Therapeutic Tuesday: Black Panther and the Plight of Honoring Culture

I’m glad that my parents taught me how to respect the cultures of others. They always told me that what a person feels is important is important to them, regardless of how I feel. As I have gotten older and watched the culture of honor and respectful to the wayside in favor of “Free-speech”, sometimes I find myself bemoaning where we are as a collective people.

Some may call this oversensitivity on my part, but the “Black Panther” movie is a prime example. As a Black man, this movie represents everything that Hollywood has not given me in my lifetime. Sure, we have had strong models here and there. We have also had to endure the stigma of “black character gets killed off first”. More often than not, even in pivotal roles, black characters have had to portray extreme violence, thuggish behaviors, or strongly sexual characters to garner any recognition in mainstream circles. I remember being upset that Denzel Washington won an academy award for “Training Day” because while that was amazing work, it was not his best. but it showed me the perspective of Hollywood with regards to my people.

What does this have to do with Black Panther? T’challa and the people of Wakanda (mythical place) represent what we could be. The movie showed us an ideal. It pulled in real representations of African people and did an honorable job of integrating real culture into a really post-modern society. The costumes were researched and adapted. A lot went into the faithful representation of a culture that has been mostly misunderstood and ridiculed throughout history. Which is why as I found my eyes drawn to “reviews” on social media, mocking “plate-lipped guy” and other facets of the movie that represented more than a guy who looked funny on screen. It’s traditional. Steeped in history. Not for your amusement. Or reducing the plot of the movie to some over-simplistic copy of anything else, while failing to understand or even try to comprehend the complexities of the society and culture that it represented.

And listen, I don’t care what anybody says about the movie. What it did for my heart to look down the row and see every member of my family smiling and paying rapt attention, that is something that cannot be diminished. The importance of my sons and daughters seeing heroes that look like them, who represent what we tell them every day of their lives…that does something deep within me. If only for a moment, Hollywood got it right.

This is what I would say to anyone who doesn’t understand what this movie means. Ask us. Let’s converse. Don’t mock it and then wonder why the black people you know look at you sideways, and “get in our feelings”.  I’m not asking everyone to LOVE the movie or even like it. Keep your opinions on it. But also recognize that to some people, this is a fulfillment of many long-sought-after things. Honor the culture. Honor the work.

It’s a simple concept.

Albeit a lost one.

2 thoughts on “Therapeutic Tuesday: Black Panther and the Plight of Honoring Culture

  1. Justin, I have also brushed up against some surprisingly negative comments in regard to the movie. I agree with you, folks should ask somebody. Also, choose your venue carefully. Facebook walls may not be the best place to ask these questions or post a “free speech” opinion if honest and insightful dialog is the aspiration.

    For those who are confused, the storyline of Black Panther is steeped in Shakespearean tropes from Hamlet. And yes, that means it might make you think about another Disney movie from back in the day because, guess what? It also drew inspiration from Hamlet.

    At the start of the week I posted a guide to help people navigate the sticky situations I knew from experience would come after Black Panther hit theaters. If you don’t have the cultural context to understand why this movie is so meaningful to so many persons of African descent, please choose your words carefully when discussing the film. We’ve waited a long time for this day to come and you may encounter someone who is not in the mood to swallow their frustration and afford you a peaceful educational moment. (We minorities have to do that a lot for the record.)


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