That’s not a dig at Black Panther: I haven’t watched the Marvel creation yet, and I’m quite looking forward to it. But I have questions about some reviewers’ overtones of, not quite black triumphalism, but indomitability. I find startling the contrast between those and reactions to Inxeba’sexplicit depiction of something that scares us more than the choice between explicit sex and explicit violence: “the wound” of human vulnerability.
Judging by reviews, one could be forgiven for concluding that unlike Inxeba, Black Panther is the undisputed Truth — with a capital-letter T — about the black identity that colonialism otherwise mutilated and continues mutilating in its mutilated depictions of mutilated black men — black men who, by starring in said stories, are willingly co-opted into colonialism’s accusation that their own culture has scarred them in ways colonialism never could have without their cultural treachery.
Black Panther, on the other hand, is consumed as a story about untouched, self-realised black society. But history never happens in a vacuum, and not even in our inconvenient reality is indomitability the restful given of having never been colonised: it’s the result of non-stop performativity imposed by the custodians of our cultures, and that performativity is in the same WhatsApp group as toxic masculinity.
If you don’t think Black Panther has inadvertently catered to that social appetite, then imagine how its black audiences would have reacted to seeing Black Pantherdepicting Wakanda’s sons playing with dolls. Would it have received the same treatment as Inxeba?
Think boys with dolls are gay? Consider this: what if, as children, we develop our capacity for tuning into other people’s feelings when we role-play with dolls and humanise objects? When we imaginatively project human feelings onto them so we may practice how we’d react in those scenarios?
Has it occurred to us that we can talk about the nuanced similarities and distinctions between robust and ongoing sexual consent a hundred billion times, but without thatexperiential foundation in childhood, all that talking will never, ever land with the seriousness that a serious confrontation with rape culture requires?
Even if it does land, later on, it will still be incorporated not into a commitment to treat women as human equals, but to help them feel less conquered in what’s still fundamentally their conquest. Think “pick-up artists”. The relational, empathetic core, however well it’s imitated later on, must be developed from much earlier than puberty.
Or look at our political landscape: the danger with triumphalism is it’s a lot like nationalism and tribalism. In his article on “the dangers of Zulu Nationalism”, Mondli Makhanya reminds readers of ANC KZN’s responsiveness to Zulu ethnicism.
“We know [Zuma] will not hesitate to pull the Zulu nationalism trigger as the cantankerous chief from that province loved to do. We should prepare for that eventuality once his fraud and corruption trial begins and the State Capture commission implicates him in more criminal activities.”
And unless ANC KZN splits away from the mother body — a possibility with a set of terrifying implications of its own — KZN’s tribalism will be inveigled in the party’s messaging to voters in its build-up to national elections next year.
This is all to say we must enjoy Black Panther and whatever good comes from Cyril Ramaphosa’s term the way we should have enjoyed the good in Mbeki’s term: with eyes open to the dangers likely to be around the corner.
This is especially important when ratings are changed, seemingly, in response to public pressure.
This all also means keeping our hearts open. For any triumphalist black self-representation as martially indomitable, there may, accidentally, be the repression of those whose likelihood to yield to the power of love makes them less likely to be lovers of power. Inxeba is a story about a person dying to be a person. Who are the black movie superheroes supposed to save, if not exactly such?
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Book coming courtesy of Kwela, one of NB Publisher’s seven imprints, title You Have to Be Gay to Know God