Opinion: More than just a superhero

Photo credited to Disney

Photo credited to Disney

In the wake of the new Marvel movie “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” being released on Nov. 11, I am reminded yet again of how much the “Black Panther” movie franchise has affected me. 

I remember when I saw “Black Panther” for the first time. I was living in south Dallas and was accompanied by my two older sisters. I remember walking into the movie theater overly-hyped, expecting one of the best experiences of my life. And it turns out, I got just that. 

To most, superheroes are just fictional characters; a person you watch on a screen when you want to see the good guys win. But, for me, Black Panther is so much more. 

I walked out of the movie theater a different person. This was the start of my intriguement with African culture and what the symbolism of the black panther actually meant. A weird start? Yes. It would have probably been better if I had admired a nonfictional character, but nevertheless, it was a start on the journey toward embracing my culture. 

Growing up as a black kid in America has many downsides, the obvious being the stereotypes and constant pressure to prove I am more than what some may assume because of my skin color. I repeatedly hear students make sly remarks about their black counterparts regarding their levels of attraction, smarts and more. Despite this, none of these comments have ever truly bothered me when they were geared toward me. The one thing that has always taken a toll on me was how I did not know my own heritage. Yes, I am black, but there’s a difference between being black and being “black-black.” Knowing specifically where your family has come from and having that culture more visibly present in one’s home was something I always envied. However, that has changed for me since I watched “Black Panther.”

The main message of the franchise is the importance of unity. Though conveyed in many other Marvel movies, “Black Panther” is the best at expressing this point when it comes to giving power to the minority. Anyone can say that “The Avengers” show unity, but it is a literal group of superheroes working together. With “Black Panther,” it feels more intimate. You have actual citizens of a nation working together to fight against evil. This aspect impacted me. 

I realized that it did not matter if I was fully connected to my culture. I am who I am and because of that, I will always be connected to my heritage. In the first “Black Panther,” T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) goes to Harlem and connects with a few kids in the area. Even though these kids most likely are not second generation immigrants from Africa, they still found joy in their small interaction with T’Challa and his younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). From this I learned that I, like those kids, can connect with others within my community regardless of whether or not I know my heritage. It’s OK to wonder where you come from, but your lack of knowledge doesn’t define who you are. I am not lesser than my counterparts because of what I am unaware of.

After watching the “Black Panther” I longed to have some form of a tangible item in remembrance of my favorite Marvel superhero. The first form of merch I was able to acquire was a shirt from a poetry slam event. The shirt held the Black Panther mask, and some chuckle worthy poetry pun that I would rather not remember. The next and latest merch that I acquired was a “Black Panther” mug.

Toward the end of 2019, I accompanied my sister to a Japanese Fall Festival in Dallas Fort Worth. As we walked around the festival, ogling at all of the shops and beautiful performances, we noticed there were shops lined against a side of the lot. Instantly, we felt the need to walk over to the shops and see what each hut had to offer. It was the third shop down the line where I found the “Black Panther” mug that I’ve now owned for the past three years. 

Nyla Smith

Bought at a Japanese Fall Festival in Dallas Fort Worth in 2019, this “Black Panther” mug was sold in a merch hut that held products for various franchises, ranging from popular anime characters like “Naruto” to Marvel Cinematic characters like “Iron Man.”

Once I got my final piece of merchandise, there wasn’t much else to be excited for. I had slowly started to lose interest in Marvel and my boredom started to heighten. When Chadwick Bosemen passed, that boredom was filled with sadness and I was still losing interest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, when I saw the first ad for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” all of that sadness and discontent disappeared. I was filled with overwhelming joy and excitement. 

After watching “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I sat in the theater for at least two minutes, basking in its glory. It took me a while to soak all of the movie in and as I write this, I still have not fully processed what I watched no less than an hour ago. I shed a tear at least four times during the movie and once after. 

The message behind this movie spoke volumes. The passing of Boseman had a large effect on me. Though I didn’t curl into a ball on the floor and bawl my eyes out, I did experience an unexpected shift in my life. This change was in the midst of COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement and torturous online schooling adding to the frustration and confusion I was already experiencing. In the movie, you can see the struggle and growth of each character due to the loss of T’Challa in their lives and it made the movie feel all the more real.

I felt each painful experience like it was my own, as if I was a close relative to the royal family. 

I’m not ashamed of the effect that this franchise has had on me. It was released during one of the darkest times in my life and has been present through some of my lightest. I will continue to support the stories of each character within this movie as time progresses. I hope to experience some of the greatest moments of my life again in the movie theater as Marvel, hopefully, produces more movies within the “Black Panther” franchise.