Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Going to see Black Panther was quite a trial. I needed someone to watch Isa (my son) and my husband had a constantly shifting phone call with a tax accountant that ate up every evening of the week. Gah.
Finally we settled on Saturday afternoon. Not ideal to take an afternoon away from my family but I was so so so keen to visit Wakanda.
Almost out the door, I checked the train schedule. Track works!! Not having any faith or experience in buses and thinking my 10:30 a.m. showing was far too important to miss, I decided to drive. I hate driving.
Spoiler alert: I should have taken the bus.
I didn’t get a parking ticket at the mall – which confused and terrified the crap out of me and caused me to jump in and out of the car looking like a right booby at the parking meter on the way out.
I banged my thumb in the car door. It was sore for two days.
And the traffic was in-freaking sane! I hate driving.
Have I mentioned that I hate driving? #luxuryproblems
But you know what? Wakanda was worth it.
I don’t think I’ve ever cried that much during an action movie. Certainly never a Marvel movie.
I found myself missing my dad deeply. My flawed human dad.
I have such a huge girl crush on The General who burned up the screen every time she showed up. In the first scene, she corrects the Black Panther. And as the fight scene progresses, it turns out she was right to do so.
The Black Panther’s closest advisers were pretty much all women. Silly, stubborn, traditional, modern, frightened, furious… a real study in how to write complex female characters. I was surprised and delighted by just how feminine the movie was.
Oh yes and African-ness. That is, non-Whiteness.
Like a lot of first-generation immigrants, I’ve had my language taken from me. In an effort to please people who will never be pleased, our parents systematically drummed English into our heads. We spoke only English at home. We consumed only English media; we read only English novels. But they spoke Tamil to each other. They also spoke it at their shop to their staff who were mostly from South India and could understand it. But for us, they were content for us to be ‘coconuts’ – brown on the outside, white on the inside.
It does something to you, constantly consuming media that treats you as ‘the other’, letting the colonizer take what’s left of you even after the empire doesn’t exist anymore.
Because I spent most of my life in Dubai, I never really connected with my culture. The Emirates will never claim me for their own. And the meaning of that little passport cannot be denied. Sri Lanka is weird as all heck. And it thinks I am too. Still those are my places. If not my homes. Those places are familiar to me.
Culture, specifically pop culture, is where I find home. Where I try to piece together an identity. And Wakanda has shown me what a poor and toxic home it’s been. It’s all white. Down to the seams. And mostly American.
In my early 20s, I found myself getting what I used to call ‘homesick’. Really what it was is that I wanted to see a nuanced portrayal of a non-white face. I would watch Bollywood obsessively but still couldn’t run away from the stench of the colonizer, the colorism, the consumerism, the modern-day capitalism.
In Black Panther, it was such a delight to see African culture explored and celebrated with such unbridled joy. I wanted to pause the film so I could drink it all in. Though I am neither Black nor African, it gave me an insight into what home might feel like.
Still, I can’t deny my privilege i.e. knowing where I come from For me, I know that Tamil is my language. If I made an effort, I could learn. I could go home to Kandy, poke around my ancestral home, ask some questions, get an idea of where I came from.
Descendants from enslaved peoples don’t have that luxury. They’ve had their identities ripped away from them. Maybe through Black Panther, they can have in fantasy what is far more difficult to grasp in reality. It’s a poor substitute but it’s one step on the path to healing.
May we all find home, wherever that might be.