black President and First Lady of the United States could possibly lift the consciousness of black people in America. I get it. These are all either fictional realities or are so far removed from our day-to-day lives that we shouldn’t be able to relate to them. To truly understand it, you need to understand neuroscience and how the subconscious mind works. It is the reason why Fortune 100 companies spend billions of dollars to send images to your brain of their products and services. It is the reason why Hollywood is a major player in shaping how we interpret the world on the same level as Wall Street. How can a movie, entertainment, and media industry be the opposite bookend in Los Angeles to New York’s financial powerhouse?
The answer is in how your brain works.
When a five year old black child sees Barack Obama in the White House speaking behind a podium, the message imprinted upon that child’s subconscious mind is very simple: melanated + black man = President.
Your brain (subconscious mind) isn’t interested in all the politics and reasons for this or that. It’s an impartial organ that takes in its entire environment and builds a web of belief systems as a result. Your brain is a survival organ. Your brain is a reality generator. Your brain doesn’t differentiate between what’s shown on a movie, computer or TV screen versus what it sees in day to day life. Your brain isn’t interested in politics, but rather, what’s possible, normal, acceptable, expected, and pleasurable. That’s it.
Your subconscious mind is interested in survival. It’s saying, “How can I use this information to forward the species and my existence?” So, if I watch the news from day one of my life to day one million and I never see a black President, although I know intellectually (conscious mind, ego) that having a Black President is a possibility, I won’t have a deep belief in that reality and therefore won’t create or expect it.
It may sound a bit lofty or esoteric, but you need to know that corporations aren’t spending billions of dollars to show you images just on a notion. This is science. Your intellect will say, “Oh, Rakhem, I know it’s just a commercial.” But what happens when you see a burger on TV and your stomach starts growling twenty-minutes later and you’re going to act like you were hungry anyway? No. You didn’t even remember you just watched a fast food commercial. The seed has been planted into your subconscious so much and so often you’re literally on autopilot.
Welcome to the power of the subconscious mind. You’re almost a robot even though you think you’re in control and making choices. That may sound like a horrible reality until you realize the benefit, like you being able to walk, drive, talk, have sex, eat, and do almost every daily function you take for granted without thinking about it. Wow, that is valuable. You mean my subconscious mind has a program running that allows me to walk and brush my teeth everyday without thinking about how to do it each and every time? Yes. Yes, it does.
When Jay Z was criticized for saying in his song The Story of O.J. that Jewish people own so much property in America, he immediately struck back by saying these same people never criticized him for talking about black people in the ghetto. You see, it’s commonplace to see black people as occupying the ghettos of America AND also speaking about it freely as fact, but if you talk out loud on a song about Jewish people running Hollywood or owning property, everyone has a fit. Why? Because you’re not used to hearing that. No one’s brain is adjusted to Jewish people being stereotyped in that way out loud. But if one hundred more popular songs come out saying the same thing, after a while, no one will think anything of it. We’ll all be able to go on national TV and say Jewish people own property and run Hollywood and no one will say anything.
If I see rich black people (King T’Challa is worth trillions, which is more than Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, by the way) interacting with one another with class and consideration on a big screen with music and sound effects, guess what? I’m going to take that in as a possibility for what reality can be or better yet, is. Why? My brain doesn’t know the difference between a movie and “real life” news. When I see Black Panther, all I see is black royalty and bravery. All I see is black people and super advanced technology. All I see is black people and tradition and culture and sharing and living together in peace. That’s what I see.
“But Rakhem, it’s only a movie. It’s not real.” Let’s reference the prophet Morpheus from The Matrix for clarity. “What is ‘real’? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Make more sense? Real to the brain is simply electrical signals as facilitated by the five senses that are being interpreted and stored in your brain. That’s it. That’s why thinking positive works. That’s why seeing yourself as great and powerful and successful can boost your self-esteem and mood.
People had plenty of criticisms for President Obama for not setting policy for black people specifically, but that political position doesn’t overshadow the real fact that by him being in office for eight years means he won the psychological battle to lift the self-esteem and hopes of millions of black youth to a place where they truly believe they can do anything.
Black Panther, Coming to America, Boomerang, Harlem Nights, and Michael Jackson’s Remember the Time music video had the same effect. Why is it so painful to watch blackspoitation movies? Because some part of you can directly relate to those characters. You can relate to the buffoonery. You’re concerned about black children watching those movies and imitating what they see. Some part of you knows that white and asian and Latino American society will watch those movies and draw a conclusion about you as a black person. You know it. You can’t avoid or deny this fact. Just like you can’t watch Friday the 13th then go take a walk through the woods at midnight even if you have a flashlight. You know those thoughts pop up in your head. “Who’s behind that tree?” Let me just walk faster and get up out of here. Just a movie though, right? Hmm…show it to your children and see how real it really is.
