I saw Black Panther three times last week and each time I saw it, I not only gained something new, I felt an enormous sense of pride. Why did I feel this pride? Well because the more I write, speak, podcast and consult with companies and educational institutions, the more people I meet and the more I'm struck by how many people long to see themselves in stories. To see their identities and perspectives—their avatars—on the screen or in pages. They talk about not just being issues or think pieces to be addressed or icons for social commentary. They talk about their desire to simply be seen as people and heroes who get to do cool things in amazing worlds. I can’t really explain it but it's a beautiful experience to find yourself on the pages and screens of an entertainment channel. It’s uh...what’s the word?
When you experience this as a storyteller, you quickly realize that you have tremendous power and potential to literally empower people who have for many years felt like they didn’t exist because their histories have been erased. You realize that you have the power to celebrate humanity in such a beautiful and inclusive way. The great thing about this realization is that it’s accessible to ALL of us if we decide to act, advocate and support.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with pride, as a Nigerian, I got to see my continent represented on the big screen and not in a patronizing way. I have waited for this day for a long time and in many ways, I didn’t realize how much I needed it. Hope you go see Black Panther and celebrate Wakanda pride. At its core, it’s a story about the human experience, embracing your identity and finding your place in the world today. I often say use your DIFFERENCE to make a DIFFERENCE and I found this brilliantly told story had so many themes that we can all relate to as change-makers. Here are some of the lessons that I peeled from the movie.
WARNING: SPOILERS ARE REVEALED IN THIS POST SO IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE, DON'T PROCEED.
Let's start of with what the movie teaches us about having character. There’s a scene where Chadwick Boseman’s character T’Challa asks his father T’Chaka for advice on how to be a good ruler and his father’s response to this is “you are a good man with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be king.” That struck me because it isn’t something I believe in. Frankly, it’s something I’ve never believed in. I grew up in two military dictatorships and I have always despised the narrative that you couldn't be a person of character and a good leader. I believe you can be both so I particularly loved when T'Challa, the Black Panther spends the rest of the movie proving his dad wrong. You can feel the tension in Black Panther’s character when he later finds out something bad that his father, his hero had done in the past. At this moment, his ex girlfriend Nakia says to him “You can’t let your father’s mistakes define who you are...You get to decide what kind of king you are going to be.”
That’s the lesson right there. You can decide to be both a good person and a good leader. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Stand by your convictions.
Embrace your Identity & Don't Conform
Speaking of standing by your convictions, two quotes that symbolize this are as follows: The first one is when one of the antagonists of the film Erik Killmonger says to the Black Panther T'Challa: “Nah bury me in the ocean where my ancestors jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage.”
The other instance of this is when Okoye, Wakanda’s greatest warrior is on a spy mission and resents the fact that she’s wearing a wig to hide her shaved head so she doesn’t reveal her identity on the mission. She remarks, “I want to get this ridiculous thing off me”. Eventually, she does and proceeds to kick everyone's butts she faces.
In the first instance, T’Challa offers Killmonger a glimpse of hope by saying we could say your life. Killmonger resents this and refuses because he can’t imagine a world where he doesn’t get to be himself and is willing to pay the ultimate price! I found his last words to be so poignant because although I didn't agree with his methods in the film, he raised some very valid points about having pride in who you are and not hiding it to serve others.
How many times, when presented with a way out so you don't have to deal with the consequences of your actions do you take that way out?
In the second instance, Okoye resents the fact that she had to be someone else for a bit to succeed in a mission. She eventually sheds her wig and goes into full warrior mode. Again, a refusal to conform to meet someone else's standard.
Both are great reminders of how important it is to own our identities as leaders. Fight for what you believe in.
Big Picture Thinking
There's a scene where T’Challa reminded me of Nelson Mandela (my favorite leader of ALL time). He said “what happens now determines what happens to the rest of the world.” That’s the type of big picture thinking that’s necessary if you want to use your influence for good. Leaders know the true impact of their decisions and actions on others. They understand the power of their influence.
There’s no room for complacency as transformational leaders and I loved when Shuri told T’Chaka that just because his old suit worked didn't mean that it couldn’t be improved. How are you staying in a state of continuous improvement as a change-maker?
Engineer Your Environment For Success
T’Chaka gives his son another piece of advice before T’Challa takes his place on the throne. He says “You’re going to struggle so surround yourself with people you trust. This refers to surrounding yourself with people that can hold you accountable and people who have your best interests at heart. It's like Jim Rohn said,"you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with."
I can’t express to you all how amazing this movie was. I loved how it focused on Pan-Africanism which is a worldwide intellectual movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent. It’s a movie about what it means to be black in the world today- In America, in the continent of Africa and everywhere in the diaspora. It didn't shy away from complex themes about race and identity, the film tackles issues affecting the modern-day black experience. Black people, particularly Africans have been fighting to remind the world that Africa is a continent, not a country (I know I have). Africa is a continent that consists of nations rich in stories and successes in fields such as the arts or mathematics. However, that representation has rarely been portrayed by Hollywood. Well, until now. This movie is unapologetically African with dialects and traditions being pulled from Mali, Nigeria, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Tanzania.
It's much more than a movie. It's a movement.
I certainly hope you all go see it.