If You Can See It, You Can Be It: Black Panther's Black Woman Magic.

Author:Allen, Marlene D.
Position:Critical essay

In spring semester 2018, I taught my dream course as a feminist scholar and lover of science fiction and fantasy literature, a senior seminar on the writings of Octavia Butler. I began the course by acquainting students with the history of science fiction and fantasy. Many critics define science fiction as literature that is based on real or imaginary science whereas fantasy is based on magic or the supernatural. However, the works of African American science fiction and fantasy writers like Butler, such as her famous novel Kindred, often challenge these distinctions. (1) Butler herself maintained that Kindred is a fantasy novel rather than science fiction because she does not use a vehicle such as a time machine to transport the novel's protagonist back into the past. (2) However, we can read Kindred as science fiction if we see it as being based on an Afrocentric rather than Eurocentric notion of time. For people of African descent, the past is ever present. Thus works like Kindred, written from an Afrocentric perspective, challenge a hard core distinction between the "science" of science fiction and the "magic" of fantasy. Indeed, a basic definition of both genres might simply be that science fiction and fantasy are works that allow writers the freedom to imagine people in situations that do not occur in real life. These imaginary scenarios, however, can and do have real-life effects. For instance, Skype/videoconferencing, cell phones, helicopters, robots, and tasers are just a few examples of technologies that were first imagined in science fiction.

Even more powerful is the ability of science fiction and fantasy to imagine empowering social and political roles for marginalized people. Films that featured Black presidents of the U.S. such as Deep Impact (Morgan Freeman), The Fifth Element (Tom Lister Jr.), and Left Behind (Louis Gossett, Jr.), no matter how fantastical or even comic, arguably set the stage for Barack Obama's presidency. (3) As the saying goes, "if you can see it, you can be it." Similarly, Black Panther helps us to envision a technologically and intellectually advanced African nation in Wakanda, one in which Black women play important roles. Princess Shuri, Ramonda, the mother of Shuri and T'Challa, and Okoye, the leader of the Dora Milaje, are the very definition of "Black girl magic," a term coined by CaShawn Thompson in 2013 "to celebrate the beauty, power, and resilience of Black women." (4) As with the case of...

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