Am I welcome in Wakanda?

I was a late comer to Wakanda. When I did arrive, my Pan-African senses were pleased with the drips of South African house music and the incorporation of every beautiful textile the continent possesses. I was relieved that there was no tinge of jealous “authenticity” politics afoot. And off-screen, Black people everywhere rejoiced in 2 hours and 15 minutes free of racist micro-aggressions. What a sacred space at a troubled time.

Yet, I exited the theater wondering if I would be welcomed in Wakanda. African-American women were conveniently absent even from this supposedly inclusive and utopian Black space.  As an African-American woman, as a mother to an African-American son, as a wife to an African man, as a traveler to non-fictional African countries, as a scholar of Africa and its Diaspora, this movie hurt me to my core. Why is the African-American woman (STILL) subaltern in a contemporary display of utopian Blackness? (whaddup Spivak!)

And, further still, what exactly was being said about African-Americans? (Not that part at the end where we are basically rescued from the ghettos by our enlightened African brothers and sisters – that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I can live with it.) What I mean is, why are we always portrayed as Erik Killmonger? Self-centered, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty, violent, self-destructive, vengeful… shall I go on?

Now, I am no stranger to seeing Michael B. Jordan play characters of questionable character, but Erik Killmonger was too much. He was well-trained, but quick tempered. He used the tools in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to build his own coffin. Painted as a righteous mutineer gone power crazy, Killmonger is simultaneously the colonized and the colonizer’s worst enemy. He was the walking stereotype of the angry African-American man – maybe justified in the beginning, but notoriously drunk with power and toxic wherever he goes.

This movie, for me, reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans to present mythical African glory. This zero sum game is just another example of a colonized mind and the continuation of White hegemony, even in supposedly sacred and autonomously crafted Black spaces. Like braid extensions at the natural hair expo, I feel that this film still misses the mark. It gives credence to superficial narratives and it omits crucial voices.

Did anyone ever think that taking Erik from California to Wakanda was not an option, because – oh, I don’t know – he had a mother!? And from the Black excellence he exuded in the military, my best guess is that she was African-American as F. Taking her son wasn’t an option for more important reasons than Wakandan shame. That same love and pride that Angela Bassett (depicting an African mother) showered on T’challa, that’s African-American women all day. And somehow, that cultivator, that influencer, that decision-maker, that elder, was absent. Better yet, omitted. Why, for, come?

Like so many narratives about the conversation between Africans and African-Americans, Black Panther regurgitates tropes and past transgressions dominate the dialogue. We should be talking about partnership among troubled equals. This exchange could have been different on screen and should be different in real life. That passionate longing for belonging in African-Americans is somehow always framed as futile. Like asking for reparations, we are paternalistically discouraged from looking back and preemptively halted for fear that we will get (rightfully) unbridled or bloodthirsty – like Killmonger. Yet, like movements for actual reparations (Georgetown slavery Archive), African-Americans are owed the opportunity to make peace with their pasts. And, rest assured, we know how to do it without destroying our futures.

To watch this movie and not see a commentary on how African-Americans are our own worst enemy is to be deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who don’t see it my way, haven’t been to Africa and haven’t known this conversation as intimately as I have. This movie is nowhere near accurate.  When I first went to Ghana in 2006, I remember discussions with Kofi Awoonor about the Transatlantic slave trade. There were side eyes at the White girls in the group, whose White guilt was so thick you could cut it with a knife. There were layers of Blackness confronted when a light skinned Black woman was called mulungo (White, foreigner) and wasn’t embraced on her expected “return to the motherland.” It brought up her own uncomfortable memories of being ostracized for being bi-racial. Needless to say, everybody was working through their own positionality. Above all else, what gripped me from the many conversations between Blacks and Africans during that trip is a comment from one of the junior academicians at the University of Ghana. He said, “We lost you – our most powerful resource. Do you know what it is to lose your strongest, your most-able bodied, your youth? Look how we suffer because we sent you away.”

This is the real conversation. It acknowledges agency and objectification. It recognizes history as a continuum and not a series of ruptures. It talks about socio-economic consequences for labor migration. It speaks to cultural interconnectivity, not in terms of fictional theory, but in realities of development. This conversation is about restorative justice… not revenge.

