“A movie has no power to ultimately change people’s hearts. Only Jesus can do that. But I believe it can serve to help the progress we must make toward racial unity. It can encourage the black community and educate other communities.”
To be honest, I can’t remember going to a movie quite like Black Panther. The buzz among many of my friends has been feverish. Some are Marvel movie lovers, but for most of them, Black Panther was about something much more.
Normally, if I were writing a review I’d hit on the movie’s theological themes or what kind of workout those fellas did to get so rocked-up, but instead I’m going to take a risk and share about how the movie affected me personally.
Black Panther is a movie about a superhero, but not just any superhero—a black superhero. And that’s what has me a bit perplexed. The movie was excellent, but it moved me emotionally in a way I wasn’t expecting. The plot line was inspiring, the acting was captivating, and the special effects were dope. But that’s not what got me.
I should probably tell you this upfront—I’m a recovering racist.
I never had a disdain for black people, or knowingly treated any black person with contempt. But sadly I’ve come to see that I had racist attitudes that assumed things about people who didn’t look like me. I passively assisted in the perpetuation of stereotypes that were demeaning to people whose culture and skin color were different than my own.
My parents didn’t raise me that way, but it was in the air I breathed. It was in the shows I watched, the attitude of my almost exclusively white hometown, churches I attended, and in the hearts of extended family members.
But over the past eight years, God has changed me in ways I never saw coming. You can read more about that here. Black Panther was no epiphany for me, but it captured themes I’ve been learning about in a way that was deeply moving.
We live in a world that has wrongly dishonored black people in horrific ways. Slavery, discrimination, injustice, and racism have beaten down the image of black people in the minds of many generations. Black men have long been portrayed as uneducated hoodlums who cause trouble while black women are seen as dramatic temptresses with little moral character.
Yet, in this movie black men and women were set forth with dignified beauty. They were not dominated by another narrative, but they had their own. Sure, it was a Marvel fantasy movie, but there was something powerful happening when the nearly all black cast filled the screen. Their dignity was represented boldly, and beautifully.
As a Christian, I know that God has created each of us uniquely to reflect His image. Our diversity of culture and skin color is part of His glorious design. Though this movie had nothing directly to do with God or the work of Christ, the dignity of black men and women shined through in a way that was empowering.
A movie has no power to ultimately change people’s hearts. Only Jesus can do that. But I believe it can serve to help the progress we must make toward racial unity. It can encourage the black community and educate other communities. I know it did that for me.
I won’t give any spoilers here, but Erik Killmonger’s role was brilliant. His character’s bitter rage was provoked by the abandonment and betrayal of those who were supposed to love him. His disdain for the system that hurt him and desire to enact change at all costs only compounded his pain, but left me sympathizing with his character.
I know it was just a movie, but his hurt echoed the stories of so many of the black friends I love. Too many have known what it is like to be abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Too many have grown up in a world that has wounded them because of the color of their skin. Too many harbor the hurt his character embodied.
As I watched Killmonger become consumed by his quest for liberation, I was freshly reminded of the pain so many friends have shared with me. Watching him fight to make his brokenness whole freshly reminded me of my responsibility in the quest for progress. His pain reflected the pain many of my people have inflicted in days past and present. It gave me a fresh desire to serve in whatever way I can to undo what so many before me have done.
Vengeful anger will not bring progress, but I do believe God can use the pain of a people long oppressed to shine brightly as an example of how to make progress. I believe the grace of God can bring healing to wounds both in the culture and in the church. I pray the church will learn to better model this in a way God surely desires.