On opening night in Philadelphia, I was a part of the large packed herds of diverse moviegoers across the city headed to see what will be Marvel’s next epic smash hit, Black Panther. But the entire experience was more than just a typical comic book geek fan affair, but a movement about aiming higher.
It was an African traditional garb fashion show, a Black family reunion, a ceremonial gathering, and other elements of fandom you typically see at a Beyoncé concert. Black people weren’t just going to watch Wakanda, they were Wakanda, and the elements of such dedication touched me in a unique way.
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) February 16, 2018
— Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens) February 16, 2018
This was the first time I have ever went out of my way to see a Superhero action flick. Growing up Black and very queer, I was never interested in the hyper-masculinity and violence that came from a Marvel universe that was predominately white.
While many of the boys in my grade school days obsessed over Iron Man, the Hulk, and other tough macho superheroes — I often stuck to Disney animated films that had a more innocuous sense of music, color, and inclusion. I was typically turned off by the plot lines of these straight-male dominated films that only centered their ideas, tastes, and imagination.
When buzz surrounding Black Panther came about, something felt different.
–READ: Chadwick Boseman gets emotional about ‘Black Panther’ fans who passed away of cancer–
Afro-Futurism that embraces intersectionality
“Yo, did you hear who is joining Black Panther?!” one of my gay best friends texted me frantically last year. Unenthusiastic at first, I guessed Will Smith.
“Nah, Motha Angela Bassett is coming to slay edges and serve regal looks as Queen of Wakanda.”
I lost it.
“Queen Angela Bassett…yasssssss! OMG, I must see this now,” I replied.
For those who might not understand the role of Angela Bassett in Black queer film culture — she is a force of life, energy, and everything in between. Auntie Angie can never do any wrong with her massive body of work that has always given power and beauty to films that often lack an appreciation for anything femme (I only watched the box office flop that was London Has Fallen because her).
It would be her participation in the film along with the “Princess of Vogue and Black cinema slayage” that is Lupita Nyong’o, who could sell me on getting a ticket to anything she’s a part of. It was in that moment that I was officially convinced that this was more than just a typical comic fan situation, but something truly exceptional.
Alongside Moonlight and Get Out, Black Panther is one of the best films of the decade. The film speaks to more than just the typical motif of heroes vs. villains in a mythical world that often relies upon the white heteronormative male gaze.
Abandoning tropes of American patriotism and capitalism, this film is an allegory to preserving Black culture in a world of colonization and appropriation. It’s a film that challenges you to think about Blackness in all its nuance, identities, and human/technological capabilities. It’s reliance on themes of Afro-Futurism, which often embraces the intersectionality of various gender and sexual orientations within the African diaspora, made the plot of this film very accessible to me as a Black queer man.
What I was experiencing while watching this film was a level of escapism into a future where gender roles and expressions aren’t mandated, where masculinity isn’t fragile, and where women can be strong and beautiful without permission. Black people in this film fight, cry, and embrace each other with empathy and compassion. Wakanda is the first cinematic destination in the Marvel universe where I actually felt I could live in all of my identities.
Are you ready for Wakanda?
As a gay moviegoer who loves all things Oscars, theatrics, and aesthetic — this film spoke to me across the board. “Finally an all Black film with great costumes that aren’t made during the slave era,” I kept telling myself while watching the tribal Wakanda scenes. “They better give Ruth E. Carter an Oscar for these slaying looks.” My inner theatre kid was awaked with the plot twists and August Wilson level of family drama. “Clutching my pearls at all this family drama that’s a low-key reversal of Hamlet,” I almost blurted out in the theatre. “This drama is messier than an episode of Empire and Queen Sugar combined.”
I also couldn’t keep my eyes off the melaninated hotness that is Michael Bae Jordan. “Is he like really a bad guy in this film?” was a moral dilemma I felt throughout the film. “Like I know he is sinister AF…but he’s also fine AF…so should I or should I not be rooting for him to take over Wakanda right now?”
And of course, I had some all-love-but-gotta-get-you-together shade. “Chadwick Boseman, love you boo…but you and this African accent need to get it together,” I also once said out loud in the theatre. “I’m not sure if you were attempting to give us a variation of a new accent from the diaspora in each scene or if you forgot the one prior in the last take. I swore you started off Nigerian and ended up Jamaican by the end of the film…this might break the world record for most African accents in a single role. #BlackHistoryMonth.”
Overall, I can finally say that I totally get the Star Wars/Marvel/Comic Book/Superhero standom now being able to fully experience it for the first time. Thank you Ryan Coogler for directing this in a way that let everyone Black get a chance to envision themselves in a world that is far better than the one we currently live in. Now that I witnessed the total craziness of opening night, I plan to see it again in a full traditional attire I got when I traveled to Ghana.
Because if #WakandaIsHereToSlay so will I. Wakanda forever!
Ernest Owens is the Editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly and CEO of Ernest Media Empire, LLC. The award-winning journalist has written for USA Today, NBC News, BET, HuffPost and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and ernestowens.com.