It is utterly impossible for a white person, such as myself, to get anywhere near to truly understanding the African-American experience, but watching my friends of color react to Black Panther on Facebook has felt particularly revealing.
The posts have had the tone of celebrating a Super Bowl win and the vindication-of-an-innocent-man, all at once. There is a sense of triumph to how the African-American community has responded to this film in a way that I am not sure the white community would — or even could — embrace a film.
This reaction should be instructive for us white people. 152 years after slavery and finally — f i n a l l y — our society can handle the concept of a black man being the hero.
“One of my favorites superheroes was Superman. He was the top, the best,” said Artis Ananta Smith, a Norfolk-based yoga teacher. “He was white. I identified as black. That sunk into my subconscious.”
Hollywood’s depiction of African-Americans, and Africa, has been fraught, to put it mildly — and plainly racist, to put it bluntly.
“When I was young growing up, there was a struggle within me about my African heritage,” Smith said. “The portrayal of what Africa was: a place of uncivilized people with bones in their noses, killing people, buck naked in the jungle.”
For Smith, like many, Black Panther was a revelation. The film portrays an advanced African society, an African hero, and a classic film antihero, also of African descent. In Black Panther, black is both beautiful and normal. Smith saw it at the IMAX at Lynnhaven, because it was the best local screen he could find.
“What it let me see was something I hadn’t seen in a long time, which was the strength of a black woman,” he said. “One of the most abused people in our society is the black woman. (Black Panther) couldn’t do it without them. I could relate to that. My dad would travel, and my sisters and mom would look out for me. They took care of me and had my back.”
The African women in Black Panther are everything. Brave. Powerful. Wise. Idealistic but loyal. Funny. Intelligent. And I will take the liberty to add dead sexy with those bald heads and fierce fight moves.
“I leave, and I’m still buzzing,” said Smith of the night he saw the movie. “It keeps welling up in me. Something’s coming up.”
He went home and started researching African drumming on Youtube. The voices of Zulu warriors filled his home.
“I got extremely emotional,” he said. “It felt like cold ice water on my soul. That’s when I came up with the class.”
Smith devised a class he’s calling Wakanda Yoga. The class will be paced with live traditional African drumming, with some poses influenced by ancient Kemetic Yoga, according to Smith. It is an all levels class that is accessible to the beginner, but also the experienced practitioner will have the chance to move into more advanced poses. There will be breath exercises, and a brief guided meditation afterwards.
“As I’m getting older, it’s coming up in me, feeling more connected to Africa,” Smith said. “My yoga practice has opened me up — allowed me to look at myself.”
The class was designed for black folk, but everyone is welcome. It is born out of Smith’s soul, conjured by the transformative experience of Black Panther.
“The little boy who loved Superman was in the theater seeing Black Panther,” Smith said. “That’s when I realized that I could do whatever I wanted to do. I didn’t have to be constrained to limits. It had to come out.”
The event takes place this Sunday from 7am to 8:30am at Flourish, which is located at 809 Brandon in Norfolk. For more info, here is the event on Facebook.