Rebirth and Justice (Black Panther)


Can I just say, “I absolutely love Black Panther!” There are so many reasons why this movie is great, but what makes me really love it is that it wasn’t made for me. I’m a very white female. I have to acknowledge this. We need more movies like Black Panther (Get Out, being another example of this kind of movie). Movies that aren’t made to perpetuate certain racial bias or supremist agendas (intention or unintentional). Movies that are unapologetic about real issues that need to be addressed, in this case, racial oppression. It was so stimulating and illuminating to watch this movie and follow the conversations and articles posted afterward. I’ll get back to the topic of racial oppression later in this post, but first I’d like to discuss what stood out to me most of all in this movie and that was the use of color and symbolism of rebirth.

Oh...and SPOILERS AHEAD!!! You have now been warned, so I’ll continue.



To briefly recap, T’Challa is the main character, Black Panther. His dad and former king of Wakanda, T’Chaka just died and so this movie is about T’Challa taking on the responsibilities of the throne. Wakanda is home to a massive supply of vibranium, a precious super metal used to make weapons and tech. However, to hide and protect this resource, they have disguised themselves as a rural third-world country to the rest of the world.

Shortly after T’Challa is crowned king, an old traitor and enemy of Wakanda, Ulysses Klaue, surfaces and T’Challa is sent to bring justice for the crimes he committed. However, Klaue slips through T’Challa’s capture. Yet, one of Klaue’s accomplices, Erik Killmonger, betrays him and kills him. Killmonger brings Klaue’s dead body to Wakanda and we discover that Killmonger is actually T’Challa’s cousin. Killmonger’s dad, N’Jobu, was T’Challa’s uncle who was doing undercover work in Oakland, CA in the early 90’s. Killmonger challenges T’Challa for the rights to the throne. Killmonger wants access to Wakanda’s resources and weapons to arm oppressed black people all over the world. Killmonger (seemingly) defeats T’Challa in ritual combat and is crowned king of Wakanda. However, T’Challa comes back and finishes the challenge and is re-crowned king.

There’s the gist of the plot, or at least what’s important to the themes and ideas I’ll be discussing. I’ll mostly be focusing on the ceremonial burial aspect of the crowning process and the symbolism involved.



According to the origin story of Wakanda’s history, a meteorite crashed to Earth and from that meteorite came vibranium. It is vibranium that causes a special heart-shaped herb to grow. When this herb is ingested properly it gives the person heightened abilities. The people of Wakanda have reserved this special power for their king, the Black Panther. During the ceremony of empowerment, the king and to-be-Black Panther ingests the herb, is buried, travels to the ancestral plane, and comes back with some insight from a conversation with their dead ancestors.

We see this ceremony played out three different times in the movie. First time is when T’Challa is initially crowned king of Wakanda. Then second time is when T’Challa’s vengeful cousin, Erik Killmonger, is crowned king after defeating T’Challa in ritual combat. The third time is when T’Challa, on the brink of death after his battle with Killmonger, is secretly restored back to life in the mountains of the Jubari tribe by his family. Each burial holds significant symbolism in the plot.



First burial of T’Challa is done in the ceremonial red sand pit. He enters into the ancestral plane and talks to his father. During their conversation, T’Chaka tells T’Challa that he has a good heart, but it’s hard for a king to have a good heart. The red color of the sand T’Challa is buried in is symbolic. We later learn that T’Chaka killed his own brother, N’Jobu, the father of Killmonger, but covered up the truth and left young Erik Killmonger behind in America and fatherless. Now T’Challa has to deal with the vengeance of Killmonger. T’Challa is essentially born (as king) into lies, betrayal, and war. I can’t help but think of Lamentations 5:7 “Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities.” T’Challa has to bear the sins of his father.

We see this in the bible and in real life. In the bible it is referred to as generational curses or sin.  “The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Numbers 14:18) With generational sin someone can be born into a family or situation that puts them at a disadvantage of knowing what is right in the eyes of the Lord. It’s a fairly accepted notion that certain bad habits or behaviors can be “inherited,” such as alcoholism, physical abuse, molestation, infidelity, dishonesty, negligence, etc. This cycle can be very hard to break if it runs deep and especially if one isn’t exposed to anything better.

