I remember sitting in the movie theater on a hot summer night with my son and father. The new Marvel film Captain America: Civil War had just come out.
We were there for two reasons: one, my son is a huge fan of Captain America and two, my father caught wind that The Black Panther would make an appearance. An avid comic book fan, my father watched the film eagerly, anticipating the moment he'd be able to recognize T'Challa.
It was easy spotting Chadwick Boseman, being that he was a part of the very small representation of minorities in this film. The smile never left my father's face as he cheered, and my son did the same, staring up at his grandpa for approval when Black Panther's action scene came into play. I was partially embarrassed, but my heart was still swollen at the sight of happiness my father expressed. In his lifetime, he had seen his childhood hero on the big screen.
In the midst of my happiness, my heart broke in two when my son leaned over and asked me, "Why was the Black Panther actually black?"
Confused, I asked him to explain and he repeated his question. I quickly responded with, "Why not? He's actually more than a superhero, he's a king too and so are you."
He seemed to accept my answer and continued to watch the movie.
I fought back tears at the thought he believed that all superheroes are supposed to be white.
No matter the color suit of the hero in question, the commonality amongst them all was the fact they were white men. White men who were brave, strong, and always conquered over whatever obstacle that stood in the way of a successful victory.
In reality, there are very little visuals on television of black men displaying characteristics of being brave, strong, and always conquering over whatever obstacle standing in the way of a successful victory. The closest emulation I could think of that portrays those qualities in the black male are in sports. At my son's young age, he's not sure if he likes sports or not. He is, however, concrete on his preference of the characters wearing costumes with supernatural powers, making the world a better place again.
It makes sense for him to think that the super cool new character he'd never seen before, soaring through the air, and even at one point dominating his favorite character in the moment, Captain America, be white when he removed his mask. It would have played to the consistency that he's seen before in every superhero movie he's seen.
During the remainder of the movie, I thought of how the black man is represented in media as this overly stereotypical character that in many cases is not an accurate representation of real life at all. What broke me even more was the fact that I was now made aware of how that poor depiction of the black male has now found its way into my life with my own son, a young black male.
It was personal.
I didn't want him thinking that heroes only come in the color white. Furthermore, I didn't want him believing that he couldn't have an idol that wasn't white or, should he ever find himself in trouble in my absence, a white man would come and save the day. He needed to know that heroes are black men too.
So when I learned that Black Panther would get his own full-length feature film, I went to work. Apparently, so did Twitter, who wasted no time starting the #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe, which reinforced my already turning wheels.
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe It means that my kids and young black kids everywhere will see themselves as heroes capa… https://t.co/ChdxCf6FVD— Matthew A. Cherry (@Matthew A. Cherry) 1517931944.0
Finally seeing BLACK people ruling their BLACK Country on their BLACK Continent minding there BLACK business thrivi… https://t.co/hlvd1j4rGK— KillMongerWasRight (@KillMongerWasRight) 1517931318.0
My seven year old grandson exclaimed "Superheroes can be Brown people too?! #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe— Sheel (@Sheel) 1517928544.0
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe Finally watching all black cast being centered in blackness without being a victim to it.— JassyJeanette (@JassyJeanette) 1517930497.0
You can’t tell me that representation isn’t important. You just can’t. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe https://t.co/mAmPvtNrN8— Anastasia (@Anastasia) 1518092702.0
I bought the comic books and sat down with my son to read them. We watched the trailer over and over again as he became more and more excited. The newfound light in his eyes was something that I'll never forget for the rest of my life.
He was seeing what I'd known all along: Black men are kings and heroes.
For Halloween, my father bought him the complete costume of the Black Panther. He wore it proudly and plans to wear it to the premiere of the movie as well. He'd come a long way from me having to explain to him that he and Han Solo were not the same color during a long drive home.
This film is also important in the way young black boys view black girls that will one day be black women. The film features an abundance of darker-toned brown women as main characters, being warriors, protectors and heroes. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the portrayal of black women in this film is the fact that the love interest of the main hero is played by the melanin-rich Lupita N'yongo. When black men are given starring roles in big budget films, it is very rare to see them with a love interest that is of a darker skin tone.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, a failure to see these types of representation has an affect on how young boys perceive beauty around them.
Young black girls are young queens in the making, no matter the hue.
This movie is more than a movie. It's something that is monumental to our black youth, to our girls but especially our boys.
It's very hard for young black kids to believe an alternative concept when they don't see it represented in everyday life. Words cannot express how exhilarating it is to know that this is changing with this film. Not only will our young boys see a superhero that looks like them, our young girls will have the representation that has been missing from media all these years.
They will get to see that the possibilities are endless and they are indeed, young kings and queens in the making.
It's up to us as a community to support this movie so that it breaks records and we see more people of color on the big screen. Deeper than that, it's our job as a community to reinforce, promote, and support content, movies, music, television shows, any form of media, that promotes positive representations of black men and women. Our futures depend on it.