“Baba tell me a story”
“The story of home”
Ryan Coogler’s script had me at “Baba”.
An adventure story loomed in the air, framed not by a fire place but cinema surround sound. Like magic I escaped the building and travelled on a journey far far away from Washington D.C to Teso and Kigezi via Kampala. First off, I’m not familiar with anything “Marvel” – Justice League, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy – clueless! I endured the winding line of excited theater goers determined to break the box office because of hype. The Black Panther movie had just been released. The 40 minutes I stood in line eased on like a breeze thanks to Zadie Smith’s novel “White Teeth”. What was this #WakandaForever business? I had to find out.
Now, back to the story. T’Challa’s (Black Panther) eager pre-teen voice makes a request – simple yet profound and multifaceted – “The Story of home”. It took me back in time to an evening two years ago when seated at the family dining table in an obscure corner of Maryland my 12-year-old son asked “Daddy, where did we come from?” My quick, short answer would have been “Uganda!” but my son in his wisdom knew the source of satisfactory answers, answers that quenched his thirst for belonging, for identity – his father. As he is wont to do, his father with undivided attention begun at the beginning – the Luo migration into East Africa. The journey of Nilotic ethnic groups along the Nile river from lower Egypt, Sudan, Congo to the places they settled in East Africa. While he explained his linage up to his father and mother who originated from Tororo and Kisoro respectively, I spoke of my parent’s linage from Usuk and Kumi finally settling in Serere. My son listened with eager attention, he sat up and pushed his chest forward. The building blocks for this discussion rested on our faith. His father explained that more than people and places his identity should be rooted in Jesus Christ. Our personal relationship under the Lordship of Jesus informs our value systems.
Black Panther alludes to historic events; the bronze artifacts looted in 1897 from the kingdom of Benin (now southern Nigeria) exhibited in a London museum and current issues; the Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. But at its core the movie settles around personal identity, family and exile, politics and power struggles. Personal identity – the purpose of one’s existence in relation to their surroundings. An issue my father handled with deliberate effort; the dusty road trips up to Usuk and Agaria, visiting home after home, the chicken slaughtered, the millet bread mingled, now make sense. While the elders sat around a pot of ajono, we were left to stare at children who were introduced as relatives. The barriers of discomfort soon melted and we became life-long friends. Now, tracing actual bloodlines is like splitting hairs – we are siblings to all intents and purposes and we have a sense of belonging.
Growing up in the American culture my son’s concerns are complex. As his parents, born and bred in Uganda, our reference points differ and he struggles to understand our views. His dark skin connects him with a racial history with which he doesn’t necessarily identify. As teenagers on a quest for self, a discussion brewed among friends at school – where was he from if he wasn’t Black American? There were so many layers. As a result, their growing minds begun to question the differences and similarities between black with American roots and black with African roots. He needed to curve out his niche with the knowledge that one thread run deep – he was a young black male in America.
As memories of his experience in Uganda and his life in America were juxtaposed: feeding goats in grandpa’s back yard, being chased by a rooster in Serere’s afternoon sun. His numerous uncles and aunts who send him birthday wishes every year. Playing video games, attending school with friends who look as different as they come, the claustrophobic space he occupies with his sister and Ugandan parents, an awareness of his skin color – all inform his identity. As he grows up in a different time and place he is reminded that all these experiences shape his unique but centered definition of self.
The question at the end of the Black Panther movie is “WHO ARE YOU?” I should hope my son will embrace and define his unique identity as a Christian, born in Uganda and bred in America. When asked his favorite character in Black Panther he said the villain – Killmonger. A partial reflection of himself perhaps?
Good movie – thought provoking. #WakandaForever