Black Panther and the Power of Representation

I went. I saw. I saw again… and then again.

Audiences can’t get enough of Black Panther and I, for one, am among them. The action, the music, the predominately black cast, the black superhero, the beauty of Wakanda, the technological genius… and, those WOMEN!!

My goodness, the women…

I couldn’t help but write a piece on the things that make Black Panther the most unique and one of the best Marvel stories ever told (in my humble opinion).

There are three new narratives this movie embodied:

- One of truth about African countries filled with beauty, love of culture, along with black royalty;

- Another of a black king who is a caring, vulnerable, protector;

- And yet another of beautifully regal black women who are celebrated and hold their own in battle, technology, family, and love.

Each time I had the pleasure of watching Black Panther, I was awestruck by the role of women and the foundation of true feminism/womanism on which their characters were built.

For the first time in any Marvel movie, Okoye, (my personal favorite) Nakia, Shuri, and Queen Ramonda — and let’s not forget the warriors of the Dora Milaje — held their own in roles that represent the diversity amongst black women around the world.

For the first time, the sensitivity, strength, courage, and loyalty of black women were celebrated by characters in a mainstream movie. The characters did not once dim their light for another. The women were not minimized or silenced. At the same time, their bright light did not dim one another’s or take away T’Challa’s power as the leader of the country.

And now, anyone paying attention will notice that these representations have encouraged black women of all ages to embrace who they are. To feel fully empowered and yet do so without taking the space of another. The overwhelming response to this movie tells us that this was a story that needed to be told (and that similar stories must continue to be told).

Black Panther does not erase the grave circumstances hatred and oppression have created — specifically, the way colonization has affected Pan-African culture, community, and people. It does not cover up the immense need for change. It even takes up the not-often-discussed conflict between Africans and African Americans. However, the movie places intentional focus on the empowering nations of black people — nations of black women — who have never had the luxury of being represented with such strength AND grace. The everyday “sheroes” get to see their Black Girl Magic right there on the big screen.

As the sun sets on Black History Month and rises on Women’s History Month, I can’t help but reflect on the experiences at the intersections of race and gender, especially, the experiences of black women.

Black Panther helps us realize the significance of representation; what it really means to see reflections of yourself center stage.

I’ve witnessed several responses — from people of all races, ages, genders, etc. — that speak to a shift in the narrative of African, Pan-African culture, black heroism, and the powerful role of black women in all of this. I look forward to celebrating Women’s “Herstory” Month, as I am more empowered than ever to center my story by taking control of our legacy for generations of young black girls. It is apparent that diversity in representation provides the empowerment we all need to realize our magic. Wakanda Forever!


Dr. Carla Smith, president and owner of Brownstone Consulting, LLC and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Mercer University School of Medicine, is a leader in educating and training students, professionals, and the public about diversity and inclusion. She is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist with 11 years of experience as a clinician and consultant working with individuals, couples, families, communities, and organizations. Dr. Carla works to encourage and empower people, communities, and organizations to build quality relationships by developing cultural humility and fostering authentic dialogue.

Follow me on social media @DrCarlaSmith and/or @BrownstoneConsulting

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