In the few weeks that “Black Panther” has been in theaters, it has completely blown away the box office and has already influenced pop culture. According to a March 19 issue of Forbes, Black Panther stands as the biggest solo superhero movie. It also is the biggest movie thus far to be directed by a black filmmaker and the 14th highest-grossing movie in cinematic history. It out-grossed “Deadpool,” a movie ranked as having the top opening weekend during the winter season, by just under $70 million, giving it yet another box office record.
The movie takes place in Wakanda, a futuristic yet traditional fictional African country. It is a patriotic nation which is rich in culture and its citizens are loyal to their roots. In response to these themes, Spartans gathered this Thursday for Reel Talk. This was an event hosted by the Office of Intercultural Engagement which discussed how this sense of patriotism relates to and differs from American society.
To start with, however, the question had to be asked: what does patriotism even mean? The word-by-word definition is, according to Google Dictionary, “the quality of being patriotic; vigorous support for one’s country.” Is the culture of America patriotic, supportive and loyal like the Wakandians? How is patriotism depicted in American society?
Throughout the program, various clips from the movie — limited to the previews that have been made available outside of theaters — were shown, at which points different questions were asked to spark dialogue among different groups. The first clip featured Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, the central antagonist, challenging the newly crowned black panther of Wakanda, Chadwick Boseman. Killmonger, who grew up as an American, felt disconnected from his culture and travelled to Wakanda with questionable intention. Killmonger represents a lack of clarity about his sense of identity, which generated an interesting conversation towards the end of the program about the identity of Americans and, more specifically, Americans in the black community.
Because of America’s commonly noted identity as a “melting pot,” it is easy for many of us to feel disconnected from our cultural roots. These roots can also be a sensitive subject, as many of them are tied to a painful history of oppression. Has this affected America’s sense of patriotism? Is Killmonger accurately representing Americans who feel like their culture is lost here, who are trying to find their roots?
On the matter as it relates to the black community, Kristena, a senior at UNCG, said, “We have a culture, we have a history and I know my place. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed to be descended from slaves. That’s my culture, that’s my identity and I’m not lost… yes, Africa’s the ‘motherland,’ but I’m home right here.” That sense of home is a crucial component to patriotism; if there’s no feeling of being home, how can people feel connected to where they live?
The next video was a series of clips showing well-known athletes and celebrities across the world making the Wakanda Forever motion — both arms folded in the shape of an X over the chest — during major events. This motion, as simple as it seems, carries great significance. “Black Panther” brought about a powerful sense of patriotism to the black community: a sense of pride and support that spans across all continental borders, languages and ages.
The movie has brought about a surge of patriotism in those who are underrepresented as well, as UNCG freshman, Sarah White, said, “It wasn’t just the U.S. and it’s not just black people who are encouraged by this movie… even though it’s black people being seen on the movie screen in a positive light, other nationalities can see themselves in a positive light too.”
The success of this film speaks volumes to that and is a success that will hopefully open the door to many more of the underrepresented.
The last point made brought about the topic of colonialism. “Colonizer” was a popular word throughout “Black Panther” as it denoted domination and tyranny. The history of colonizers in America and their oppressiveness is one that has had a remaining impact on a vast number of people in America, and for many minorities in this country, this struggle and the memory remains fresh.
In relation to bringing about equality in society, Elle, a UNCG senior, said, “I have seen progression and I see progression now. While we’re not all the same, and we won’t always think the same, progression is possible.” Right now, it’s an unstoppable force- Wakanda’s level of patriotism may not be one that America will reach anytime soon, but movies like “Black Panther” will continue to move progress in the right direction.