The Power of Black Panther by Xochitl Alvizo


Note: Black Panther movie spoiler alert.

I attended a friend’s dinner party recently in honor of her birthday. It was an intimate gathering of nine, mostly her immediate family, so I felt privileged to be included. At one point during the dinner, her sister-in-law initiated a ritual in which we went around the table taking turns to share words of wisdom in honor of the birthday woman. Her words in particular stayed with me. And looking back, I see how the ritual she initiated was in itself an embodiment of the words she spoke:

Stand in your power. We got you. We have your back.

She said more, but the gist of it all was summed up in those three short sentences. Looking my friend in the eye as she raised her glass in her honor, her sister-in-law’s words meant something. I could feel the truth of them – I have seen the truth of them in her relationship with her. She, along with her wife (who is my friend’s sister), really do have her back and truly do want to see her “stand in her power.”  

Stand in your power. Show [them] who you are.

Show him who you are!” is a line from the recent movie Black Panther. The line is from a battle scene in which King M’Baku, of the neighboring Jabari Tribe, challenges Prince T’Challa who is to be crowned king that day. M’Baku arrives during the crowning ceremony to challenge the prince for the throne, an act that is within his rights to do, and so T’Challa accepts the challenge. He also begins to lose the fight almost immediately, a violent and difficult scene to watch. But at the very moment when it looks as if he is about to be defeated, he hears his stepmother’s voice, Ramonda, yelling, “T’Challa! Show him who you are!” Her voice is deliberate and powerful. It is a calling, a command, and a reminder that T’Challa is to stand in his power. A power that in that moment comes from him recalling his ancestors.

I am prince T’Challa. Son of King T’Chaka!

The battle then takes a turn and T’Challa regains his footing, overcoming the challenge and winning the throne.

This scene has received a lot of attention. It is a powerful movie moment that the audience has connected with, that has resonated with the heart of a people. It is an affirmation of self, a self grounded in the fact that one has ancestors that “never leave you, even if they’re on the other side,” and a reminder that you can walk tall because you have hundreds, thousands “of generations of souls giving you support and love each day.” And it matters that the actors are mostly all black.

Show them who you are is a call that resonates especially with people who are from a population whose humanity and dignity are systematically and structurally contested. The recalling and naming of one’s ancestors, then, becomes a powerful act of rehumanization for those from such populations. We need the reminder when we continually contend with structural realities that dehumanize us and would keep us from standing in our power. This recalling and naming of our ancestors is also a powerful feminist practice of which Carol Christ writes, describing a ritual of pouring libations and honoring our ancestors:

I am Xochitl Alvizo, grand-daughter of Consuelo Mora, dark, strong and beautiful, from whom I witnessed female strength and nonconformity. I am Xochitl, daughter of Olga, teenage mom, survivor of patriarchy, a woman who to this day keeps charting her own way. I come from a long line of women, known and unknown, stretching back to Africa.

We need our connection to ancestors to regain our footing, to know who we are. We need a community of people who calls us to stand in our power and show the world who we are, even if it continually refuses to see us. Those of us who the media images in ways that repeatedly distort our full humanity and dignity need to have someone tell us, “we got you,” and mean it. We need our communities, and we, especially, need to have each other’s backs.

And yes, broadly speaking, we also need to be able to see each other as one tribe, as part of the same web of life, even while acknowledging the diversity and richness of our respective ancestries and cultures. We can celebrate the life-giving aspects of each other’s cultural inheritances, even as we also acknowledge and critique its violent and harmful parts. We can name both, as this complexity is present in all of our histories.

But damn if it doesn’t feel good to have the power and beauty of black imaged on the big screen. Just like that ritual moment during my friend’s birthday dinner when her family let her know: I see you, your power. Stand in it – we got you; Black Panther does for the collective what that ritual moment did for my friend as an individual, it affirms those who are systematically and structurally denied the fullness of their being and calls out to them, commanding:

Show them who you are!

We got you.

 

Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.

