The Thrill of the Black Panther
I put on my colorful embroidered African shirt I brought from Zambia years ago. I put on my West African colorful hat. I wore my Zambian flag colors scarf around my neck. I got into my car and selected from my !pod Vimbuza Tumbuka traditional music I hand tape recorded at night in August in 1993 at Chifwiti Village in Lundazi. Listening to this music was perfect for this special occasion. I had digitized the entire 40 minute audio tape of the music in 2000. I drove the 6Kms on the 4 lane I-81 North InterState American Highway to the shopping Mall.
My heart was beating fast with anticipation and excitement. I was about to find out if all the global publicity about the “Black Panther” was based on reality or slick commercial hype where anything easily goes viral these days with the right internet manipulation. During the first scenes, I saw 2 African American men talking in an apartment in the usual black ghetto as they were uncovering 2 large bad ass high powered automatic rifles. I rolled my eyes, slapped my forehead and thought: “I have been duped! Why was I wasting my time? I thought they said this movie was not about the usual tiresome racist white American Hollywood characters of black and African criminals, pimps, drug dealers, and violent ghetto thugs.”
After a few minutes, I suddenly realized I was seeing something entirely new that I had never seen on a large movie screen before since as a child, I first saw a Hollywood black and white grainy cinema in 1960. This is when my school teacher father hang the family white bed sheet on the outside of our house red brick wall in the evening on which the cinema was projected. This was at Chasela Primary School in the Luangwa Valley. The white British cinema crew with their grey Land Rover did not have a portable white movie screen. This was at the remote village school in the British colonial Northern Rhodesia, now independent Zambia in Southern Africa.
What I was seeing now is what historians will call the shifting paradigm and seismic shift in epistemology. Big block buster movies will not be the same after you have seen “The Black Panther”. I know all of this sounds hyperbolic. I will leave you to go and make your own judgement when you decide to watch the movie. I don’t want to describe it all to avoid being a spoiler.
Of course there are numerous great things about the movie. One of them is for the first time I was able to see all the wide shades of us Africans and black people that I grew up with. People that I have seen, touched, loved, worked with, went to school with, grew up with, laughed with, smiled, smelled, teased, and sometimes been angry and argued with in normal life. The black people had natural kinky hair, light brown skin, and blue black dark skin like my late mother, flat wide noses you could drive a truck or a Dubrava bus through, had coherent speech, I saw beautiful black women and heard African languages in including Xhosa. I swear Lupita Nyango is so stunningly beautiful, she looks like Lina Phiri from Kasonjola Village in Chipata. In my romantic adventure novel “The Bridge”, I describe Lina Phiri’s exquisite beauty on page 54 when I saw her when I was 14 years old. This is many years before I met chipesha mano Linda Jitanda if you have been following “Woman Made me Love Zambia”. Some of my reactions to “The Black Panther” might be offensive to some. But I just found all of this liberating to my soul, delicious and fabulous.
Before anyone says the whole racial angle is overdone on my part, the sign of a good movie is that you forget you are watching a movie. At the end I felt that I wasn’t conscious of the skin color of the actors. I didn’t care. I even shade some tears at the end because the story and the characters were so compelling. The plot was so thick. Do you remember when the movie “Shaka Zulu” in the 1980s or when “Lord of the Rings” came out? I watched those movies so many times. I think I am going to watch the “Black Panther” many times. I will not be able to get enough of it. Tonight I might go and see it again.
By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology