No Single Stories in Wakanda
Updated: Apr 18, 2018
Tonight in class, we watched The Danger of the Single Story, a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I've seen the video many times, even using it as a theme for the 11th grade English class I taught a few years ago. SImilar to the way I felt then, showing it to my classroom of white students from wealthy families, I felt a similar disconnect around me this time as one of only two black women in the room. We watched the video to relate it to qualitative research, but as Ms. Adichie spoke, all I could think about was Black Panther. I thought about the single stories I support every time I pay to see a film that features no people of color or perpetuates "white savior" mentalities (I made the mistake of going to see Downsizing over break), and how until Black Panther, there have not been any films like it- predominantly black, current, and so applicable to black people in America from across the diaspora.
I know I live in a white city when with ALL the hype, preparation, and recognition that has taken place around Black Panther, none of the white people in the room have seen the film. Barely any of my white FB friends who have been amped about other superhero films have posted a thing to encourage their friends to see it, and I can only talk about the film knowledgeably with the other non-white people that I know here and elsewhere.
Black Panther was clearly made for us but it was also made for everyone else. If you want to hide necessary messages, real experiences, and the uncomfortable challenge of sitting in your mess while surrounded by fellow audience members who live under the persecution of the mess that is whiteness, it's as simple as hiring actors from across the African diaspora, creating box office record-breaking cinematic magic, and advertising on every channel until the film's premiere. Create a film deserving of its Marvel Comics label leaving no viewer with an excuse not to see the film besides an almost all-black cast.
Being unapologetically black is beautiful at times like this, but the feeling that Black Panther and discussions of the film are "our little secret" is heavy in the spaces that I frequent. Did you know that most of my favorite movies don't feature any black actors? Even though I'm used to seeing the black actors names closer to the bottom of film credits, I rush to see films on opening night because I know the talent behind the roles will be amazing. That's right, I'm talking BOTH "Sex and the City"s, "LaLa Land", hell, I even remember when "Because I Said So" came out. With SJP, Ryan Gosling, and Mandy Moore as stars, those movies feature extremely white casts, and I showed my support, mostly because I am kinda corny, a little bougie, and a lot of bit woke enough to count the black characters with actual names on one hand. After watching each of those films, my takeaway was never realistic life advice or even that I could somehow relate to the characters' experiences. After most movies, I leave the theater literally thinking to myself "See, now if that had been a black character..." and rewriting storylines in my head.
My point is that I can't help but wonder how many of my white counterparts know how much of an iconic actress Angela Bassett is, how well Lupita Nyong'o plays a character who isn't a slave, or that David Kaluuya can play the significant other of a beautiful strong black woman, too. How many of you knew that Danai Gurira is the real name of "Michonne", or how much of a big deal it is to bring Caribbean, African, African-American, just ALL OF THE BLACKNESS together in one film?
I could go on and on, but I'll stop here. Every time I think about the work that I do, the pieces I want to be published and the presentations that I submit to conferences, I think about how to spread a message to get our stories out there. Sometimes that means writing about Issa Rae and Insecure and literarily bashing whiteness by discussing the problematicness of Girls and Lena Dunham. Other times it means looking beyond social justice and into the racial and cultural things addressed in The Hate U Give. Sometimes it means taking advantage of opportunities to be borderline awkward in class by putting in a plug for EVERYONE to see Black Panther after watching Ms. Adichie's Ted Talk (for the 50th time) in class.
I have many thoughts on whiteness, on how we have spent too long in schools, jobs, offices, and other environments feeling silently uncomfortable as a minority. It's a strange dynamic being so proud of my race, cultures, and identity with a marginalized group that holds so many treasures while feeling like I'm expected to "know my place" by being compliant and smiling instead of being critical, resistant, and speaking up about the reality of my experiences at a top PWI. I'll be sharing more on these ideas, but I just hope that a film that spurred my thoughts that I have long wanted to share on such things does the same not only for the rest of us but for everyone else, too.