Matthew R Morris

Riding the Wave of Black Panther

As we bask in the beauty and magic of Black Panther, and as we celebrate the fictional land of Wakanda, let us remember that real Africa is there. Real people. Real land. Calling for us to connect. Yearning for us to come home. Where are you vacationing? Who are you dismissing because of thick beautiful accents distorted and reimagined as lowbrow because institutions can’t see beyond their perverse notions of brilliance. Ride the wave generated by the movie. Ride it well…. and let it take you home”. Dr. Chris Emdin, spitting facts on his Facebook account.


The box office numbers on Marvel’s Black Panther indeed paint the beautiful picture of black community and the strength of connectedness when we are willing to get behind something that we believe in. We are all riding the wave of Wakanda right now. But like Dr. Chris Emdin, professor at Columbia and founder of Hip-Hop Ed, reminds us, we must do more than ride a wave, post a picture with a hashtag and carry on with our lives. And as educators, riding a wave generated by this movie so that it “takes us home” should now be one of our duties over the next few weeks and months. This is a film to be analyzed, used in support of almost any subject taught in a public school, as well as a movie to continue the loud and proud narration of our historically silenced. As educators, Black Panther, is our Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Of Mice and Men. It is our To Kill a Mockingbird. It is our Shakespeare. It can be these thanks to the richness of its plotlines, characters, themes, and messages.


The entry point for introducing Black Panther into your classroom is easy. It is a movie with an all black cast, a black director, and themes tied to both historical and contemporary black community. Yes, Wakanda is not a real place – but ask our African-American students to name some African cities or even a few African countries and I bet we will all come to terms with the fact that we must start from the basics when we push to connect with our history and culture. Secondly, including a narrative of black leaders filled with heart, values, and genius is something all children need to see, hear about, and experience – not just the black kids. If taking your class to this movie or even talking about this movie in your classroom is all you do, you are positioning yourself on the admirable wave. But you can surf deeper.


It isn’t just the fact that Black Panther gives us a culturally relevant black superhero – that is so dope because it validates so many faces and bodies and thoughts and ideas. But beyond that, the movie was done exceptionally well. There are interconnected themes of identity, community, family, neighborhood, and gender mixed throughout the two hours of dialogue and action that offer rich teaching and learning for any teacher tired of dusting off the old classics year after year. Killmonger represents that “lost” child who is desperately trying to seek validation and love despite all the pain he has endured. T’Challa is the king in charge of carrying on a legacy while grappling the truth about his family. He also has an army made up entirely of strong, black women. Ah, the complexity is so rich. I haven’t even mentioned “Vibranium” – the black resource.


I am going to stop writing in order to start planning. Of course I wanted to see Black Panther to be a part of the wave and not miss out on anything pertaining to “the culture”. But now that I have seen it, I’m inspired. I am going to put my most authentic “teacher’s hat” on and do my best attempt at letting this wave take me home. I am going to bring my students along with me – black, brown, male and female. I have some work to do, so “surf’s up”.



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