How one epic film brought me closer to my girls, my home and my purpose.
“Where is my T’Challa?”
We had just finished watching Black Panther and my new friend Deborah kept repeating that question in an excited and exasperated tone. And she was so serious. We had already decided that she was Shrui — the hilarious, genius kid sister with the fresh fits. “Where is my King T’Challa so I can make cool stuff and help him save the world?”
Apart from being tall, lanky and gorgeous like T’Challa’s brainiac sister, Deborah is also creative, clutch and critically down for whatever. The youngest of the trio we formed to spontaneously see the movie after work, having decided to skip premiere night and go for a weekday vibe. Besides, successfully avoiding spoilers is a super power within itself.
The movie, aside from being amazing, brought out our inner excitement over comic books, creativity, culture, each other and ourselves.
“We kept thinking, the green outfit Nakia wore would look so good on you. And the red one. With your skin…”
This time the “we” included Temeisha, the third member of our Panther’s Child. Blushing aside, it felt good to be able to be identified with the different characters in the movie so closely. A superhero movie at that, and with so many beautiful, boss characters to choose from and identify with. Even though we made plans for head wraps and prints, our last minute attire would have to suffice. Jungle print pants, bohemian shirts, patterned blouses, and although we joked about Deborah’s school teacher fit, we confirmed that the run in her tights was indeed tribal. We decided our natural hair would be our crowns.
After stopping at the wholesale shop for banana chips, cream crackers and spice buns (and determining whose bag was largest to hold it), we were off to see the Panther, the wonderful Panther of Wakanda.
I sat through most of the film with heart shaped eyes.
Not at Chadwick or Michael, or even Lupita, but at my entire dream coming to life before my very eyes. Africa. A return. A reunion. The glory. The victory. The bridging of the gaps between two worlds.
Many African-Americans & Caribbean-Americans have experienced the awkward evolution of feeling like you’re too African or Caribbean for the Americans (“colonizers”, as Shuri would say, and their descendants) and too American for Africa & the Caribbean. At one point in the film, a American character claims a Wakandan-American is “one of us” and I immediately blurted out “No he’s not.” and meant every word. In my eyes, he belonged to Wakanda, not America — his true home.
When I would share my goals and aspirations of “going home” people warned me I may not be welcome. My first consistent experience with African women was in the braiding shops as an adolescent, when I was mature enough (and seated long enough) to catch tid bits of sharp remarks. Even in the Caribbean you fall under the blanket category of “American” abroad, even though few in America would label you so.
Americans are American. Everyone else is hyphenated.
I identified with Nakia, of course through complexion goals, but also as someone who was a bit of a wanderer with a cause. A connector of cultures. Serving versus saving. I also loved that she spent most of her movie as the loyal ex. Many friendships and adventures of my own were spent that way, because love is love, a king is a king, and a queen makes moves regardless. The end scenes made me tear up, aspirationally, to the point where I too wanted my T’Challa to gift me & Shuri with dreams come true for all. My messiah with unshakeable vision and purpose.
“So who would Temeisha be?” The question had barely left Deborah’s lips before I responded in novice, but instantaneous, patwa.
“Girl, yuh already know seh Temeisha ah di warrior!”
We instantly got excited, relating Okoye to our friend and colleague’s much appreciated ability to hold things down, together and up — with a smile, class and unmistakeable grace. Yes, Black Panther brought us even closer together and expedited our new friendship to higher heights.
We pooled money for early ticket runs. Shared snacks, trivia and fries. Split up seats in the packed theater and came together to happily chat about the movie during the built-in intermission of Jamaica cinemas. We even babysat a janitor’s son, who was placed in our row. Teaching him the Wakanda greeting and to cover his mouth when he’d sneeze.
“Just like a Jamaican parent a leave dim pikney a foreign.”
The theater had majestically transformed into a little Wakanda, a sisterhood circle, a time travel chamber that took us to the future of not just our friendship but the entire diaspora. We didn’t want to leave, and this was well after African dancing through the end credits and waiting loyally for the two mandatory bonus scenes.
“Yes! I feel my Africa coming alive!”
Temeisha’s smile was about as wide as the screen, as she gushed over the movie, enthusiastically rattling off Marvel wisdom I didn’t even know she had. Deborah co-signed, schooling me without shaming me over the movies I had missed. “Movie night!” was their resolution.
The experience was the sisterhood I didn’t know I needed.
As the two drifted into intertwined dialogue, filled with seasoned MCU knowledge, I basked in my little joyful moments. The small ones not at all buried in the more obvious accolades and celebrations covered by a hundred news outlets already. The little reminders of my creative self.
Geeking out over the technology scene and seeing my teenage self on the screen instead of a Steve Jobs-like character. Tearing up at the Africa sunset and feeling the same awe I experience on rooftops overlooking Kingston and Portmore. The gorgeous, Afrocentric design of the end credits, and proclaiming my place among them in the future has become more #goals than wishful thinking.
“I’ll be up there in the credits one day. If not as director, in this section right here.”
The visual arts section had just begun, with every creative position you could imagine rolling by. I thought about my fellow alum Lance Darden who worked on animation in the movie. I reflected on how many times I had prophesied this before, and how much more realistic it had become. Whether due to my growing commitment to an evolution into film, or the comforting and inspiring awareness of the melanin-rich crew.
As we exited the theater, feeling filled and infused with the richness of our roots, Deborah let out another passionate exclamation.
“Where is my T’Challa? So I can be his cool little sister and help save the world! Cho.”
Secretly, and then verbally, I finally admitted I wanted to know where he was, too. That I had met my share of kings and Killmongers, and loved them both, but there can only be one who sits on the throne.
Like the 3 Mary’s we were all joined for different reasons to the same prototype: a sisterhood recognizing the irreplaceable value of our King, while flourishing and thoroughly enjoying our collective Queendom.
Written by Ronnia Cherry for @7AMMAG: firstname.lastname@example.org. Black Panther now playing at Carib 5 and Palace Cinema in Kingston.
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