Black Panther: challenging our idea of father-son relationships and more (SPOILER FREE)

Let me just put it out there right now, Black Panther is amazing! Go watch it now!

It introduces a new brave hero, T’Challa as the Black Panther, and also gifts us with a supporting cast that is just as compelling (kudos for giving us plenty of strong female characters). While it is certainly not the first big film to center on a black hero (The Blade series, anyone?), it is undeniably creating a lot of excitement in black communities in the U.S. and most importantly in African nations.

(To read more about its significance to the African American communities read here and if you are also interested in how the movie is being received by African nations click here.)

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My idea of holding back spoilers for as much as I can is to discuss one important line that was spoken by the father of T’Challa. If you haven’t watched Captain America: The Civil War and don’t want spoilers, just exit from this page now. In the latest Captain America movie, T’Challa’s father, the King of Wakanda, dies.  However, we do see him again in the Black Panther movie and this is one of his most prominent lines, “The man who has not prepared his children for his death has failed.”

“This depiction of ideal father-son relations, particularly present between two black characters, essentially tries to challenge the long-touted storyline about absent black fathers within African American communities.”

Sure enough, it is a recurring theme in the movie as we see an example of what this failure entails for those who are left behind by the dead. While T’Challa manages to pave a different route for himself, diverging from the previous paths taken by kings before him, the film alludes that he was only able to do so because his own father did not fail to prepare him. In the movie, we also get to see what happens if a man fails to do so: the children are bound to repeat the mistakes of their fathers.

This is an interesting theme to be highlighted in a movie featuring an all-black cast. If I were forced to remember the past Marvel superhero films (which I don’t like to remember at all), this is the first time a relationship between a father and son is genuinely defined not only by the familial bond between them but also by their responsibility as leaders of their community.

T’Challa’s relationship with his father becomes even more ideal when you notice the elements involved. Present and well balanced are the elements of respect, trust, love, and understanding between the two men. This depiction of ideal father-son relations, particularly present between two black characters, essentially tries to challenge the long-touted storyline about absent black fathers within African American communities.

It also serves to inspire an honest conversation about what elements perpetuate this perception about black fathers. The movie subtly gives us a hint. Black men are continually at the receiving end of criticism and violence against them. Imagine how our fathers would have turned out if they were constantly being subjected to threats of violence and incarceration along with raising us, their kids.

“In the movie, we also get to see what happens if a man fails to do so: the children are bound to repeat the mistakes of their fathers.”

Among other things brought up by Black Panther is the topic of immigration. Again it only lightly touches the subject matter, enough to spark a conversation. A character says something along the lines of, “Foreigners bring their problems with them,” as a way of dismissing opening (fictional) Wakanda’s doors to outsiders. This is also the same sentiments held by supporters of stricter immigration laws in the U.S. and Europe (coincidentally, these places are also considered the most advanced and “peaceful” in our world today). While the movie does not offer a clear-cut argument against and for this, it ultimately presents a mid-way settlement on both sides of the argument.  You’ll have to watch the movie to figure out what the Wakandans chose to compromise on.

This movie also opens, unplanned, during heightened debates in the U.S. surrounding gun control, mental illness and increasing violence (arising from the recent Florida school shootings). The film has elements discussing Wakanda’s ways of not joining the path of aggression unless completely necessary. It will be interesting if and how the filmmakers will choose to incorporate more real-life discussions into the next movie of this franchise as more and more young people watching these movies are faced with these uncomfortable and saddening realities surrounding them.

Overall, Black Panther serves to entertain its audience, particularly aiming at appealing to young people. This is perhaps the reason why its political aspects are subdued to a level that adults (mostly Americans) can still have their own takeaways without taking away anything from its younger audience and even wider, albeit distant, demographic in Africa and everywhere else in the world.

Regardless of what you may end up taking away from the film, we cannot deny Black Panther’s successful attempt at celebrating Africa’s centuries of greatness. #

If you are interested in reading an article on the myth of absent black fathers, I recommend that you read here and here.

Also, check out this adorable video showing kids dance for joy after getting ‘Black Panther’ tickets:

 

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