While waiting to watch Black Panther for the first time, I observed the people in the theater. I saw black people wearing Dashikis, kids of all ethnic backgrounds wearing Black Panther masks, and more swag than a Wakandan swap meet. I honestly thought I had seen all the available Black Panther accessories, and boy was I wrong. I saw necklaces, watches, purses even backpacks! What stood out the most for me were the kids holding Black Panther action figures. This was when I realized that I wasn’t just watching a movie.
I was experiencing a moment in time.
When I was in third grade my mother was a single black woman who had to take care of four kids by herself. She knew that when Christmas came around she would not be able to afford a lot of toys for us. When that day came my siblings got dolls and action figures. Me? I got a He-Man Power Sword. I quickly ran outside the next day, Power Sword in hand.
“I HAVE THE POWER!!!”
I screamed, almost like I was in Castle Grayskull myself. The other kids playing in the street huddled over to me, amazed at the toy I got. Before that day I never realized that I was the only black kid on the block, but that changed immediately. The white kids pointed and laughed at me, saying that a black person could never be He-Man. This moment crushed me so much, I threw the toy away. All the heroes I saw on TV didn’t look like me, so how can I be a hero as well? If only I knew that it would get better.
Fast forward 30 plus years. A lot has changed since then. Representation is a big part of geek culture now, and little kids all over the world are starting to see themselves in their favorite books, movies, cartoons, etc. As a father now myself, I am proud to know that my children are growing up in a world where they feel represented in their favorite shows. One day while watching TV I saw a commercial that brought a tear to my eye:
After watching the Hasbro commercial for Black Panther, I froze. I flashed back to when I was the kid holding the Power Sword, being told I could never be He-Man. I grew up idolizing Spider-Man and Thor but had been told I could never be them because of my skin color. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on any child. One of the main reasons we love these characters is that they remind us of ourselves. The constant exposure to superheroes we are daily subjected to allows us to relate to them as well. So when I see a commercial like this with black children playing, I see it as more than just a marketing tool: I see it as “You can be a hero too!” That was a feeling, an affirmation that I wish that I had as a kid. I’d almost be jealous if I also weren’t so proud.
Black Panther is not just an action film; it also shows how important one’s cultural identity is. My wife and kids are of Latinx heritage and learned so much about African culture that they immediately Googled as much info as they could. They learned about scarification from Killmonger. They learned about the Mursi and Surma tribes after seeing Isaach De Bankolé’s portrayal of a rival tribe elder with a Lip Plate. They wanted to learn more and watch the film repeatedly just to see what they missed. I almost envy my children and how quickly and easily they can soak up knowledge in today’s technology. My wife then told me to stock up on Black Panther Funko Pop Figures. I was happy to oblige.
After my second viewing of Black Panther I found myself crying in the car. I wish that my Chrysler 200 was a DeLorean so that I could gun it to 88, go back in time, and tell young me that it does get better, that in the future young black boys will get to see themselves standing next to Spider-Man on the big screen. But I hope that this representation doesn’t just end there. Because honestly, this excitement is too good not to share. I want little Muslim kids to see themselves with Ms. Marvel. I want little Latinx kids everywhere to see America Chavez standing next to Captain America. But until then, you can find me at the nearest Target and Toys ‘R’ Us buying all of the Black Panther toys…for my kids of course.
Yeah… for the kids.
You are now in the presence of The Mighty Hands of Khonshu aka The Fist of the NorCal aka Infinity Knuckles aka Vibranium Clippers aka Terrigen Haze aka Vishanti Slippers aka Latverian Lamborghini aka Adamantium Triceps aka The New Comic Book Daywalker aka Unstable Molecule aka Beats by Pym aka Foster Child of the Atom aka Triple XXX-Gene aka the Walking, Talking Red 100 Emoji. Stop putting pineapple on a pizza.