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Categories: Ancestors, Community, Film, Foremothers, General, Goddess Spirituality, Goddess Spirituality, power

Tags: , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Spoiler alert: I don’t watch war movies of any kind, so I won’t be seeing this one, nor did I see Wonder Woman. (Though I do watch crime shows.) I hear what you are saying about not having your-self affirmed, and I know how disempowering this is. Can I ask how you feel about it being affirmed in a war story which is presented as a battle between good and evil or am I missing something?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Stand in your power. We got you. We have your back.” Way to resurrect! Alleluia!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I like the ritual you describe and the affirmations, too, but I have zero interest in superheroes (not even the newly militarized Wonder Woman). Like Carol, I don’t watch war movies (I haven’t seen any of the new Star Wars movies). But “stand in your power” certainly works. I’ve done the rituals in which we name our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers, and female ancestors as far back as we know. It’s empowering.

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  4. Great reminder of the unseen power of our ancestors bidding us forward. In that tribe of supporters, I count you as one who continues to encourage and see a light within me that many times I find too dim. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another insightful and wise post! Another movie you might enjoy that doesn’t have the ancestor aspect, but definitely is about learning to stand in your power is the most recent movie version of A Wrinkle in Time.

    I really resonated with all you and others have written about your ancestors. After not really paying much attention to mine, I’ve decided to give myself my women ancestors for my upcoming 60th birthday – I have delved into some genealogy and can now trace my motherliness back to the 1500s in England. I have memorized much of it and it is comforting and inspiring to recite the list in tough moments (I am Carolyn, daughter of Olivia, daughter of Olivia Agartha, daughter of Elizabeth…”) especially now that I know some of the stories of the struggles individual members of my ancestral circle went through so that I may have life. After reading the post by Carol that you linked to, I have also now sent away for my deep ancestry so we’ll see what that uncovers!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I usually don’t like “action” films – but I loved Black Panther. Your post clarifies why: the power of “recalling and naming our ancestors.” Connecting with my Ancestors is the focus of my passion. I also saw the film Coco and loved it. It seems like the Ancestors are truly calling us. THANK YOU for your beautiful essay!

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    • Coco! Yes, Mary Beth, it was truly fantastic! I loved Coco. And Black Panther, too. I don’t like “action films” in general, but both of these affirm their protagonists in struggle. Life may not be a “war,” but it is often a struggle. That may be the reason so many of us enjoyed Black Panther.

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  7. Thank you, Xochitl, for this powerful post. Like Barbara Ardinger (above), I have often done the ritual renaming of my matriline. But it wasn’t until today that I really got it, that my ancestors are rooting for me, that they have my back. As a mosty white woman of mostly German heritage, I’ve had trouble affirming that heritage. But today, I realized the struggle that each of the women in my matrilineal (back to my greatest-great-grandmother) went through to give me the chance of my life, to “have my back,” so I thanked them for telling me to “stand in my power” and “show the world who I am.” It was powerful!

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  8. I saw the film Black Panther the other day and enjoyed it.

    I do enjoy superhero type films but must admit, to being a bit superhero filmed out, and am tending not to watch too many of these films at the moment – too much of a good thing can be boring, but, I was determined to make the effort to see this film in order to support my black sisters (and I don’t usually use that type of terminology). It is a pivotal moment in film history, where,as you say, it felt good to have “the power and beauty of black imaged on the big screen”.

    I, myself, am white British (not that that matters, but at the same time, it does).

    I suppose, as a survivor of incest, I have difficulty with claiming my ancestry. When I chose to speak out, as an adult, about the childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse I endured, as a child, I made the concious decision that I was going to push the abuse back and not forward onto my own children. That I was going to do all the inner work I could to make sure that my own children, did not carry the huge ancestral wound. That is not to say they have not been wounded – that would be impossible, in the circumstances, but I would do my darndest to, ‘push it back – not forward’ and that it stops now, with me, in this generation and will not continue down the ancestral lines of my children – NO WAY.

    A name that was my middle name, my mother’s christian name and a name that apparently has been used for generations, down my ‘motherline’ is a name that I have now disowned.

    I do honour my ancestors in Spirit, but I tend to think of them, as my chosen spiritual ancestral family, as opposed to my actual spiritual ancestral family.

    Whilst typing this, I am reminded of Jesus saying that his biological mother was not his mother. Obviously, Mother Mary and my biological mother are not exactly on the same wavelength, but having this, in the bible, has helped me, in this society of mother worship, comewhat may, to alleviate the shame involved, as much as possible, in not having a mother, of whom I am proud of, or a biological motherline that I am proud of. I am proud of myself, and I believe God/Goddess is proud of me and that is as good as it gets!

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  9. Wow!
    Wakanda Forever.

    Like

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