The fight for Black visibility has been an ongoing and often disheartening one. As a Black queer nerd, my intersectionality is rarely represented, even in the endless pages of indie comics, but I'm happy to say, that as a boy who’s always loved cosmic gods, dragons, and kings, I and little Black boys around the world can see themselves reflected in the spectacular. This lands way beyond the hashtags #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy and finds itself amongst mainstream and popular narratives. Particularly, television and film. Black divinity, something I always felt should exist in my high fantasy narratives, has come to fruition with the help of a few stellar writers, filmmakers, and comic houses.
When it comes to Black and African royalty in cinematic history, I can only think of one example: Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. A gem, no doubt, but not one to be taken seriously, and not one that shows the divinity and the grace of Black diaspora. When Black Panther made his appearance in Marvel's Civil War, I and a nation of Black fanboys rejoiced. A superhero richer than Tony Stark, smarter than Batman, and cooler than Wolverine, T'challa, the crowned ruler of Wakanda, was a surreal highlight. Don't get me wrong, Black Panther was not the first Black superhero to grace the big screen, but he is the first Black hero, with a rich and powerful legacy.
Admittedly, Storm of the X-Men has always been my first love, but when a dismal performance and uncharacteristically light (in skin tone) representation was delivered by Halle Berry in the X-franchise, I found myself livid. Storm’'s blackness was whitewashed even with a mixed-race actress like Halle. She is an African queen, period. But Black Panther was the perfect remedy. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when fans were gifted with an incredible teaser trailer—we're still floored. Black Panther is slated to be the first Afrofuturist mainstream film...ever. We see Wakanda a sci-fi mecca of technology and blend of mixed African cultures. The trailer compares it to El Dorado, the City of Gold in South America. Wakanda represents a movement, a movement in which little Black kids can be scientist, kings, fierce warriors, and above all, better than the world around them. Wakanda is the height of advancement in the Marvel universe. Do you feel the weight of that? We, us, the Black diaspora, are seen as an advanced society with kings, philosophers, and intelligent people. We are Wakanda. And Wakanda is Black Excellence at its fictional finest. It's Black Divinity.
Black Panther isn't the only representation of this. At Disney’s D23 summit, fans were also treated to the first trailer for A Wrinkle in Time, directed by Black visionary, Ava DuVernay. Her direction is a highlight of this film. Her work on Selma still resonates feels with the Black diaspora. But no, the divinity doesn't stop there. A divine force in her own right, the queen herself, Oprah will play Mrs. Which, one of three celestial beings capable of traveling and existing in and out of time in the A Wrinkle in Time universe. Mrs. Which is the wisest and the leader of the trio. She leads Mrs. Who (played by Mindy Khaling) and Mrs. Whatisit (played by Reese Witherspoon). To see celestial goddesses in the likeness of brown skin is to see unexplainable beauty. A Wrinkle in Time doesn't hit theaters until March 2018, but there are plenty of places to find Black divinity, particularly in literature.
High fantasy author N.K Jemisin has been a mainstay of my personal library for years. Her book 100,000 Kingdoms is the first in a trilogy that explores gods of color and their divinity and subjugation. The book beautifully includes queer characters, characters of all shades, gods and humans all existing in a high fantasy world that reflects our own. Her Dreamblood series follows ordained assassins who guide followers of the goddess into the afterlife, featuring queer and POC characters, with elements of human and the divine. (Hint: Her series always have elements of the divine) And her latest series, starting with the book Fifth Season, features a race of people who share great power tied to the earth, but like the X-Men are demonized for possessing such abilities.
In Jamie McKelvie's and Kieron Gillen's The Wicked and The Divine, we find Black divinity made literal as pop stars double as gods of power, influence, and fame. Sakhmet, a Rihanna doppelganger, is the Egyptian lion-headed goddess of bloodshed and war. Baal, the Semitic god of the rain and thunder is reflected in a sexy comic creation of equal parts Drake and Kanye. Innana, the Sumerian goddess of the heavens is depicted as a brown (possibly South-Asian) genderfluid, Prince-like character.
It's not only important, but necessary to see this particularly type of representation. Not long ago, African Americans won Academy Awards for playing crooked cops and the literal help. Divinity—seeing otherworldly, sometimes godlike aspects in characters of color—gives viewers a true spectrum of entertainment. We can be kings, goddesses, and bulletproof men and women. But divinity doesn't always equate to perfection. Our characters are allowed to be flawed and as deeply human as possible. Divinity simply allows us to see more options in the Black diaspora, to see ourselves represented in the best and worst parts of humanity.