When Wonder Woman came out, I saw a tweet from a young lady ‘meg s.s.’ who saw it. She said, “NO WONDER WHITE MEN ARE SO OBSCENELY CONFIDENT ALL THE TIME. I SAW ONE WOMAN HERO MOVIE AND I’M READY TO FIGHT A THOUSAND DUDES BAREHANDED.” Make sense now? Forget all of this “It’s just a movie” BS. Forget all this “It’s just a motivational video” BS. Movies are more than movies. They are reality-programming technologies that have a profound effect on how people think and feel. Period!
I remember one of the most traumatic days in my youth was watching the movie Leviathan, which came out in 1989. It was a normal horror movie, but at the very end the only and last black character died for no reason at all. It was a senseless killing. I have to admit that hurt my feelings really bad as a young man. It may not make sense to anyone else, but I felt defeated after that last scene. (Sarcasm alert) I’m not sure why because it’s only a movie, right? I have no idea why people get scared watching horror movies because they’re just movies, right? I have no idea why some Alt-right organizations are protesting this movie and making a concerted effort to ruin its score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just a movie, right? Why are people crying during love stories when they know it’s fake? Hmm…why even go to a movie when you know it’s fake. I mean, it’s not like going to a concert where the performer is there in front of you doing something you legitimately can’t do yourself. Or a football game where you can’t run as fast. These movies are all CGI animation and green screens. Why even go? Hmm…maybe it’s because of how these movies make us feel and think.
Side note: I loved how the movie took a shot at weaves and wigs (i.e. western culture) when they had Okoye wearing one and saying how utterly silly she felt in it. And she did look silly in it. It’s like, her power and edge disappeared with straight hair and heels. *Nice touch* Not that there’s anything wrong with them, but one of the themes of the movie was black pride and adherence to cultural standards that were designed to empower black people.
Why Wakanda Is Important
Wakanda is a black nation that has been untouched by colonialism and therefore has kept its culture and resources for itself. The concept of a powerful African (black) nation that lives in peace and harmony and doesn’t act in an aggressive way towards any other nations is critical for us to see, even on film. European countries are known for using force to exert their will on the rest of the planet. This is includes mass killing and murder even of its own people. There is literally NO case where Europeans have gotten advanced technology without acting aggressively towards others. It should be noted that the parallel story to Wakanda is Germany. It has always been rumored that Germany got its hands on an advanced technology and then used that technology to attempt to take over the world. This was alluded to in Captain America: The First Avenger where the Red Skull acquired advanced technology through the use of the Tesseract then proceeded to take over the world only to be foiled by Captain America. Although the story of the Red Skull is fiction, it does closely mimic the reported activities of Nazi Germany.
The Wakandans also have access to advanced technology and could easily take over the world, which is what Killmonger wanted to do, but they chose for centuries to stay to themselves and not interfere with others’ affairs. This is a great and accurate message to send, based on what we know of past African civilizations that were clearly more advanced and wealthy than the rest of the world, but chose to stay to themselves rather than pursue world conquest.
Again, it’s also important to see black people living in harmony with each other. There were numerous scenes in the movie of the common people shopping, trading, and simply interacting with each other. There were no signs of dysfunction or disharmony in the nation. This is the contrary to what is portrayed in the media today about black neighborhoods. All we see and hear about is dysfunction even though our history shows cooperation and harmony when left to our own devices. We’ve had numerous communities that thrived economically and socially, but were attacked by white racists groups and thus dispersed. Communities in Tulsa, OK (June 1921), Rosewood, FL (1923), Atlanta, GA (1906), Chicago, IL (1919), and Washington, DC (1919) are just a few examples of hundreds.
Philosophical Dispute in Today’s Black Community
Speaking of pride, the entire movie brought to the forefront a dichotomy that exists in the black community about how to solve our problems as a people in the diaspora. Are we at war? Do we acknowledge the fallen dead and all our ancestors who sacrificed their lives for us to be here today through war against our continued oppressors or by protecting the best of what we are as a people. The movie was very progressive in acknowledging slavery, the middle passage and the role Europeans specifically had in theft and destruction of black nations and black people. When Killmonger went in on the museum curator about her being the “expert” and the theft of African artifacts, it was beautiful and unapologetic. He was so right in everything he said to her and so right in saying he was going to take back what was taken from his people.
