Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, signals a milestone in black superhero movies. It features a Third World African nation, Wakanda, that is independent and technologically advanced due to its vast reserves of vibranium, a robust metal that has fueled its impressive innovations. (1) Populated by capable superheroes and other characters, the movie focuses on a conflict between cousins T'Challa and Killmonger, each with a strong emotional attachment to the royal throne and their immediate families. I found the movie engaging and in some ways difficult to detach from as a work of fiction. It confronts relevant issues that offer opportunities for introspection and discussions.
This reflection focuses on the film's resonance with Pan Africanism defined broadly to include a conscious identification with Africa and mutual responsibility for people of African descent to work in solidarity to liberate themselves from varied forms of oppression and exploitation. (2) It is informed by my experiences as a woman of African descent who has spent several years teaching in Kenya and the United States.
Black Panther essentializes Pan Africanism of twentieth century activists who believed in creating societies in which reclaiming power, history and culture would be possible. These included W. E. B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X and women such as Amy Jacques Garvey, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Shirley Graham Du Bois (henceforth referred to by their maiden names). Although they often expressed opposing strategies for activism, they shared ideals of freedom and social and economic empowerment. While Du Bois supported self-determination for Africans and leaders for their benefit, Garvey as an emigrationist promoted pride in African culture, economic independence envisioning himself a feasible leader of Africa. (3)
Incisive speeches, actions and writings of Carmichael, Nkrumah and Malcolm underscored their deep reverence and faith in Black humanity globally. In 1961 Carmichael moved to West Africa to join Nkrumah, believing that Pan Africanism was a logical step after his activism in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. (4) Cognizant that unity was central to shaping respect for human rights of African descendants, Nkrumah formed the Organization of African Unity in 1963 that institutionalized Pan Africanism. (5) Likewise, several of Malcolm's speeches instilled pride in Black heritage, physical appearance and dignity, and...