We live in a time of great entertainment. Music, movies, books, the arts- we have more content than ever that allows us to explore our humanity. Last weekend, I popped over to see a new movie that came out Black Panther- the latest superhero offering from Marvel. I know superhero movies aren't typically where god speaks to me but I left the movie profoundly moved as a husband, a father, a Christian and as an American.
Here are 5 reasons Black Panther embraced my heart and mind and why Christians should pay attention to it.
The gift of being aware of my whiteness. I have never sat and watched a movie where 95%+ of the cast was not white. Every lead role in Black Panther and most of the supporting cast were black. I realized as I sat in the theater, I am 36 years old and I have NEVER experienced that. And as I looked around the theater, I realized, my privilege--- I have always been able to see people who look like me in any role, lover, warrior, champion, villain, joker. This movie finally puts the spotlight on the talent and passion that black men and women bring to the world culturally, artistically, and professionally. A movie that allows them to be more, to put on the role of hero, instead of sidekick or villain, a movie that forced me to see them as more. What a joy to experience. What a celebration. What a time to be alive. To bear witness to the global celebration of blackness. It is my hope that we continue to be given films that allow us to see our brothers and sisters as the heroes that we know that they are. Then we will advanced as a society.
The gift of renewed repentance. Black Panther captures the repercussions (today and yesterday) of the historical bondage of the black community by white oppressors. It also gives insight into how the black community deals with the result of slavery/oppression both internally and on the global stage. What does it mean to be black? What if any nation in Africa had been allowed to flourish instead of having their children ripped from them, their resources stolen. I cried. More than that I found myself repenting for the ways and means by which our country has supported oppression in both in the US and abroad. It is a system of people who look like me that created and maintain inequitable systems. To remember that the sins of the past are NOT in the past. They are a direct result of colonization and racism created and maintained by men. Black Panther captures the black experience and generously invites you in to experience the world from their lens. None of this is history for them, they live the fall out of racism, slavery and oppression on nearly every continent on the planet.
The gift of truth. Black Panther is a fantasy film but it is one of the first blockbusters that allows the black community to dream for itself. Instead of acting out fantasies of Africa from a white writers voice, the movie instead gives a glimpse of Africa from the black imagination. To the outside world Wakanda (the African nation in Black Panther) is a 3rd world country. However, the writers flip the stereotype of poor Africa on its head within the opening minutes of the movie. Wakanda is not a poor country, it isn't something to be pitied, something that the world must carry because they cannot carry themselves. Instead, Wakanda is an extremely wealthy nation that is more technologically advanced than its so called superior 1st world nations. Wakanda is the picture of an African nation allowed to thrive, a nation untarnished by slavery, free from the depravity of bondage. Ponder this, “What would Africa [the global black community] be like today had it not been made the spoil of nations?” What power and beauty has the world, the church, etc. missed out on in its effort to create "wealth"? I don't know, but I wish to see more.
Witness Black Families United. Black Panther ultimately is the story of family and of responsibility. The black families in the movie are more than just casual antagonists or side characters, the families are fully realized- strong, fiercely loyal, smart and deeply loving to one another. Why is this important? The common dialogue we get in society is that black parents want to abandon their families. As for the fatherless in Black Panther, they are not the product of abandonment but rather victims who were robbed of their parents. We know that much recognition must be given to the "robbing" over depictions we find in books, film and television where we are often told the story of black children abandoned in America. The story of abandonment is told over and over against a backdrop of tragedy with a deeply unsettling undercurrent of "how could they?" only to be answered with "they just don't love their children as much as we do." But Black Panther turns this question on its head--- are black fathers abandoning their families OR are they being taken from them? As you view the film, you are forced to consider what have we done to generations of fatherless black children? What sort of damage and to what reach?
Black Panther is a reason to celebrate, recognize, and hope for the future. Black Panther is ultimately a movie of triumph. A cultural watershed moment that will change the way people make movies about black and brown people in the future. Millions of black and brown children in this country (particularly children coming of age) are going to leave this movie empowered and unafraid to crack and break glass ceilings. As such, you don't want to be reaching out to your community and not be aware of this film. This film is incredibly important in an America whose laws, theology, society, art/film, church etc. were historically bent and changed to exclude people of color. This film is going to inspire and cause a renewed vigor in our minority brothers and sisters to add their voice and talents to our world. A generation which refuses to be silenced by a way of doing things that says they aren't worthy of being the hero, the love interest, the leader. They will not go back to crumbs at the table, not when they know they deserve a seat. We cannot go back. There are more dreams to be realized, more doors to be opened--- we, the church, must be there to help open those doors using our strengths, our people, our privilege. We can be an instrument of healing and help or we can be the roadbump they step over and into the light.
Black history month comes and goes every year and you’ll nary hear a sermon on the power, beauty, and resolve of the black community, much less the wealth created with their blood. We teach and preach and theologize as a community without quoting/citing a single black theologian, academic, or cultural influencer. We are blind to the burden of color in this country. We did not see them.
I believe the church must take this opportunity to celebrate this moment in history. We celebrate because the black community is celebrating. We start anew and celebrate their wins and hold those wins dear to our hearts, as family- their victories our victories, their triumph a fit to witness. History has given much evidence that we as a nation do not and have not mourned with our black brothers and sisters in Christ, we have not celebrated when they've celebrated. We have failed them. But the bible teaches us, there is time to change, its not too late to take meaningful steps on reconciliation. We celebrate with them. May we learn never to miss their victories or their sorrows (Romans 12.15). It is our time to stand in joy and say: We see you.