“Black Panther was a representation of my childhood. I related more to Michael B. Jordan’s character.” Those were words from a really good friend of mine. Actually, one of my closet friends. That statement was in response to me saying the film didn’t portray Africans correctly. I told her it painted Africa as this unwelcoming continent filled with unwelcoming people. She on the other hand, believed the way MBJ’s, Killmonger, character was treated by the people of Wakanda speaks to something bigger: an inconceivable rift between Africans and African Americans. So just a day before the next Marvel movie hits theaters, (on my birthday!! I like the way Marvel thinks), I thought I’d revisit that conversation and that misconception in the film.
I’ll admit. I see the rift too. This friend of mine happens to have a Nigerian name. In fact, her name is what brought us together in college. It was a new semester. The first day of our news writing class. The professor had to do roll call. When he called her name, I perked up. It was familiar. It was Nigerian. Unfortunately, she left class before I could ask her if she was Nigerian. The immigrant in me was psyched though. Had I finally found a relatable partner in crime? Someone whose jokes I didn’t have to think too hard to understand? Someone who effortlessly understood and appreciated my culture without trying, and who could maybe speak Pidgin English with me? I was hopeful. So I’ll admit, it was disappointing when I asked her the next day if she was African and she said, “no, I’m American.” I didn’t give up. I asked if her parents were Nigerian, she also said no. She went on to explain how her parents named her. Turns out they really like a Nigerian-British singer with the name, so they named their daughter after her. A black woman, an American, with a Yoruba name. Refreshing. I asked her if she wanted to sit by me in class. She said yes, and so a new and lasting friendship was born. Till this day, she remains my first and only, “are you African fail.” I’m usually able to correctly spot Africans wherever I go.
My friend said she’s had similar encounters with Africans in the United States that don’t end on a positive note. “When someone who is African saw or heard my name but found out I was American, I was treated differently,” she said. I think that’s unfortunate, but I explained to her that as an immigrant, it is indeed disheartening to learn someone you think is from your birth country or continent isn’t. She said situations like that is how she first noticed that there’s some sort of friction between Africans and African Americans. One side isn’t as tolerant of the other. I say, we all have our story and I too have been treated differently by African Americans. It goes both ways, and the question becomes why. I can’t speak for millions of people of diverse cultures with diverse experiences so I won’t attempt to dissect the reasons behind it. Anyone who desires can use the comment section. I’ll, however attempt to explain why I think Black Panther isn’t a representation of how Africans treat foreigners.
For starters, and this is very important, let’s not forget that Wakanda is a fictional isolationist nation that seemed to have a good reason to want to stay hidden. I’m an African woman, born and raised in Nigeria. In my 12 years there, I’ve never seen a foreigner treated as anything other than a welcome guest. You didn’t have to be rich to be treated this way. All you needed to do was show some interest in the new culture around you. Learn a few words of the language, learn the greetings, be polite and you were automatically treated like a child of the continent. Little children would marvel at the new foreigner in town and their parents would smile at the foreigner’s obvious and clumsy attempt to assimilate. Maybe it’s because Africans are too trusting, or maybe it’s just a way of life to welcome strangers with open arms. Some argue that’s what led to slavery in the first place. Maybe the fact that the outside world is ignorant when it comes to Africa as a whole makes Africans eager to take advantage of any opportunity to disprove the ignorance. After all, people often assume she’s filled with hungry people dying of AIDS who live in tree houses. Yes, people have indeed asked me if I lived in a tree or wore clothes or made click sounds when I speak my language (which yes that’s a thing but Africa isn’t homogenous so not all African languages are that way). I’ve been asked if I had a pet lion or leopard. Sigh. Believe me, it took a lot of self-control to not lash out at the constant ludicrous questions directed my way, but I digress. Point is, Black Panther’s plot of hostile Wakandans who don’t want visitors or foreigners around is just that. A fictional plot.
“I don’t think Africans aren’t open,” my friend said. “I just see the friction between two cultures, who share the same skin color.” Yes. As a Nigerian living in the United States for almost 16 years now, I agree. The friction is there. I wish I could pinpoint a specific reason as to why that is, but I can’t. So maybe it’s time for a thoughtful, inclusive dialogue. That’s usually a good place to start.