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One of the reasons why Black Panther is so empowering is how it addresses the complexities of being Black in America. For film director, Nadia Sasso, she is a living example of living in duality, as she celebrates the heritage as a daughter of Sierra Leoneans born and raised in Washington D.C. yet she currently resides in Freetown, Sierra Leone. That experience uncovers the journey of identity– Am I: Too African to be American or Too American To Be African? Nadia's documentary sheds light on a concept that clarifies how critical our personal identities are, especially from a bi-cultural lens. Following our Instagram Live Discussion of Black Panther Unveiled, we connected with Nadia to hear her thoughts as a creative but more importantly as a black woman.
What does Black Panther mean to you?
Black Panther meant a lot of things to me and below are just a few:
- It reminds of the intersection of race and immigration in America. It reminds me of my families coming to America story and all that I have faced with perplexity in being both African (Sierra Leonean) and American and a Black woman.
- As Sierra Leone embarks on another election (new king to the throne) and seeing that we are rich in resources such as diamonds yet not respected globally, I hope that our leadership is able to find a way to make it as wealthy as Wakanda.
- We have power and freedom to dictate our relationship those outside of the African Diaspora.”
How many times have you seen Black Panther? If more than once, what made you want to see it again?
I have seen Black Panther more than once and I want to keep watching for 3 main reasons. For the creativity displayed, the levels of comprehension to be obtained, and the refuelling of confidence needed as I take on the world as a filmmaker, the film was not only filled with black beauty, but every artistic faction — from the cinematography to the set and costume design — were well executed. As an Africana studies scholar, there was so much to comprehend that included traces and effects of colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade, global anti-blackness, black feminism, Afro-futurism, mass incarceration and various African cultural representations.
Which Black Panther character did you identify with the most and why?
Okoye is the character I identify with the most. I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family and the oldest of about 15 grandchildren in total. So, it’s safe to say that I am generally of my generation (laughs). Like Okoye, I am responsible to check on everyone as well make sure that we are protecting our family legacy. I really appreciated her strength, her strategy, and her undying loyalty. She upheld the traditions and the brilliant ideas of her foremothers and their forefathers, and she would do that at all costs. I can always respect someone that stays true to their beliefs. Although many see her character as a traditionalist, I saw her as someone who respected tradition but also knew that innovation and collaboration would also benefit the kingdom.
Black Panther broke eight box office records during its opening weekend. Most notably, it had the fifth-largest opening of all time and crosses the global box office at $1 billion. With new records being shattered every day, what did the success of Black Panther prove to Hollywood?
Personally, I don’t think black people, black creatives or the film had anything to prove to Hollywood. I think Black Panther solidifies our influence, as well as our spending power, and that Hollywood must give us what we desire and what we deserve. Also, media plays a big role in education and developing our youth. The gems dropped in this film were revolutionary, and while fictional that revolution could transfer into reality. Now, our job as lack creatives is to make sure that these projects will continue, and that we will maintain control over the narratives being told. As mentioned before, this isn’t merely a film–it is a movement. We should try to embody this same energy as we work, as we raise families, and we will continue to change Hollywood.
The marketing for Black Panther was unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It was reported by the EVP of Marketing for Disney, Asad Ayaz that they went about marketing [Black Panther] as a cultural event. Why was the marketing to specific cultural audiences (i.e. people of color) so important for this film in making it a cultural event? Is this a lesson for other movie makers that when you market to us [black community] properly, we come through with buying power to support a film that we feel represents us?
It is nothing new that one of the fundamental rules of marketing is to market to your target audience. Did this showcase the buying power of black people? , Yes, but isn’t this a template to consistently attract our buying power. I say that because when you really want to look at a film or a project, you also have to look at who finances it. While this film was good, one could wonder how great it would have been if it had been financed by a black production company. Unfortunately, there isn’t yet a black-owned company that compares to the powerhouse of Disney.
There’s a lot of arguments being made online whether it’s valid to label Princess Shuri of Wakanda a Disney Princess? Why is it important that people view Princess Shuri as a Disney Princess? Does the title of “Disney Princess” provide a level of legitimacy or distinction that being an African Princess does not?
So is she a princess? The answer is a resounding yes. However, I would like to caution how we ascribe to these notions of “we have made it” or affirmations because we are finally being recognized by the likes of Disney. Defining her solely as a Disney princess limits her character in many ways, taking her creativity and strength exhibited in her lab and on the battlefield. Wakanda was about creating a standard so far from the norm that we succeed with or without the validation from others. When they described Wakanda on the news, they thought of it as a 3rd world country but its citizens knew it was filled with wealth, royalty, and all things black and beautiful.
Lupita Nyongo praised Black Panther for "justly expressing" both the African and African-American identities simultaneously” as she found it incredibly "healing." How well do you think the film addressed these two identities?
I don’t think it addressed both African and African-American identities simply because one film cannot justly express the relationships and experiences of Africans and African Americans both on the continent and in America with expensive historical context as well as contemporary. I think what Black Panther did that was powerful was to bring to the forefront the dichotomy and interconnectedness that exists between Africans and African Americans and throughout the diaspora in general. Both communities have these conversations behind closed doors and now we can take it from behind the door. That is a major step toward reconciliation, celebrating our differences, and understanding that we are more connected than not to break the “divide and conquer” curse that plagues the diaspora.
Michael B. Jordan’s portrayal of Erik Killmonger was the first time we’ve seen people conflicted on what team to root for. Is Killingmonger a villain or anti-hero? Why do you think people sympathized with his character?
Killmonger is a someone we can sympathize with because his character is reminiscent of Tupac Shakur, Malcolm X, Huey P Newton, Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton and so many others that thread the fine line of hero and anti-hero because they were rebels with a cause. He has seen a lot of things in life such as oppression and lack of resources where class and race stands at the forefront. His rage comes from feeling like he has to do what he has to do by any means necessary and I think most of us can sympathize with that. What makes him a villain, however, is that he thought he was doing the best for his community, but he was just a cold blood killer. Killmonger thought he understood where he came from, but he clearly didn’t because he didn’t know where he was going or how to lead his people. He could have been a fighter like T’Challa and made more informed and collaborative decisions.
Many fans argue that the women of “Black Panther” were the real stars of the film as they showcased women in a positive light, unlike many mainstream films. Black panther showcased a society where men and women roles were complimentary. Within the Black community, how can we establish a society similar to Wakanda where there are equal gender relations?
Gender is partly a social phenomenon when it comes to societal roles and expectations ascribed. In order to have equal or more balanced gender relations, we as a society need to allow for these roles to be more fluid and less rigid. We have to question the lenses in which we look at gender. I co-taught a class on black women and political leadership, and most of the students were unable to identify the political power and influence of female musicians, fashion designers, first ladies. All of these women have power, but because of the lenses in which we look at gender, we can not see it. We also alter the history to disregard women of the likes of Yaa Asantewaa, Winnie Mandela, and Assata Shakur.
If you could talk to Ryan Coogler, director of Black Panther one-on-one, what would you tell him?
I would tell him that he is on to something as he explores the dynamic relationships and realities of the African diaspora. We have so many vast and untold stories that would literally change lives. I would also tell him that we should collaborate on a project.
Watch the Trailer the Nadia Sasso's breakout documentary, Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African?