“T’Challa was not only strong and educated; he was also royalty. He didn’t have to take over. He was already in charge.” -Jamil Smith Time Magazine
The term ‘empower’ can mean two radically different things. In one case, it could mean giving someone the authority, or power, to do something. On the other hand, it can also mean making someone more confident in the power they already have to take control of their life. Marvel’s latest Black Panther movie does the latter with great skill. Smith beautifully states the historical and contemporary relevance of the film and strikes the nerve of minority empowerment in the quote referenced above. The Black Panther is not wanting of power that he should have to seize it, but he fully possessed it from the very beginning. The challenge that faced T’Challa was how he ought to steward his power.
Black Panther stands as a means of confidence raising empowerment in a crucial cultural moment in time. Those who are familiar with the comic book world knows that this has been true from the very conception of the character. Black Panther was first introduced into the Marvel Universe in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement in 1966. T’Challa himself states in the comic, “It is not for nothing that I am called the Black Panther.” Just as Captain America became a figure of courage and hope during WWII, so was Black Panther a figure of strength and hope for the burdened African-American community during their fight for equality.
Moreover, and most importantly, the Black Panther became a mirror by which African-American youth could see themselves as something more than what the world around them was and is affirming. According to the official Marvel character bio, the Black Panther is “a brilliant tactician, strategist, scientist, tracker and master of all forms of unarmed combat.” The description continues to state:
T'Challa being a royal descendent of a warrior race is also a master of armed combat, able to use a variety of weapons but prefers unarmed combat. He is a master planner who always thinks several steps ahead and will go to extreme measures to achieve his goals and protect the kingdom of Wakanda.
The three traits that immediately stand out in this statement are his mastery of unarmed combat, ability to think several steps ahead and loyalty to his homeland. These traits can resonate with and inspire anyone, especially the African-American community. Historically, African-Americans have had to learn to do a lot with a little, thought ahead for its posterity’s sake and sought to revitalize its communities.
MOVING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
T’Challa’s message in 2018 is to engage in our communities with whatever means we possess. During a press conference in the movie's closing scene, T’Challa states, “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, but the foolish build barriers.” Such a loaded statement cannot be missed, because it wields wisdom that can take our culture to the next level. We are currently in a crisis in regard to race relations in our country that spans much wider than a black and white issue. Yet, as T’Challa states, the means by which we will overcome our predicament is finding intentional ways by which we can build relationships with one another rather than increasing the strife.
T’Challa’s charge is not only for different ethnic groups to build bridges with each other, but for each respective ethnic group to care for their own with genuine love and concern. Love for others in not in opposition with one's love for their own. T’Challa demonstrates this when he sets out to the urban neighborhoods of California to start businesses and revitalization efforts in the heart of the hood. Robust empowerment is not waiting for someone else to give you permission to be powerful, but true power is learning how to utilize the gifts, talents and resources that you have to better yourself, your family and your community. Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.
Black Panther provides a message of reconciliation, empowerment and forward thinking that can inspire our culture to turn the corner on our fight for racial equality. More time needs to be given to what can be done, than what is happening. That is not to say that we should not be talking about the issues that arise before us, but that those conversations should lead to earnest prayer and critical thinking for a solution. Doing so will not only keep our culture from ignoring the issues, but move us all to alleviate them.
T.R. "Ty" Ragland is a husband, teacher, journalist, and graduate student at the University of Dallas studying Humanities. Ty yearns to see truth made accessible to the public sphere through all art forms. Ty is the co-founder and associate editor of The Grounds Journal.