Black Panther, Wonder Woman and intersectionality

After I saw Black Panther I was buzzing for hours afterwards. Later that day I was with a group of Black and White people for work. The Black people in the group had also seen Black Panther that day.

We proceeded to revel in it's wonder, call out favorite moments, scream and shout over the beauty, the dialogue and it's overall cultural impact. We talked about how we cried when we recognized ourselves on screen and how we'd never had the opportunity to see images of us projected as superheroes without question.

People in the room who hadn't seen the film were left out. I was aware that we were taking up a lot of space with our conversation but for once I wasn't going to reign it in or suppress it. There was something to celebrate and I was going to do it unabashed. A man in the group offered up this comment, "It's like how my mother felt when we saw Wonder Woman. We were holding hands and she was crying."

My joy deflated and I felt a twinge of negativity. I wanted to take in his comment and incorporate it into how I was feeling but it felt wrong. It felt like he was trying to piggy back on what Black Panther meant to us with something that was not the equivalent.

Wonder Woman is a film that showcases and celebrates the strength of women and their ability to defend without the need for a man. It's a yawp toward female empowerment and fits into a feminist narrative that needs to be perpetuated in our culture. But Wonder Woman and Black Panther are not equivalent experiences for the underrepresented.

When I saw Wonder Woman I was impressed by the fight scenes but I still had to accept a White woman as my representative. There were Black women warriors but they weren't front and center. They were not carrying the story. They were not an opportunity to see myself as the dominant power on screen. So while I was represented as a female I was not represented as a Black female. 

When I say I have never seen anything on screen like the characters in Black Panther that's not an overstatement. I have never seen Black people carrying the narrative, surviving their circumstances and thriving throughout. I have never seen a Black man barking at a White man in order to silence his contribution to a conversation. I have never seen the schism between Africans and African-Americans presented in a way that ignites conversation or debate.

In Wonder Woman there wasn't anything I haven't seen before. Yes it was all on a larger scale but I've seen White women on the big and small screen kicking butt, being the decision makers, driving the story and winning as far back as I can remember. As far as superheroes go Lynda Carter; the original Wonder Woman was doing it in the 70's.

It's not about which experience is better. What's important is the acknowledgement that the experiences are not the same. I wish the man who wanted to piggy back on our celebration would have held back on his comment and simply bore witness to our joy. Sometimes that is enough. And the willingness to bear witness is the thing that moves us forward when it comes to intersectionality and the overlapping of gender and race.

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