Arts·Point of View

'I see you.' 'I see you too.' Artists react to witnessing the magic and community of Black Panther

"I don't think I can articulate how exciting and meaningful it is as a Black person to see a film with a Black character at its centre. It is everything."

These Canadian artists saw the film on its opening night — and sharing in that moment was 'everything'

A young fan poses with a Black Panther figure. (Marvel)

Last night, I went to see Black Panther. Today, I'm looking for tickets to go and see it again.

The reasoning behind this seemingly extreme desire to spend my hard-earned dollars on the same movie twice in one week is mostly because the movie was truly spectacular. It's surprising and inventive, moving and affirming, hilarious and imaginative, and I'm eager to return and experience all of that magic again. However, I'm also hungry to go back because of the energy and excitement that permeated the theatre. Black Panther is one of the most talked-about films of recent years. The hype leading up to it led to fundraising challenges, movie-themed parties and a fashion standard at premieres around the world unlike anything I've ever seen.

I don't think I can articulate how exciting and meaningful it is as a Black person to see a film with a Black character at its centre — a character who is an epic superhero. It is everything.- Evangelia Kambites

So with that in mind, we've asked some Canadians to share with us what it was like seeing Black Panther on the night previews opened for the public.

Marvel's Black Panther. (Marvel Studios)

Evangelia Kambites, performer and producer:

I knew walking into the theatre on the opening night of Black Panther that it was going to be something special. I was not disappointed.

I made a point of seeing this movie with a group of Black friends. This was important to me — to us. Walking into the theatre, I could feel the energy emanating from those around me: my Black brothers and sisters adorned in traditional African printed fabrics from head to toe, greeting, embracing and hyping each other up for what we were about to see. I don't think I can articulate how exciting and meaningful it is as a Black person to see a film with a Black character at its centre — a character who is an epic superhero. It is everything.

There are few things I love more than Black people supporting other Black people, and the brotherhood was strong in that theatre. We laughed, reacted, talked to the screen and clapped together, understanding that we were watching something special — something for us. Those things are pretty rare. Wakanda: fictional though it may be, you can't help but be proud to be Black and know that in Marvel's world, that's where you see yourself. #WakandaForever​

Rochelle Roberts, writer:

It wasn't just about Lupita, Danai, Letitia, Angela or Florence. It was the woman who walked into my screening wearing a "MAGIC. BUT REAL" t-shirt, and having people stop her to take a picture. It was the excitement that transferred from Black woman to Black woman in my group chats, emails and text messages. It was the little girl sitting in the sixth row with her mom, about to experience something that I couldn't at her age and was only experiencing now in my adulthood. It was watching Black women play more than slaves, servants or the secondary best friend. They were scientists, spies and most importantly superheroes. We were magic. But REAL.

My favourite part of my experience didn't even take place in the film. It was when I was exiting the theatre. Two Black women I don't know smiled at me and gave a nod of hello. To be a Black woman is to know that this wasn't just a smile between strangers; it was a conversation:

Did you see it?
Did you see US?
I see you.
I see you too.

Marvel's Black Panther. (Disney)

Robert Bolton, artist and strategist:

Seeing Black Panther at Yonge and Dundas Square on opening night felt significant to me as part of now: a moment in Toronto when people are thinking seriously about the futures they want to create — and the ones they'd rather avoid. If conversations I'm finding myself in are any indication, there's a growing movement of voices deliberately taking the time to imagine long-term possibilities. Black Panther tells the ungentle truth that in a cutthroat and competitive world: "It's hard for a good man to be a king." Morally considerate leadership is difficult and can put you at a strategically disadvantaged position. It's not always easy to distinguish the time for diplomacy from the time to fight. These are useful reminders for both decision-makers and everyday people, determining the world we want.

Zola Zee, stylist:

I had the pleasure of attending a private viewing of the Black Panther film organized by Tennille Spencer of Deeply Dope Tees, a custom printing business in the GTA owned by a Black woman. From hosts adorned in Ankara print head wraps, to animal print black carpets with paparazzi taking pictures, to giveaways of amazing merchandise by other Black business owners, it simply felt like home.

This air of female energy and leadership was interestingly the undertone of this film. Though the main character was a man, throughout the entire film women dominated as matriarchs, confidantes, scientists, tech experts and badass warriors. I thought with this film I'd feel proud to simply be Black, but in actuality, throughout the entire evening, I was proud to be a Black woman! The women in this film spoke to my soul because they were my mother, my aunts, my friends, my elders, my mentors; they were me. To watch little girls in the audience observing women as integral to not just a storyline but also the very salvation of a nation highlighted to me that a movie about a Black male protagonist can also centre Black women. Bravo, Black Panther! Bravo!

Marvel's Black Panther. (Marvel Studios)

Lincoln Blades, writer:

As a student of African history, a reporter on modern civil rights issues and an obsessed fan of Marvel's Cinematic Universe, I was all at once intrigued and anxious on how the film would turn out — and I was pleasantly surprised. The film presented a thoughtful examination of complex cultural issues — such as avoiding colonialism, the benefits and costs of isolationism and achieving unity throughout the global Black diaspora — in a manner that was specific yet universal enough to be appreciated by audiences of any and all backgrounds.

While Black Panther does offer an incisive social consideration, it also massively lives up to everything us Marvel fans have come to expect from a great comic book movie. The film is full of breathtaking shots, heart-racing action scenes, exceptional acting, a penetrating storyline and an infectious, head-nodding score by the brilliant Kendrick Lamar. And they did all of that while managing to maintain Marvel's signature sense of humour. As someone who has seen every film in the MCU at least twice, I am absolutely confident in asserting that Black Panther is definitely my favourite Marvel film so far.

Janet Rogers, writer and artist:

I am a Mohawk artist currently doing a residency in Santa Fe New Mexico. I was pleased and a little perplexed when upon checking the movie listings that the film was opening on February 15th a day ahead of the screenings elsewhere and there were actually tickets left for purchase. But when arriving at the movie cinema, I was confused and very much let down by the extremely short lineup of less than 20 people waiting for the 7pm 3D screening. Where was everyone?

Regardless of the low attendance, I was able to focus on the film, which did me proud by opening with the Black Panther creation story. Creation stories are the foundation to every culture, but most North American citizens have no idea what their creation stories are and therefore are oblivious to their own beginnings. The film is set against a Marvel comic background which marries future technologies with African-inspired cultural traditions — not unlike the contemporary realities within Indigenous lives today.

We are provided the opportunity to see ourselves in these three-dimensional superheroes, so I was very impressed with the power roles the female characters held as warriors, as healers, as scientists, as farmers and as council members for their nations. The colonizer in this film gets beaten down or adopted. They are portrayed as violent, greedy and arrogant. The Panther nation fights not only the colonizer but themselves, with the understanding that all battles are for the greater good of the nation. And the characters do it all while impeccably dressed and gorgeous, Black forms out front and proud.

About the Author

Amanda Parris writes a weekly column for CBC Arts and is the host of Exhibitionists on CBC Television and Marvin's Room on CBC Radio. In her spare time, she writes plays and watches too many movies. In her past lives she wrote arts based curriculum, attended numerous acting auditions, and dreamed of being interviewed by Oprah.