Even though generational sin is different than systemic oppression, there is a similarity. In the case of racial oppression, it is prevalent all over the world, but perhaps more so in the United States. It is everywhere from the prisons to schools to workforce. So many are at a disadvantage in this country (and elsewhere) simply because of the color of their skin. I can’t start to get into details about the ways racial oppression is widespread and built into the system of our nation. I can only encourage you to go and learn more, even if you're slightly familiar with the topic, there's always more to be exposed to and learn from.



I bring all this up because that is what Black Panther is about. It presents the issue and raises the question of how to deal with racial oppression. Revenge wasn’t the main reason Killmonger went after the throne of Wakanda. He wanted to be king of Wakanda so he could be in charge of its resources and weapons. That way he could arm oppressed people of color all around the world. Now it’s interesting that he is portrayed as the villain when his main motive is to end racial oppression...but would he really be ending it by simply giving the oppressed means to fight back and harm/kill their oppressors?

Perhaps the most interesting cinematic effect is the camera movement in the shot of Killmonger first sitting on the throne. You see the throne room upside down and as it zooms in the camera slowly rotates upright. What does that camera work say? Basically the kingdom is not how it should be, it's inverted. Essentially what Killmonger is doing is just flipping the tables on oppression, liberating one group to just oppress another. That doesn’t really solve the issue...but what does? Let’s take a look at the second burial of T’Challa.

The second time T’Challa was buried he was in white snow. He was taken to the ancestral plane where he confronted his father. We see T’Challa passionately saying he cannot be at peace while Killmonger sits on the throne. That he himself must right his father’s wrong (or what is wrong in the world). In the first visit, what his father had to say was important, but this time it’s what T'Challa has to say and acknowledge that matters. The white snow symbolizes peace and purity. T’Challa in a way washes himself of his father’s deeds and the silence of Wakanda in regards to racial oppression. Even though Wakanda stayed out of the affairs of the world in order to stay at peace within itself, its omission from issues/wars was a passive acceptance of the issue/war. It perpetuated the problem by not offering a solution.

Furthermore, what’s interesting is the symbolism of the heart-shaped herb that brings the powers of the Black Panther. When Nakia presents the last heart-shaped herb at the burial ceremony, she pulls it from a pouch literally positioned right by her own heart. Nakia confesses her love for T’Challa shortly there after. So in a way, T’Challa is reborn out of love, that of not only Nakia but also his family. On the flip side, we hear Okoye, the head of Wakanda's armed forces, say to Killmonger, "Your heart is so full of hate, you are not fit to be king." So, it may be hard for a king to have a good heart, but it's so important that they know how to lead out of love and not hate.


“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ” (John 3:3)

We all are first born into a world full of pain, suffering, violence, injustice, hate, etc. It is not how it should be, all of creation is fallen. Even our own hearts and actions are corrupt and evil to begin with. We all need to be born again into the Spirit. “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” (Acts 2:38) Therein lies our true power, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our direct link to God and the power of His will enacted through us. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ seal on our souls (Ephes. 1:13-14) and we are his ambassadors (2 Corinth 5:20). It is our responsibility to be the light of Christ in the dark areas of this still fallen world.

God is faithful to those who uphold what is right. That is how we break generational sin. “Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20) We take a stance and say, "no more!" and commit to a life lived righteously in the eyes of the Lord.

How do we fight racial oppression? Enacting justice through love. Paul reminds us of this “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ ” (Romans 12:19) We can’t fight violence with violence, it only prolongs the problem….and it’s gone on long enough. Now obviously the logistics of actually uprooting racial oppression isn’t straight forward and won’t be easily or quickly solved. However, this is no excuse to not act and speak out where you can or where God has called you to. Racial oppression is not an issue for the oppressed people to solve, it falls on the oppressors (whether they have partaken in the act knowingly or unknowingly). As a white person, I know it’s my responsibility to recognize where I’ve become blind or complacent in a system that undermines and oppresses my fellow brother or sister who are made in the image of our creator, therefore worthy of all respect. I have a duty to do justice through love...we all do. 


"Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause" (Isaiah 1:17)

"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." (James 4:17)

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:21)


As always, Thank You for reading  ^_^  Now go see Black Panther (again)!

Comments

  1. Nice handling of an important topic!

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    1. Thanks! It can be a tricky topic to handle so I tried to do it well. I appreciate your feedback. :)

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