Opinion: An Ode to Black Panther and what it means for representation

Black Panther

This is an ode to Black Panther now that it is out of the theaters.

I was in love with Disney Channel when I was young. I made sure to watch and rewatch all of its episodes: Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Wizards of Waverley place, Hannah Montana, Phineas and Ferb, etc. so I can talk about it with my friends and show how ‘cool’ I was because I knew all there was to know about these shows. I was also an avid reader in primary school. I read almost all the books in our school’s library and fell in love with Jaqueline Wilson, Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling in the process. And so, from a very young age, I knew a lot about Western Culture. I didn’t even read many Nigerian novels because there weren’t very many in my school, and who could blame them? The school did use a British Curriculum after all.

Looking back at my childhood, it seems as if I was taught by society to look at my own culture as somehow inferior (which was a growing trend amongst the Nigerian Elite). It was never stated, to look down on my own culture directly, but it was always implied. I have never attended a school with a non-foreign curriculum. My parents forbade my siblings and I to listen to Wazobia FM on the way to school for fear I would pick up pidgin English. In society, people with foreign accents are seen as charming, well-educated and well-mannered while people with overly Nigerian accents are seen as ‘bush’ and improper. I was at a restaurant that served both local and foreign foods like pasta and sandwiches with some of my friends and it was almost an unspoken rule that we would not get Nigerian food to show how ‘cultured and cosmopolitan’ we are. I remember having a conversation with a fellow secondary school mate and while referring to her grade, I made the mistake of saying JSS 3 instead of Year 9 and she felt insulted because me saying she was in JSS 3 implied that her school uses the Nigerian Curriculum. In middle school, when we shamed each other for our actions, we often attributed our wrong-doings to the fact that we had such a ‘Nigerian mentality’.

When I came to America for high school (a rural, Southern part of the country to be more specific), I was surprised at how much my classmates didn’t know about me. I knew a lot about them and for some reason I expected it to be reciprocal but, -and this may sound cliché- some did ask if I lived in a hut and some were surprised at how good my English was, even though I could probably speak better English than they could. They knew nothing about me and it was a bit of an awkward situation because while I did know so much about their culture, I still wasn’t a part of them. It was when I lived outside of my country that I began to realize how much I appreciated my culture and to love what set me apart from the rest of the people in my school.

So when Black Panther came out I was ecstatic because this was a Marvel movie that was all about African culture and was going to be shown on such a worldwide screen. I was happy not just that people were going to know my true story and true narrative but that some Nigerians in Nigeria could know that their culture was acceptable and that there is no need to venerate or look up to Western culture or ideals. We had a group discussion about the Black Panther movie amongst my schoolmates and a white-American classmate bluntly said “I didn’t like the movie. It was definitely overhyped”, and I felt slightly offended. I didn’t know why I felt that way, she is entitled to her opinion after all, but I realized that it was because I didn’t have that option; there were certain aspects of Western culture that were seen as the goal in Nigeria, so I took things as they were. It had never occurred to me to not like Aeropostale or Abercrombie t-shirts or British accents or TOMS shoes, but she didn’t have that limitation. She decided she didn’t like it and that was that.

Now that the movie is out of movie theaters, I would like to say a big thank you to the creators and actors of Black Panther and I hope and pray that this movie will just be the foundation of changing the African narrative for the better for years to come.

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