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Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Atlantic national correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates and what seemed like 1,500 of their closest friends gathered in the Apollo theater last night to discuss Black Panther and its social implications. The panel was presented in collaboration with The Atlantic and Afropunk.
Globally, the film has made over $700 million, but what makes it a “historic moment and cinematic history” to the Apollo’s executive producer, Kamilah Forbes, is the way it ignited black communities. When the three speakers walked onstage, the crowd rose to its feet, cheering and dancing to music from Black Panther: The Album (played by DJ Reborn). Somewhere lost in the audience, a man yelled “Wakanda forever!” and others echoed it back.
All three speakers had a hard time getting words out before the crowd erupted into applause. The joy wasn’t just palpable, it was audible and unabashedly so. Choruses of “yes!” and murmurs of agreement accompanied everything the speakers said, like they were preachers in a black church. If someone had burst out in a gospel song (at one point, Nyong’o did hum a tune from Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot,” although that’s not exactly the same type of spiritual), it wouldn’t have been surprising. Chadwick Boseman, born and raised in South Carolina, couldn’t even say the words “African-American” without a cheer coming from the crowd.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever been this proud to be African-American,” the 40-year-old actor joked.
When he finally got to it, Boseman discussed how he actually identifies more with the person “without the vibranium spoon” in his mouth. That is, Wakanda by way of Oakland, California’s Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. Boseman’s character is “actually the enemy” in his version of the story.
“I don’t know if we as African-Americans would accept T’Challa as our hero if he didn’t go through Killmonger,” Boseman explained. “Because Killmonger has been through our struggle, and I [as T’Challa] haven’t.”
T’Challa’s eventual understanding created a “healing on both fronts,” for Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o.
As Nakia, a rebellious Wakandan spy, Nyong’o wasn’t just a healer, she closed up some old wounds for herself. In 2014, she gave a speech about her struggles with her skin color, part of which Coates read out for the audience. After years of watching pale-skinned actresses on TV, Nyong’o said being Nakia was “such a healing moment for the child in [her].” Being on a set where the “ancient and traditional is embraced” was like looking in a mirror.
“There I am and there I always was!” she exclaimed.
The panel ended with the crowd posing for a group photo with Coates, Boseman and Nyong’o. The pose was a given: arms crossed in an X and instead of “cheese,” the audience roared “Wakanda forever!”
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