For Us, In Our Grieving
Updated: Jan 17
Last weekend, Hollywood experienced a blow that shook the world. The light that was Chadwick Boseman will not be felt again on this earth, and if we feel his loss so deeply, I can not begin to imagine the loss his family and friends feel. I can only pray for comfort and peace for them at this time.
When T’Challa was first introduced on screen in 2016, I was excited- not just because he was black and African- but because of the way he appeared on screen. He was calm and dignified, oozing a charisma that made me sit up in my seat and go, ‘okay, who is that?’ It was that that made me excited to see him get his own movie; the fact that he was black and African were just bonuses to me. I was, after all, used to the idea of African royalty, and I already knew we are beautiful- I didn’t really need the reminder. I thought this despite the fact that I too had grown up wanting to be lighter, to have longer straighter hair like Barbie’s, even though I had always been surrounded by black people.
But then I went to the movie and saw my Dad’s ‘African Dad’ sandals on the big screen, heard a main character speak Hausa, and saw black people everywhere make the movie an event; with dashikis, and headscarves, and ankaras, and people joking about bringing pounded yam into the theatres. Shoot, my parents went to a Marvel movie without their kids!
And when I step out of my own experience as a Nigerian woman who spent most of her life there and see the admiration in the eyes of my black brothers and sisters who grew up in the West, I feel the gravity of this movie even more. I think of the two black boys I met volunteering at camp asking if I was from Wakanda when they found out I was African. “Yeah sure, I’m from Wakanda,” I joked, before explaining that I’m Nigerian and Wakanda isn’t a real place. I think of the way their faces lit up as they asked me that, and now allow myself to see the beauty in that moment- it’s a far cry from the “African booty scratcher” taunts I heard Africans who grew up in the West endured.
My heart is moved for black children especially at this time. It breaks because someone who fought so hard for us- for them- is gone, and they now have to reckon with that loss. Yet, it is glad, because they were freed from the lies Hollywood fed us; that we were animals, criminals; not enough to be put on screen and when we were, we were gang members, drug dealers, ugly, the help, the whore, uneducated, a clown, the sidekick, and on a good day, ‘the person we have to let people know, ‘hey, look, we’re diverse!’ I’m glad because they didn’t have to become adults to unlearn the lies and see themselves as more. They saw beauty, they saw good and they saw black people be enough in themselves.
I hope they remember that, and that we never stop telling them.
I’m somewhat ashamed that it took me seeing black children grieve to understand fully what people mean when they say ‘representation matters’, but I look at them and see why Chadwick fought so hard.
My sisters have said repeatedly, “the mantle has been passed,” and I think it would be disrespectful to ignore the fact that there have been other people in this fight, there are other people in this fight. Now I challenge myself, and you, to be more intentional in it.
May we not wait until we have sons and daughters who are negatively affected by this rhetoric before we go against it.
May we not just bask in the glory of what was, but work towards a glory that will be.
May we be black and excellent in our own lives.
May we always see the beauty in our stories, and then tell them.
Black Panther is on Disney+, if you want to check it out… again.