Scrolling my social feeds after hearing that ‘Black Panther’ star Chadwick Boseman had died at age 43 of colorectal cancer, I felt shock and sadness as I realised my own community had also lost a hero.
It warmed my heart to see parents posting photos of their superhero children dressed in their Wakanda-inspired costumes across social media. Many were children of colour.
To see these children with their superhero ‘Black Panther’ toys proudly displayed showed the deep impact Boseman and this character had on many marginalised communities around the world. I felt sad for the young ones. They’d been given a superhero who reflected how they looked. An idol who was proud of his identity and culture and who elevated Black excellence on the big screen ― something Hollywood and the Australian media industry historically hasn’t done well. Now the actor who played him so brilliantly is gone.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the Black Panther is T’Challa, a member of the royal family of the fictional African country of Wakanda. After the death of his father, T’Challa claims the throne and the role of Black Panther.
While ‘Black Panther’ is reflective of communities of the African diaspora, here in Australia, Aboriginal people can also relate to many parts of the story. Scenes where the women were held in high regard and at the forefront of battle and leadership resonated with me and helped me realise that the people of Wakanda were heroes for First Nations people as well as the Black community in America.
The ‘Black Panther’ story was a powerful concept to me, a Gamilaraay man from Northern NSW, because it highlighted academic capability and flipped stereotypes on their head.
By showcasing the greatness and regalness of Black folks, it empowers many of us to think and look at the world from a different perspective.
In particular, I loved how women were portrayed as beautiful, fierce leaders. While I acknowledge that Aboriginal women are the heartbeat and backbone of our communities, the sad reality is that our women are overrepresented in domestic violence statistics due to social disadvantage, intergenerational trauma and many other contributing factors. For example, in 2014–15, Indigenous women were 32 times as likely to be hospitalised due to family violence as non-Indigenous women. So, to see a movie where women are at the top spoke volumes.
It’s still a shame Australia has never had a specific superhero in literature that Aboriginal communities can look up to and identify with.
The ABC’s ‘Cleverman’ is perhaps the best example of highlighting First Nations culture in a modern and superhero context. Then there was Manifold ― a mutant First Nations Marvel comic character with the ability to bend reality and twist space-time for teleportation ― but Manifold was pushed to the back of the line when it came to ‘X-Men’ stories. I look forward to hearing more about the DC Universe’s Thylacine, a Ngarluma hunter from the Pilbara.
When I was growing up, there weren’t any superheroes that resonated with me. At the time it didn’t worry me, but as a young man today, I realise how important it is for our young people to see figures and people on TV, real or fictional, that they can look up to.
The majority of the time, superheroes exhibit good qualities and send positive messages. Characters such as T’Challa can help inspire and affirm a young person’s identity and can allow them to see themselves one day portraying someone important on the world’s stage. Kids need to feel they too can be Black Panther.
I hope Boseman’s legacy lives on, and I hope that someday Australia will have its own version of an inspiring superhero.
Mitch Tambo is a First Nations recording artist.