To say that viewing Ryan Coogler's Black Panther has greatly inspired me would be an understatement. While the joy I have taken from this film is not without its own critical caveats, (1) in the age of Trump and the resurgence of a covert politics of antagonism, I am relieved to see the film thrive in, and offer a slice of joy for, a community that has remained under assault by forces too legion to rehearse here. (2) Among other things, the film's success stands as one more "small but richly symbolic instance of racial justice in the notoriously racist business of mass media entertainment." (3) Moreover, as a cultural text, this film offers particularly fertile ground for mining. With this in mind, I have been excited about bringing the film into my classroom spaces.
However, as an African American scholar who teaches on a predominantly white campus, and whose scholarly work largely addresses various aspects of the African diaspora, I find myself in a precarious position: I must constantly negotiate the line between speaking about the black community and speaking for it. I feel additional pressure from the fact that, until this academic school year, I was one of only two black faculty members on campus. (4) While many of the students who do not come from marginalized communities willingly concede the multicultural plurality of the United States, few recognize how common views of this plurality retain "an Anglo consciousness at the center as the knower and marginalizes other peoples and cultures as static objects of knowledge." (5) More often than not, the assertion that one does "not see color" is offered as a way of side-stepping racial difference, leaving students with unnuanced perceptions of the black community within the United States and rendering black histories, communities, and experiences in Europe, South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Africa (to say nothing of Asia, South Asia, and the South Pacific) practically unimaginable. (6)
To say that Black Panther abounds with nuances is no hyperbole, nor is it one to say that I have felt a certain anxiety over introducing the film in a course. How can I reach the film's deeper levels when I will undoubtedly need to first provide a great deal of foundational information (e.g., the difference between "African" and "African American")?
As I have continued contemplating ways of effectively working the film into my courses, I find it difficult not to agree with scholar Elaine Showalter that often "our internalized anxieties about the infinite amount of literary...