This movie sucks the air out of the room because it falls so far afoul of this useful conversation. I hope moviegoers remember that we do not have to do our (neo-) colonizers’ bidding by having Hollywood ticket sales rebuild our burned bridges. No matter how many beads and handshakes we have on screen, the story is built on old tropes that don’t serve us in real life. Black Panther excludes the lynchpin connecting Africa to America – the African-American women, mothers, and aunties – the guardians of our cultural continuities. If Wakandan value doesn’t come in the form of inclusion of all Blackness, let’s hope it has cleared the way for conversations like these that call out the exclusions.  As a mother, an African-American woman, and a member of the Pan-African diaspora, I have to believe that this movie is not us. It is not us any more than X-men is us, no more than Batman is us. We do not live in Wakanda any more than we reside in Gotham City. Killmonger is not my son and I am not absent.

 

 

 

Cult Movie Classics

I am not what you might call a “movie person.” The thought of a theatre experience reminds me of paying goo gobs of cash to sit in a cushy seat probably infested with bodily fluids from strangers. Needless to say, I’m not often moved by the images on the big screen, unless there are a lot of things blowing up. Yet Netflix has been my homeboy for some years now, shipping cult classics and obscure foreign titles to wherever in the world I may be. In honor of the 28 year anniversary of one of my absolute faves, “She’s Gotta Have It,” here’s my top ten list of must-see movies that you probably haven’t seen (or at least not in a long time):

1.

Gomorrah is a 2008 film from Italy, based on a Robert Saviano book. This is not your typical mafia movie. In every form and fashion, it’s better.  It weaves five individual stories of people trying to make their own connections with the Casalesi clan, a crime syndicate within the Camorra.

2.  Borders Frontieres is a 2002 film from France/ Algeria that focuses on African clandestine immigration to southern Europe. Comedic and tragic, the film charts the journey of seven people traveling from Senegal through Algeria and onward to Spain.

3. Woody Allen’s 1977 classic Annie Hall is the pre and post-mortem tale of a relationship between two seemingly incompatible people, who once fell in love. It’s romantic and whimsical, and also shows scenes of back when NYC was gritty.

images-44. First of all, “Dilwale Dulhania le Jeyenge” stars my absolute fave Bollywood actress, Kajol and, second, it involves a young woman traveling on her own. What’s not to love (maybe SRK’s hair cut)?

This is the story of two kids who, against their own wishes, fall in love while taking the Eurorail. Both are non-resident Indians, raised in Britain, and both are struggling to meet their parents’ expectations for adulthood. But, when they first meet, neither knows this about the other… and hence, the comedic elements of this 1995 romantic comedy.

5.

In the 2003 drama, 21 Grams, an accident brings together three people who couldn’t be more unrelated or disconnected. The words love, faith, guilt and revenge all crop up, a lot. The movie stars Benicio del Torro, Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, and is directed by the Mexico City native Alejandro González Iñárritu.

6. Mexico’s 2008 Sleep Dealer has to be one of the most engaging sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen. (Sci-fi is not my genre of choice.) The plot is not as blatantly transparent in its allusion to specific political events as South Africa’s District 9, but it definitely made me think – how far away are we from this being a reality? The long and short of it is that technology has developed such that people’s bodies can be in one place and through the use of a physical attachment, they can use robotics to operate machinery and perform tasks that are actually located in another place. The dynamics of immigration being the same, this dynamic interestingly means that there is migrant work with no workers, but at what cost?

7.

Leon is probably one of the most gangster movies I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. A hitman teams up with a little girl, and they start whooping ass! Natalie Portman + Jean Reno / circa 1994 = You’ll have to just watch it.

8. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, made me appreciate that Hitchcock isn’t only about scare and gore. In this mid-century tale, an American family travel to Morocco, only to get caught up in a murder mystery, an assassination attempt, and a kidnapping. There’s drama and travel, mixed in with politics and music. Apparently there are two versions of the film, from 1934 and 1956, and I don’t remember which version I saw.  So, have your pick!

9. Dirty Pretty Things is based in modern-day UK, and tells the story of a clandestine African immigrant who is a trained doctor by profession and a Turkish woman whose visa to the UK allows her to stay, but not work. Both are tied by mutual interest and genuine affection, and they are only brought closer together when Senay considers harvesting an organ on the black market in order to get a fake passport to travel to the U.S.A.

10.

The Gods Must be Crazy is to South Africa what Coming to America is to the United States. Released in 1980, it is said to be the most commercially successful film from South Africa (but maybe that’s changed since the release of District 9). The movie is set in the desert of Botswana, where Xi, a Sho of the Kalahari Desert (played by Namibian San farmer Nǃxau) lives with his tribesmen. None of them are conscious of the world outside of or different from the desert they know, until Xi stumbles upon a Coca Cola bottle.

Out of curiosity, how many of you have actually seen any of these?