Once You Awakwen It's Hard To Go Back To Sleep
In 2018, I promised myself I would do new things on my own. Maybe take a dance class, defense class, continue to travel to places that I have never been before—alone. In February, I took a chance and ventured to travel to Wakanda. I had a free morning and decided that the time had come to go to the movies, alone. Most of my life, I have always attended the movies accompanied by someone. Save for my occasional rentals. When the lights dimmed the screen widened and the movie started, I was drawn in. The music, the scenes the colours all seemed too familiar.
The demeanor of the women, the strength and power they exuded was apparent. Each woman held their own. The hair—just seeing the women with natural hair or braids that wasn’t playing a fallen character was refreshing. I remember growing up as a child, having to have my hair shaved-off as my mother who had a different texture of hair didn't know what to do with it. When I went to primary school, during drama festivals I always ended up playing the boy. While the girls with long hair would play the girly role. It used to irk me. Due to my androgynous features, I say androgynous because once I was at a tennis class and a group of kids had been talking about me. Then one finally summed up the courage to ask me if I was a boy or a girl. That was it! I was determined to have my hair grow after that incident. The aftermath of being made fun of not only of my hair but the hue of my skin. All the name calling, dismissiveness I recalled in my childhood, and shame washed away. As I saw these beautiful black women, display their mane with pride. Ignorant comments on afro-hair were subdued. Yes--hair is considered a crown. That's why black women spend lots of money making sure their mane looks incredible.
The moment where Lupita’s character Nakia looked into T’challa’s eyes, I felt a tear streaming down my face. It reminded me of the moment when Lupita won an Oscar. I felt like both the Oscar and this movie Black Panther were bigger than the characters they portrayed. I grew up where movies of Africans or black characters had a stereotypical narrative. They were the bad guys, child-like, stupid or needed saving. In addition to that, I hardly ever felt, that I could relate to those characters displayed on the screens. They didn’t have depth and they were always in turmoil. I never thought there would be a day where I would see Africans play Africans in a Hollywood setting. Not the Africans they show you on screen, but the ones I recognized. The ones that raised me-- and I grew up surrounded by, be represented. In Black Panther I recognized people I looked up to for their strength and wisdom. The silent heroes that fought for us and had a vision before we even fathomed its importance. The ones that wanted to leave a positive legacy so their people could benefit long after they were gone.
As much as Wakanda is a fictional country, it does represent the sense of community that should exist everywhere. A reverence and respect for the relationships fostered. Where trust, honour and focus on the I and the other are not mutually exclusive. The strong women who keep things going. The pride in which they carry themselves. Shuri’s character reminded me of my tech and scientist friends that I grew up with. The excellence that I have grown to know of and see. Not the narrative of poverty, starvation and "primitiveness". At times, I feel like Africa is Wakanda. David Oyelowo said it best, that it had to take a fictional African country to tell the story of what Africa really is like. All those characters and traditions were taken from actual cultures.
People have a single story of Africa, that instills fear of people ever setting foot onto the continent. Where people come to take, keep taking to the point where they feel entitled. When they give, they give at a fraction of what they took. That a tradition of colonizers taking, subconsciously became a tradition, where African leaders themselves do the same to their own people.
Africa, has so much to offer, but is constantly looked at with disdain. It reminded me of the many awkward dinners I had to sit through, where former non-profit workers from European countries or diplomats talk disapprovingly of the continent. When the continent contributed to their wealth and the ranking of the positions they have in their home country. Where they focused on the narrative of doctored reports. That they oohed and ahhd when they learnt someone was using skype to interview someone from the continent. When fibre optic cables have been available for some years before then. I and another friend were the only black Africans at the table and we exchanged looks. Trying hard not to roll our eyes at the false narrative they had created for themselves. After each dinner, I wondered what was the point of it all? I would feel frustrated because, I wasn't allowed to be the voice of my own country. Their interactions with Africans meant, they were to be treated as a child, regardless of age. Their successess reliant on their monetary contributions as sponsors. Yes--indeed, not everyone can afford education and people are at the mercy of kindness, but not everyone should be treated as a sponsor child. When your information should be open to prying. When a random person, insists on knowing how much you are earning or getting paid, when they did not contribute to your education. If you were to pose the same question they would rather die than disclose their salaries. You would be accused of being intrusive. When you were just mirroring their actions.
After watching Black Panther, I feel a renewed sense of purpose, like I have awakened. Not only do I want to learn how to fight like those women in the movie, but I am deeply inspired as a writer. The thought process, the research, the work that went into this movie was with so much heart. So intricate, so meaningful. I strive to have my work, inspire people to be their authentic selves. Ryan Coogler turned his vision from something fictional, that actually ended up making people dream of actually creating a world where we are all respected. Regardless of colour or gender. Wakanda, forever, lives in my heart and I can’t wait to see this vision become a reality.