“Miss, are you going to watch Black Panther?”
“Miss, are you excited for Black Panther?”
“Miss, can we go on a trip to see Black Panther?”
It was February 2018; we were a week away from Half-Term and the kids had one thing on their mind. They were excited and so was I.
I grew up in a family of total nerds. We loved Marvel comics in our house and X-Men was our thing. I watched the animated series every Saturday morning with my brother and as a five-year-old, told people that Jubilee was my favourite because she was a girl. I had no idea what she did or what her powers were, but she was a girl and that was all that mattered.
Twenty-five years later, I was thrilled at the prospect of watching a film about Black superheroes. Like many of my pupils, I saw Black Panther the day it came out and it was everything I thought it would be and more.
The Monday after the film was released was something else. The bell normally rang at 08:50, but I went down five minutes early to talk to the kids. I stepped onto the playground and suddenly, thirty small humans ran towards me in what felt like slow motion. “MISSSSS LAAAAAWTON!!!!!!!!! BLAAAAACCKKK PANTHERRRRRR!!!”
For the next few days, weeks and months it was all we talked about. It was the ‘in’ thing. It was the film. It was everything.
You answered the register by saying, “Wakanda Forever!”
You lightly ribbed your friend who lost Times Table shoot out by saying, “Is this your king?!”
Everything changed. Their creative writing changed, their art changed, their notions of what was possible, changed.
In June 2018, I took them to the Natural History Museum for a workshop. The curator showed us some fossils.
“Where do you think this fossil is from?” He asked.
“WAKANDA!” One child shouted.
“Not now!” I said, unsure if the museum staff would get the reference.
“WAKANDA FOREVER!” The curator replied as he made the cross symbol with his arms. The kids screamed in delight. He smiled and high-fived them.
I had a great rapport with my kids and so nothing was ever off limits. We talked about books, films, food, TV series etc. You name it, we discussed it. Strangely enough, however, we never discussed why Black Panther was so important to us. We talked about how much we loved it, the characters, the actors, a potential sequel, but never what it meant in terms of representation. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity on my part, but I look back on that period and have no regrets. I think that there was a mutual understanding amongst us all. We didn't talk about it but we all just got it.
The majority of the kids in my class were Black and like me, they had never seen a superhero who looked like them. Black Panther was not only a significant shift in cinema, culture and society but it was a positive affirmation to people all over the world that they are worthy of representation.
I would like to dedicate this post to Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for giving a group of little Black girls, boys and their teacher a superhero that made us feel celebrated, understood and seen.