Representation Matters: The Black Panther emPOWERed My Son
“Mom look! They are brown like us!” is what my son, Romeo, said when we first saw the trailer of the Black Panther movie. I looked at him with a confused look on my face because we see movies with “Brown” (black) people all of the time. The glow in his eyes when he was watching the trailer made me feel like this meant something more to him than I could understand at the time.
Now flash forward to 2 years later to my son finding out that Chadwick Boseman,” Black Panther” passed at the young age of 43 from colon cancer. My son cried with sorrow as if he lost his best friend.
Now I know some people may not think this is a big deal but as my son received his preschool diploma in 2017, the school director asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and in response, he said a “Superhero”. I never would have thought there was a doubt in his mind that he could actually become one. I never noticed that all of the superheroes that Romeo adored so much were white men which isn’t a bad thing, but I didn’t think it would trigger something in his mind to think non-white superheroes don’t exist. Chadwick Boseman changed that for my son and made him believe in himself.
After watching the Chadwick Boseman in the Black Panther Movie, I realized this movie was doing so much more than being just another Marvel movie. This movie empowered young boys and girls especially those of color and told a story that would make one proud of their heritage and not ashamed. I could go on and on about why I think you should encourage your little ones to honor Chadwick Boseman’s legacy by watching Black Panther along with his other powerful movies such as 42, Marshall, and others. I have listed three reasons below why we must let his legacy live on and continue to empower our children.
1. Representation Matters
Romeo: Wait, he’s a superhero!?
Me: Yes, Romeo he is
Romeo: He’s brown like me!
I never understood the importance of having movie characters and cartoon characters that reflect all races and backgrounds of children. As a child, I grew up on Rugrats, All That, The Cosby Show, Living Single, Martin, and so on and I felt like those shows really showed people of color in a positive light. However, after watching this TED TALK , I quickly realized how different backgrounds not being represented in children’s books can affect a child’s confidence, goals, and entire outlook on life. Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. She stated that “When I was seven, I wrote exactly the kinds of stories, I was reading. All of my characters were white and blue eyed, they played in the snow and ate apples… Now, despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria and never been outside of Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, and we ate mangoes… What this demonstrates is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children… I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I couldn’t identify.”
Chadwick Boseman’s role as Black Panther helped empower little boys and girls of color to grow up and be whatever they want to be by identifying with them.
2. A Black Superhero that is not a sidekick!
Now I know some people may disagree because Blade was definitely a lead superhero that was the definition of a cool and brave. However, Black Panther tells a different story. Blade had no community, no family, and an all-white cast. No shade to Blade but Black Panther changed the game when it came to black superhero movies. If all your child sees are the black/brown boy being the side kick or a loner surrounded by people who are not of color for support, that could really lead to some self-hate issues. Black Panther was one of the first movies of its kind with a predominantly black cast (that didn’t involve slavery) plus a black director, Ryan Coogler (Director of Creed & Fruitvale Station). This movie embraced culture with intelligence, humor, style, and action! I love movies that show black history, (although I tend to leave angry after the movies about slavery and civil rights because I get so traumatized about the treatment of our people during the movie) but what Chadwick did with a full cast of black people was amazing! This movie always left Romeo feeling happy and empowered!
3. Black Women were praised!
The way Black Panther represented black woman was brilliant. Black women were the warriors, the intelligence, the glue that held things together, and most importantly seen as drop dead gorgeous. For too long black woman with coarse hair is just the “pretty” girl’s best friend in movies. There were several instances in Black Panther where Chadwick Boseman described a black woman’s beauty as breathtaking. The movie even showed men bowing to them because of their strength, beauty, and passion. This is not something to be taken lightly. Think about how black women are represented in movies, stories, news, social media, etc… It can be sad to think about at times. Black Panther made me proud to be a woman of color and I know it made Romeo proud to be raised by one. He constantly points to the women warriors and says, “That one is you, Mommy!” and then he continues to say that he is the Black Panther. The fact that Romeo could see his mother in a movie and people who look like her be seen as beautiful, intelligent, strong, and passionate has always brought tears to my eyes.
To all moms, of all colors, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, I encourage you to honor Chadwick Boseman’s memory by watching Black Panther because it made huge strides in changing what our little ones see as a superhero and how they view themselves.