I didn’t see Killmonger as the unredeemable bad guy, but as someone who saw Wakandans as uppity blacks without a backbone who ate fat and lived good while the rest of black people died and suffered at the continued oppression of Europeans. Killmonger saw himself as a victim and looked to correct the current trajectory of the world. He’s the purest form of a black revolutionary. Was he angry? Yes. Was he brash? Yes, but he wasn’t necessarily wrong. I found myself a bit torn to be honest about his method versus King T’Chaka versus King T’Challa’s eventual approach. I liked the fact Killmonger decided not to live, but rather die for the cause and in defeat just like his ancestors. I loved his reference to our fallen ancestors in the middle passage who decided to die rather than live in chains. In real life, he would have had a lot of support, mostly from those who are impoverished and without much hope while the bougie, rich blacks would have sided with the Wakandans, I’m sure. Just my take on it. Either way, it was a great story.
I feel the film did a great job depicting the ancestors and the ancestral realm. Two things stood out to me: (1) the fact that how you transition and what rituals and ceremonies are performed dictates where you dwell for at least the initial portion of your ancestral life and (2) the fact that ancestors aren’t above human beings and you can definitely tell them NO!
If you look at where King T’Chaka dwelled, it was clear he was in a realm with all the other Wakandan Kings. It was beautiful, magical, and magnificent. In addition, King T’Chaka was fully awake and aware of who he was and what was taking place on the Earth plane. Although he was an ancestor, he realized his fallibility and was even able to show remorse. Remember, ancestors are simply human beings who have transcended their earth bodies. They are not all knowing and above anyone or anything. They dwell where they dwell. King T’Challa realized this when he went in on his father about hiding Killmonger from all of Wakanda. King T’Challa challenged him and said he would not continue the same tradition of keeping Wakanda in the shadows.
Conversely, when you look at N’Jubo in the ancestral realm, he was still dwelling in the projects in the same apartment he was murdered in. Although, he was actually a hero in the movie and doing what he believed to be very noble work, he was filled with sadness and regret in the ancestral realm. You can even see he may have felt some shame for his actions still after all this time. Why wasn’t he dwelling with his other brothers and sisters from Wakanda in the ancestral realm? Why still so sad about one of your many human lives? This accurately shows how some of the ancestors take their earthly experiences with them to the other realms and forget they are beyond them… that they have ultimately transcended them. This is food for thought for those who believe the ancestors are all enlightened and without any flaws.
Cultural and Movement Appropriation
I saw some a complaint in one article about Black Panther falling short in the opportunity in representing LGBQ+ in the movie. I had a biased opinion when I first read that article, but after watching the movie, I honestly believed it would have been too much to broach that subject and totally unnecessary. The primary relationship dynamic in the movie was between King T’Challa and Nakia. They introduced one more subplot relationship at the end between Okoye and W’Kabi, which was perfectly timed. Anything else would have been overkill. The movie was already teetering on being overly complex. My bias was of course against the fact that every other “movement” in this country whether it be the women’s (feminist) movement or LGBQ+ has this obsessive habit of hijacking the black movement. As if the appropriation of black culture wasn’t enough, but each disenfranchised group needs to appropriate anything black including the first black superhero movie with an all-black cast. Yes, I realize Blade came out first, but it wasn’t an all black cast; thus, it’s impact wasn’t as powerful to the black psyche of America. Anyway, these folks should go complain about Avengers or Superman or something or Pirates of the Caribbean. Basically, anything else except Black Panther. The creator of Black Panther – Stan Lee – wasn’t thinking about the LGBTQ+ movement when he created the character.
Shout Out to Stan Lee
Speaking of Stan Lee – big shout out to him for having the courage and forethought back in the 1960s to create Black Panther. He certainly didn’t have to, but you can tell he was on some progressive thought consciousness when he did it. Not only did he create the Black Panther, but he made him smart, rich, and a part of technologically advanced society in Africa. He gets props for that in my book.
Also, shout out to Marvel Studios for being willing to include Black Panther in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Shout out for them allowing the film to be heavily influenced by progressive, conscious black people from Kendrick Lamar on the soundtrack to director Ryan Coogler. And please let’s not forget that it was Wesley Snipes who first wanted to do this movie back in 1992 and he’s very conscious when it comes to social issues facing black people.
I highly recommend the movie and hope it’s enjoyed by all.
Rakhem Seku (Carl E. Stevens, Jr.)
Special Shout Outs:
- Shout out the Matrix Reloaded for provided the blueprint for Black Panther jumping on the hood of the car in S. Korea as well as causing it to flip over. That’s the same exact scene when the Agent jumped on the hood of the car and flipped it in the highway chase scene.
- Shout out to The Amazing Spider Man 2 for the rhinoceros blueprint.
- Shout out James Bond Skyfall for introducing the younger Q who is essentially the blueprint for Shuri and her lab.
- Shout out to James Bond Skyfall for the blueprint for the casino scene in S. Korea (versus China).