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robertogreco : rahawahaile   3

How Black Panther Asks Us to Examine Who We Are To One Another
"While interviews with Coogler reveal he based Wakanda on Lesotho, a small country surrounded on all sides by South Africa, it has become clear that most discussions about the film share a similar geography; its borders are dimensional rather than physical, existing in two universes at once. How does one simultaneously argue the joys of recognizing the Pan-African signifiers within Wakanda, as experienced by Africans watching the film, and the limits of Pan-Africanism in practice, as experienced by a diaspora longing for Africa? The beauty and tragedy of Wakanda, as well as our discourse, is that it exists in an intertidal zone: not always submerged in the fictional, as it owes much of its aesthetic to the Africa we know, but not entirely real either, as no such country exists on the African continent. The porosity and width of that border complicates an already complicated task, shedding light on the infinite points of reference possible for this film that go beyond subjective readings."



"How then does one criticize what is unquestionably the best Marvel movie to date by every conceivable metric known to film criticism? How best to explain that Black Panther can be a celebration of blackness, yes; a silencing of whiteness, yes; a meshing of African cultures and signifiers — all this! — while also feeling like an exercise in sustained forgetting? That the convenience of having a fake country within a real continent is the way we can take inspiration from the latter without dwelling on its losses, or the causes of them. Black Panther is an American film through and through, one heavily invested in white America’s political absence from its African narrative.

When Killmonger goads a museum curator early on in the film, calling out a history of looting, it is condemnation that falls squarely on Britain’s shoulders. Rarely must the audience think about the C.I.A.’s very real history in Africa. The fact that viewers were steered, at any point, into rooting for Martin Freeman, a British actor playing an American C.I.A. operative who attempts to purchase stolen resources from a white South African arms dealer, means that even a cinematic turducken of imperialist history gets a pass."



"Nonetheless, Black Panther is an undeniable joy to watch, even it if it is, at times, hard to experience. I can tell you that one of the most important things I saw, in a film set in Africa in 2018, wasn’t just the film’s lack of whiteness, but the almost complete absence of China, a country whose economic expansion throughout the continent has been singular and complicated. What’s more, for all of Killmonger’s liberation talk, Black Panther is also about the unrooted feelings of first-generation Americans, which for all intents and purposes Killmonger is. People, who despite knowing their origins, know that they will to some extent always be lost to them. Killmonger’s Wakandan-American rage and potential liberation comes from a uniquely complicated place, but we’ve yet to conjure a word for the pain of that proximity. Understandably, Black Panther only has room for so much politics, but it is important to acknowledge that it is in this selection that it reaches and abandons so many people. The film was never going to be everything to everyone — even if it meant everything to everyone. The film’s righteous anger is grounded in a real America with real problems, while its hopes lie in a fictional country distinctly removed from the reality of Africa.

***

In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, Black Panther spent its opening weekend sold out five times a day out of a possible five showings. A question I repeatedly found myself asking is where Africans watching this film fit within the Afrofuturist possibility of Wakanda? How do you watch the dream of Africa, set within the real Africa, created by filmmakers in the diaspora, and then emerge to martial law? How hollow does Killmonger’s posturing and desire for a bloody uprising of the masses come across to a viewer living in the throes of one?

I know that when I leave my theater in Oakland, a disabled elder and real Black Panther will be on the verge of a no-fault eviction from her home. Five months will have passed since I watched the premiere of an Oakland-based web series about the racialized disaster of gentrification in the Bay Area at the Grand Lake Theater, the same place where Coogler made an appearance on the opening night of Black Panther. It is worth noting, that the word “capitalism” does not appear once in Black Panther, despite its focus on black liberation. Killmonger’s slash-and-burn approach to freedom, and T’Challa’s future coding boot camp for black American youth, both fail to address how oppression, particularly in the 21st century, is systemic."



"Analyzing the film’s antagonist is more complicated. Killmonger is written as pure rage, and it’s hard for a man written as pure rage, however justified, to be a good villain. What’s impressive about Black Panther is that it asks us to examine the grey area of that designator. Unfortunately, the Killmonger we see on screen is one who has read the Baldwin line “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage,” and ignored Audre Lorde’s “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The film is an ode to the exceptionalism of black American rage that, while singular, cannot speak for the majority of the diaspora. There is no precedent for worldwide liberation.

What’s more, Killmonger’s politics completely ignore the ways power structures overlap to oppress individuals. He is the type of man who would shoot down the concept of intersectionality if he met it in the streets. He kills his girlfriend. He brags about killing people of color in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as his own brothers and sisters in Africa. He is quick to assault an unarmed priestess who questions his orders. He delights in killing one of the Dora Milaje. In truth, I can only see him as a sympathetic victim if I squint hard enough at the past that made him instead of his actions on-screen."



