At 9:58AM on Friday morning I was plotting with my partner to purchase house seats at Harlem’s Apollo Theater to see Ta-Nehisi Coates interview King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). I’d just seen the advertisement on Instagram the night before, sending me into a frantic rush. I was at a conference to set the political and ideological agenda for black women in the heart of downtown Atlanta, but all I could think about was a way to recapture the excitement of the Black Panther movie. 15 seconds after 10AM, ticketmaster declared the seats sold out. I called for back up. I reached out to everyone I could to figure out what was happening. I sat on hold with the Apollo box office for an hour before I spoke to a human being only to be transferred to the marketing director. I was livid. I was distraught. The King was coming and I was missing it.
I don’t know anything about Marvel. The comics or the movies. I mostly watch films and read books that center the lives of Black people in real and historical ways. You can’t #AllLivesMatter my entertainment. When I escape I want it to be to a black panacea. I enter the world of dramatic fantasy the way I enter my real leisure time: centering blackness.
So when Black Panther came out, in all of its blackness, I made all the plans. I preregistered for all the virtual townhalls. I RSVPed for all the pre and post movie parties. I bought all the shirts. I consumed all the articles. I looked up where Ryan Coogler went to college and who Chadwick Boseman was dating. And in a matter of 10 days, I’ve seen Black Panther 5 times in 3 cities.
And taking it in was one of the most glorious movie going experiences of my life. I escaped in a way I wasn’t expecting. I loved that King T’Challa was a perfect looking, noble Black man who wasn’t perfect at all. I found him to be diplomatic in ways that were problematic. His isolationism came at a grave cost to a pan-African and Diasporic awakening. That felt numbing but it still resonated with me. I know King T’Challas. He was a composite character of people I’d known and loved and followed for years. His nobility juxtaposed against the whites felt like a moral victory. King T’Challa was the Obama of the Marvel world. He was cool and aspirational. His swag when he walked in to Shuri’s lab reminded me of the moments when President Obama would walk out for an east wing press conference. He was morally irrefutable. He was pragmatic. He was palatable. He held the moral high ground for the world and he transcended blackness. He was made for Disney.
But King T’Challa’s scene with his father after taking the vibranium during his coma in J’Bari land left me captivated. His father was wrong. And he told him as much. King T’Challa could be radicalized I thought. There was hope that Wakanda could be the black panacea of my escapist dream! He was threatened by a younger, woker Killmonger who moved him to potential. And while King T’Challa played well on the world stage, Killmonger commanded the halls of the Black, pan-African one. I was in a trance.
There were times when I was breathless watching Black Panther. There were times when I was near tears. There were times when I was disappointed. There were times when I was in love. There were times when I grieved. But there was never a time I wasn’t full. There was never a time I didn’t believe. And at no point did I want Black Panther to end. Because these were all black people having conversations with black people, like they were black people I knew.
And a movie, for the first time in my lifetime, centered the lives of people who were unmistakably black. And they were complex, thoughtful, heroic, principled, and clever.
And of the great deal of black people I know, this is how I know them. That is never told to me through a movie with so many unmistakably black characters.
And can I tell y’all a secret? I’ve always felt culturally rich. I’ve always found beauty in deep dark bodies. I’ve never felt shame for being Black. Not even a single moment. And though I’ve felt the weight of white patriarchy, I never remember feeling less than glorious because of my skin. But there were times I’ve felt irrational for thinking and believing I was glorious. Because very few things in the world could confirm that glorious feeling. There were moments in this film that did.
My mind lusts after Wakanda because it is completely new. I didn’t need to contort myself into Nigeria or Ghana or some place I didn’t belong. I didn’t need to contend with someone. It was a home all made up for me. And my mind wants Wakanda to be real because if it were, it could be made perfect. There was enough there that I loved that I could go back to. I want to give up on this fight against white supremacy and go on reprieve in Wakanda. Wakanda felt like something I know can be home. It’s a place you can be proud to be from. Wakanda feels like a place where I could go heal after the weight of white supremacy has broken me and I could put my self back together again.
What Wakanda was for me was a confirmation of how I see the various parts of my Black identity. And the euphoria of seeing exactly that on a big screen is glorious. I didn’t know I needed my imagination validated in those ways until it happened. It was the quickest movie I’d ever watched because I wanted it to go on forever.
And the truth is, I’ve been chasing Wakanda forever. The feeling of being just black and having to deal with all the intraracial issues that don’t have the weight of racism. I’ve lived in Wakandian neighborhoods. I’ve attended Wakandian schools. I’ve visited countries in Africa to bask in the feeling of plurality. I’ve sought to go to spaces in isolation of white people to retreat, to prepare, to remind myself of myself and to be whole again. And I almost hate when it’s interrupted. When I’m awakened to white woman tears in a board meeting. When I am met with powerlessness at yet another murder of an unarmed black (wo)man. When I have to code switch to feel educated and respected. When my Wakanda becomes reduced to my HBCU homecoming weekend, my home, and Corner Social in Harlem on a Saturday, I start having withdrawal. I don’t want it in doses anymore. I want Wakanda Forever.
And I want Wakanda for validation. For the deep whisper of a “yes” that answers the question “Am I real? Am I ok? ” in this skin. It is our obsession with being validated nobly in a world that reinforces this notion that historically we ain’t shit and present day we won’t ever be shit. It is our reality of being so starved of a whole world that is unkind to us. An isolated world that can protect us fiercely from a western evil that seeks to only enslave, steal and harm us. It is a place where love is black and glorious. Where we can sit on mountaintops with waterfalls and live out the traditions of generations. It is magical and enchanting. But most of all, we didn’t want to suspend our disbelief because we wanted Wakanda to be real.
And so when you leave the theater, the high starts to leave you as well. After you’ve taken all the pictures and replayed all the scenes in your mind. You’re thrown back into reality where white identity is centered. You have to work harder to protect yourself from the white gaze. You return to work with white people holding all the cards. You drift past a once prospering black neighborhood only to be met by stares of gentrifiers looking on. And you long for Wakanda again. And you imagine yourself escaping. And only Wakanda will do. So you sneak into another showing, eyes locked on every scene, until it ends again too soon and you’re thrown out of Wakanda again.