The Power of Representation: On "Black Panther" 

Title photo

Post by Assetou Xango


When I would play dress up as a kid, get into my mother’s closet while she was at work. Her dresses, shoes and jewelry were all fair game. This was, indeed, the basis of growth: emulating who you want to be. For me, the most imperative part of the dress up ritual, was the towel I wrapped around me head. I would pretend it was the long curl-less hair all the women in the movies. The ones, who were loved, irresistible, pursued: worthy.

As I write this, my mother is obsessing over all the material she can find about Black Panther: the largest selling box office movie with a fully black cast to date. We saw it yesterday as a family and today, she is oooohing and awwwhing and telling all the actors how good they look in their various interview outfits and magazine spreads. I am upstairs taking a bath and she is literally calling me on my cell phone to give me updates on the new things she has learned about the actors.

“You know, the bald head women with a spear; the main one?”
“Yeah, mama?”
“She’s from Uganda. And Nakia, she’s Kenyan.”
“Where is the sister from, mom?”
“I don’t know! I’ll call you when I do!”

She is a kid again. This is the same mother who rolled her eyes at my dashiki the day before (I HAD to dress up for the movie). This is the same mother who did not want me to get dreadlocks in college but she was afraid they’d look too “messy”. This is the mother who permed my hair throughout all of high school until she discovered the fatal chemicals in the product. This is the same mother, who reluctantly told me a few weeks ago, “I hate to say this, I REALLY hate to say this…but you look best with a bald head.” This is the same mother who watches young black girls explain how they style their hair on YouTube every weekend. This is the same mother who wears a wig to work everyday, covering her beautiful, thick, salt and pepper hair. When I ask her why she does it, her answer is a jumbled mess of angst and defeat. She tells me about ageism, about the rapport she has finally gained as a black woman and that she can’t let that be stripped away.

She is a proud woman who cannot show it. She was raised in the ghettos of Miami. This is the way she has learned to survive. Ways in which I will never have to be skilled because she overcame the things that might bound me. Beneath every scoff at my tribal-inspired makeup, behind every head shake, concealed in every eye roll, I can hear her begging me to be safe. “You are already black,” the voice whispers, “why do you have to make yourself more of a target?”

But something happened, as my family watched at those large as life, proud to be black, figures dance across the big screen. Something happened for my mother when Angela Bassett removed her headdress and revealed a head full of glorious, white, hair. Something happened for me seeing black men shamelessly love, seek and kneel to their black women. There is a feeling in my house right now of celebration. There is an inescapable liberatory air in these walls.

You may consider it just a movie. For us, it is a statement of purpose, a right to be do it visibly. It is the signal we have been waiting for. The one that says it’s safe to come out from underneath our various methods of survival and thrive. It did not start with this movie. We have been fighting for this moment a long time. It has been grassroots and homegrown. It has started in the kitchen, in the barbershop, at poetry venues. It started on Pinterest, on Facebook and Twitter. They say we are a people divided. That may be true, but all of our infighting and distrust is over shadowed by our ever rising call to freedom. My mother found it by hiding in plain sight (think Wakanda). This new generation is building off of that strength and making ourselves known. Making it known that our lives matter. Black Panther is more than just a film. It is less than game changer. This monumental moment is a benchmark, a checkpoint, a confirmation. We are on our path. We will not cease. We are here.

Posted by zsmith@auroragov.org On 27 February, 2018 at 1:00 PM  

Leave Your Comment
Security Measure