Don’t Freeze: Love and Vulnerability in Black Panther

I remember in the trailer for Black Panther watching the scene over and over again where Okoye tells T’challa before he descends to from the ship, not to “freeze.” And of course he says, “I never freeze” before putting on his helmet falling through a hatch release into the night.

I kept wondering it meant. In what situation would a superhero freeze or let his guard down? I couldn’t imagine the scenario and I really wanted to know.

As a bonafide movie lover, I have a collection of moments in films that I love and adore and among them is the moment when a man looks at the woman he loves, the moment when he is just openly gazing at her and time stops no matter what is happening. I love to see his openness, his vulnerability, his total surrender. But then of course he needs to be equally capable of getting it together again and carrying on his duties. LOL!

When Black Panther descends on a van of girls captured by the Boko Haram in order to save Nakia who is embedded among them on an undercover rescue mission, the aforementioned freezing begins. But not before he and Nakia stealthily dispatch of the armed men.  Then, thinking they are no longer under threat he faces her and says…hi. His mask is on so you can’t see his eyes but you can tell that he’s no longer in Black Panther mode. Okoye then appears and kills a man that neither or aware of because they’re too busy sharing a moment. LOL!

To be immediately engaged with both the vulnerability and strength of Black Panther in this initial and pivotal scene was just one of hundreds of ways in which the movie has shattered previous notions about what it has meant to be a “superhero.”

There is also no Clark Kent/Superman identity crisis conflict to deal with here. Among his people, T’challa does not hide as the Black Panther. Black Panther is not his secret identity. It is who he is. So when he looks at Nakia and freezes as Black Panther in the midst of battle or as King T’challa walking leisurely through the marketplace with her, it’s all the same man.

With Nakia, T’Challa is able to safely express his doubts about being the kind of king he feels he should be and he entrusts all the women around him, his mother, sister, general with the responsibility to support, inform, guide, strategist, and help him protect and defend Wakanda. They are all uniquely necessary and equally committed to this mission.

T’Challa’s vulnerability is his strength and he never seems to be at odds with it. I have never seen that treated with such balance and normative reverence in a superhero movie before. To feel the burden of so many of the oppressive and conditioned narratives we’re used to in movies; Whiteness, the male gaze, hyper sexuality, and more,  lift away for just a few hours is indescribably liberating. When I first saw Black Panther, I froze as well. And after the third time, time still stopped for me. And each time I see it, I come back to the world slightly different.


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