"Black Panther may be a Disney product, but it would be foolish to see a film of this historical significance as intended solely for casual consumption. “This is not just a movie about a black superhero; it’s very much a black movie,” wrote journalist Jamil Smith for TIME. That blackness is global. Its very existence — Coogler’s singular execution of its $200 million budget — is a declaration of self-worth, an act of defiance aimed at an industry that has long undervalued black creatives on both sides of the camera. The film as a statement on black virtue should be celebrated, its examination of black possibility exalted, and its disparate philosophies parsed to the extent the viewer wishes.

The fact that my focus in this piece was less about the film as product and more about its politics is itself an accomplishment, a signifier of its exceptional quality. Every frame in Black Panther felt like a gift. A beautifully lit, well-moisturized, spectacularly choreographed gift. What I will remember about Black Panther’s opening weekend is the tragic relief of arguing the ideological calisthenics of a fictional African country instead of whether it is a shithole.

Black Panther’s audience hears the question “Who are you?” repeatedly over the course of two hours. The Queen-Mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) shouts at T’Challa, “Show him who you are!” when M’Baku has the upper hand at Warrior Falls. It is the question Killmonger, bound by Wakandan chains, begs the king’s council to ask him when they first meet him. Indeed, it is the line that ends the film, uttered by a young black boy in Oakland peering up at a king no longer in hiding. That we have spent the week that follows asking ourselves the same question is the film’s lasting gift. Not only reflecting on who we are, but who are we to each other. T’Challa never apologizes to Killmonger for what his father did, for everything that was taken from him, and it is the film’s most damning omission. There is no healing that can come without the voiced expression of empathy. And I hope those who navigate the waters of their identity can eventually be greeted at a lasting shore with just that."
rahawahaile  blackpanther  2018  film  africa  utopia  diaspora  us  geopolitics  capitalism 
february 2018 by robertogreco
A Low and Distant Paradise - Pacific Standard
"My grandmother was born to the Italian lira, grew up under the British pound, revolted against the Ethiopian birr, lived under the American dollar in order to raise me, and died, finally, buried under her country’s first currency, the Eritrean nakfa. She was home to me, my link to a land generations had fought for and to the sand in Florida on which I played. A reminder of how far and against what odds my blood had traveled for the promise of autonomy. And now she was gone.

It’s been 12 years since I lived in Miami, and yet enough of the city is embedded in me that I feel at home wherever I stand in it. It’s in every exhalation. I feel this connection to the land and my past more than any kinship with my remaining family. I am at once grateful for the freedom and devastated by this tangible unmooring of blood. It is only appropriate that things feel adrift.

Erasure is a prickly topic for members of the African diaspora. We want recognition, we who have lost so much to attain it and are severed from those who know this best. I still look for my country every time I see a globe. Did we exist yet? Were we our own? It is a validation I can’t stop myself from seeking having grown up in a state intent on its own destruction.

One can look to Hawaii’s volcanoes to see exactly how land is formed. Florida, then, is where we look to see land’s undoing. In Florida, we are racing New Orleans into the sea. I tell most inquirers South Florida is what happens when people build cities on sponges and call it salvation. I tell them we will learn."



"It is clear to me that the history of Eritrea and Eritreans in the 21st century has stopped being one of how to win, but of how we might lose the least by the end of the century’s first quarter. Here in America, I am the only person with whom each member of my immediate family interacts. Two out of the three live on separate continents. Sometimes I’ll like a new song because it is the type my sister would play and I need a thread to hold on to. Some streets I’ll walk, as my father taught me, because they show more of the sky. But most days I’ll hold the weightless braid of my family in my palm and wonder when it will find the wind. I am trying to keep my own two halves from fracturing; I never learned to excavate the dread.

It all feels like too much.

When politicians campaign on platforms of keeping Africans out of their country. When the anti­-blackness in the surrounding MENA region goes largely unreported. When the refugee camps in the country you gained independence from are overflowing with your people. When the journey to South Africa, a popular refuge for African migrants, is met with xenophobic attacks. When crossing the Red Sea into Yemen means entering a war zone; when Yemenis are crossing the Red Sea into the Horn you fled. When human traffickers are harvesting your organs in the Sinai. When the open ports of Libya have no despot to keep you on your side of the grave. When drowning is the best option. When the world asks wouldn't it be convenient to stay in place? To see your doom as your salvation? Now that they have all tried their hand at exploiting your land, your people, your geography—and since autonomy can only be granted by those who have control over the physical world. After all this, how, how, how. How can we keep you there?"
2015  rahawahaile  eritrea  diaspora  place  identity  belonging  cities  climate  miami  nyc  asmara  family  freedom  ethiopia  migration  immigration  refugees  history  yemen  redsea  joandidion  race  climatechange  inequality  water  labor  work  economics  politics  everglades  hawaii  erasure  florida 
october 2015 by robertogreco

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