#WakandaForever Part I: The Power of Representation
From the moment N'Jadaka and N'Jobu's accents narrated the origin of Wakanda through the IMAX theatre's Soundsystem, I knew I was home. I have never felt so represented...so seen...in a movie about Black people. I can't, historically, relate to movies about slavery or the Civil Rights Movement. But, for once, I saw my people. Black Panther felt like being back at my childhood African church during annual church anniversary celebrations. A cinematic depiction of the African Union with strong bodily odors and even stronger personalities, egos, and cultures mixing in the most potent way possible. So, yes, address the kidnapping of my little sisters in the North. I teared up hearing the perfectly hushed Nigerian accents in the scene that introduced us to the titular character, Black Panther, Nakia, and Okoye. I grew up with those accents. I was raised on that soulful Nigerian accent pounding my eardrums, crooking my neck to decipher if that strong "oh" sound was indicating trouble or laughter; if the "ah" inflection at the end of a word was referring to -er or -or (butter, water, after, odor, alligator). I was fed on the ubiquitous O-lettered words and names that roll off your tongue like a grape twirling around your mouth. Black Panther is my new Roots.
Within M'Baku's boisterous presence and impatience, I heard and saw my Nigerian people represented on an awe-striking screen. I have never felt so much national pride... I can run off a list of how many Nigerian boys came to mind when I saw the Jabari tribe make their resounding entrance. I know my cousin would've put Winston Duke's role to shame if he was cast as M'Baku. I couldn't help but to see my family and family friends...people I grew up around and learned my African identity from...in every character. My mother is the perfect mix of Okoye's "I don't tolerate nonsense" and Queen Mother's "you could never, so bow down". My baby sister with all her ingenious youthfulness is Shuri. My slightly troubled yet spiritually-attuned uncle is Zuri. My dearly beloved, late godfather was the loving and honorable T'Chaka. My older brother, T'Challa. My Black Feminist fight resonates with Nakia's unrelenting will.
I see my aunties and uncles and cousins walking through Wakanda's bustling Afrofuturistic metropolitan. Even Wale's headass popped up in there. My female play-cousins and I are the Dora Milaje, with coarse and curly hair that struggled to grow as we grew up, splicing Yoruba, Edo, and Igbo names into a tribe of our own. The iconic line from Eric "Killmonger" Stevens, "Hey, Auntie!" struck the thickest cord within my memory of calling every adult "auntie" (pronounced: ant-ee) and "uncle"...and that life-altering moment when the truth was revealed: I wasn't blood-related to but one of those people and that every "cousin" I had was just a best friend that was going to be called "cousin" to unassuming Americans until our dying days.
The Purple Herb and rituals flashed me back to all those midnight vigils struggling to stay awake until three in the morning singing aging West African hymns and praying until your throats ran raw. Caressing the tribal marks on older family members wondering how painful that branding process was, but too afraid to ask and speak out of turn. Being taught the difference between good and evil with the same juju and babalawo stories told to scare Satan out of, and Christ into, you. As I leaned forward in reverence to the homage paid to the Ancestral Plane, almost-forgotten tradition clenched at my chest, begging to not be lost for naught.
Challenge Day resonated with the experience I had growing up, learning the diversity within one Nigerian flag; over 200 different ethnic groups and we were still one in the same. Speaking our stylized tribal languages within our tribes, and uniting in dialectic pidgin when we were not. Our traditional clothes and colors distinguishing us and our regions. The African dances, the drums, the singing that came from deep within their chests...I felt like I was at a traditional wedding. I felt like I was back on the continent. The richness of Black skin stretching the brown color spectrum, glistening...sparkling in the perfect African (Atlanta) sun's lighting. The illumination of how deep Black beauty flows across the Black diaspora... Black Panther made me proud to scream "Wakanda Forever!" while knowing I have my very real Nigerian flag to wave.