By: Alexandria Barabin Harris
Breaking box office records of $404 million worldwide in a single holiday weekend, Marvel’s Black Panther has already made a profound impact on film, culture, and the community of thousands who have bought tickets in advance, stood in long lines, coordinated outfits, and even returned to the theatre for a second helping of the visually stunning production directed by Ryan Coogler.
Adults and children alike have been waiting in anticipation for Black Panther since the character’s film debut in Captain America: Civil War. As a result, there was an unusually high number of children and parents seeing the movie together. As a new mom, I couldn’t help but notice the parent/child relationships. It was so critically interwoven into the story. I wondered what, if anything, can Wakanda teach us about the way we interact with our own children. Here is my take on the wisdom Wakanda has to offer about parenting in the Black community. Spoiler alert – but hopefully you’ve seen it by now!
#1- Encourage Your Children
“My son, this is your time.” – Queen Ramonda
In the first conversation between mother and son in Black Panther, these words spoken by Queen Ramonda to her son T’Challa indicate the depth of their relationship and the love of a mother. Even as she grieves the loss of her husband just days prior, Queen Ramonda has already turned her focus to supporting her son as he prepares to transition from a prince to the king.
— Black Panther (@theblackpanther) February 28, 2018
The power of their connection is echoed when T’Challa begins to weaken during a grueling life or death fight that will determine if he is strong enough to take the crown. He looks around searching for his mother’s face and as they make eye contact, she shouts to him “Show them who you are!” It is just the medicine that the doctor ordered. After seeing his mother cheering for him, T’Challa musters the strength to defeat his challenger and claim the crown. It is his mother’s support and encouragement that strengthens him to overcome and win!
Parenting can be a challenge any day of the week, but it is particularly difficult during times of grief and hardship. It may also be important to shift the mindset if, culturally, you were personally not raised with verbal affirmations. As you parent through life’s highs and lows, remember how important it is for you to encourage your children no matter what! In addition to your love, it is your support that can strengthen them so they can overcome any challenge the world throws at them.
#2 Prepare Your Children
“A man who has not prepared his children for his death has failed as a father.” – King T’Chaka
This deeply moving yet haunting conversation between father and son foreshadows the conflicts to come throughout the film. It also serves as a warning to the viewer. When T’Chaka climbed down from the tree and transformed from a majestic black panther to an elder father giving his son advice from the great beyond, there was a moment of silence in the theatre as we listened intently.
The preparation T’Chaka references here is not merely to prepare one’s children for death alone, but the life you hope for them in the distant future. His proclamation is about preparing them to inhabit the legacy of the family. “Stand up. You are a king,” T’Chaka commands his son in the same conversation. As a parent, the father sees the fear in the eyes of his seed and comforts him with reminders of how he was trained as a warrior, taught him the ways of Wakanda, and his status as royalty.
What a powerful example of leadership! To insist that your child rise to their greatness, nurtured by preparation and encouraged, is a gift that keeps on giving. This preparation can apply to the type of legacy you want to see sustained within your family. That includes character or values, faith, generational wealth, and social justice.
#3 Affirm The Gifts and Talents of Your Children
“Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.” -Princess Shuri
In alignment with her unique gifts, Princess Shuri was also prepared to stand in her greatness. Imagine parenting a child prodigy who knows about as much as you do! Yet, Shuri is not so focused on being smart that she has no sense of herself. She is the kind of kid that can flip her brother off with the middle finger and a smile. Shuri has a vibrant personality and speaks up for herself – often!
Her parents were clear about her strengths, even going so far as to incorporate her inventions into the infrastructure of the country. Remember the trains? How powerful it can be for a child to know that their parents not only see them as smart or talented but willing to invest in their creative dreams! However, others may not believe in your child’s gifts and abilities in the same way that you do.
During the first warrior challenge, M’Baka took exception to the idea that a girl so young could aid the country’s development and had disdain towards Shuri. He specifically says that the former King T’Chaka created weakness within the nation because he allowed Shuri to have an innovation lab to make everything from weapons to medicine. Tell the haters to take a seat! You know what is best for your child. In the end, it is Shuri’s technology that empowers the Black Panther and protects the country. By allowing her to have creative freedom and providing learning opportunities for her development, King T’Chaka and Queen Ramonda affirm their daughter’s special gifts that help save Wakanda.
#4 Nurture Relationships Between Your Children
Prince T’Challa: “And what are these?”
Princess Shuri:“What are those!?”
This hilarious exchange set the tone for a playful, yet authentic, connection between Shuri and T’Challa, a brother and sister who could not be more different. They have opposite personalities, yet they remain loving, even friendly. Shuri is brash and unapologetic calling CIA Agent Ross a “colonizer.” Her brother is much more reserved, kneeling when speaking with authority and following the rules of ritual.
As parents, I believe we can set the tone to influence a healthy sibling relationship rather than a rivalry. I grew up very close to my younger 2 siblings. We are not only sisters by blood but embody a “sisterly love” for each other because my mother taught us, even the youngest child, to always watch over and protect the others. That is the type of brother/sister relationship shown between these two. Rather than compete, they complement one another’s strengths.
Although T’Challa is the oldest and a superhero, he takes direction from Shuri because he recognizes her genius in the areas of science and technology. We don’t see him in a lab trying to recreate or outperform his sister. Likewise, despite engineering the Black Panther suit herself, we don’t see Shuri jumping in it to mimic her brother. Each one is resolute in their own style.
The young prince and princess hilariously clown each other with memorable one-liners throughout the film. But the heart of the matter is clear. They trust each other and work well together. Each child was nurtured by their parents to fully stand in their gifts and to love one another. Shuri shines as the child prodigy. T’Challa is clearly an agile and precise warrior. Because of their family dynamics, those differences are celebrated and therefore, their relationship thrives.
About the Author: Alexandria Barabin Harris writes and speaks at the intersections of leadership, pop culture, and identity. She provides professional development training, coaching, and organizational consultations on leadership development, cultural education, creative approaches to 21 st century skills for college readiness including entrepreneurship. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @YesSheLeads.