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Editor: Sheena C. Howard, PhD
Publisher: Smart Pop Books
Publication Year: 2021
WHAT IS IT?
Why Wakanda Matters is a fascinating deep dive into the Black Panther movie and its intellectual and cultural importance.
Edited by Eisner winner Sheena C. Howard, this collection of essays uses Black Panther as a focal point for exploring representation and perception and spotlights both the film and its creators.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Why Wakanda Matters is a collection of fourteen essays grouped into sections that consider collective identity, racial identity, trauma, and cognition. The essays give voice to varied perspectives on why Ryan Coogler’s 2018 blockbuster movie Black Panther resonated so strongly with Black moviegoers, and Dr. Howard takes us on a journey into the story, characters, and iconography of the film. The book has a strong psychological component, and the authors featured have backgrounds in communication, psychology, and counseling. While it is very much an academic book, and even delves into clinical theory a bit at times, Why Wakanda Matters is clearly organized and engaging and is surprisingly accessible for a work dealing with such complex topics.
Each chapter seems to expose another layer of detail and meaning in the movie. The story, characters, sets, and costuming all are revealed to be infused with iconic, symbolic or subtextual value, and the authors make convincing arguments that this is not accidental, but rather is due to meticulous planning and exquisite execution on the part of Ryan Coogler and his cast and crew.
The start of chapter six, by Mercedes Samudio, is a brilliant and heartbreaking memoir-style recounting of her experience growing up as a Black girl loving comics and geek culture. Samudio’s difficulties reconciling her identity and interests really crystallizes why it is so important for young people to have an “abundance of representation” in media. I like how Samudio talked about Black Panther appealing to her because it showed “Black lives in a kaleidoscope of shades and perspectives” allowing young Black viewers a far greater opportunity to see role models and heroes on the screen that fit their personal aspirations.
Howard uses the final chapter of the book to return the focus to T’Challa, and the way that the events of the movie have caused him to rethink long-held beliefs. I love how, in doing so, she can reference, contextualize and tie together many of the themes that were presented earlier in the book, creating a satisfying coda.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
For those of us who are not psychologists, the inclusion of five-step processes and comparative worldview schematics can be a bit clinical and daunting. Conversely, if you happen to be a psychologist, these likely will be a highlight!
The book focuses exclusively on the Black Panther film and makes almost no mention of the comic source material that Wakanda and the Black Panther originated in. Dr. Howard has already discussed the comics in a previous Eisner-winning work (see below in the What Do I Read Next section) but even so, it would have been interesting to see what one of these authors would have thought about psychology, identity, and communication in some of the Black Panther comics (especially some of the more recent works).
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Why Wakanda Matters is a wonderful book. Readers will almost certainly come away with interesting and thought-provoking insights into Black Panther’s characters and story, as well as a better understanding of the real-world issues that the movie is addressing.
Who it’s for: Why Wakanda Matters is targeted at fans of Black Panther, but anyone interested in comics and comic movies would do well to give Dr. Howard and her collaborators a bit of their time. These essays will enrich your future viewings of Black Panther and introduce you to a new way of thinking about the importance of representation in media.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
For more from Sheena C. Howard: Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, edited by Sheena C. Howard and Ronald L. Jackson II
For more super-psychology: Untamed: The Psychology of Marvel's Wolverine, by Suzana E. Flores
ABOUT THE EDITOR
Sheena Howard is a Professor of Communication at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ. She has written several books, produced and directed a documentary called Remixing Colorblind, and is active in social and creative projects. Howard was the first Black woman to receive an Eisner Award, winning Best Academic/Scholarly Work in 2014 for Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation, co-edited with Ronald L. Jackson II. You can find out more about her at sheenachoward.com or on Twitter @DrSheenaHoward.
HOW DO I BUY IT?
If you can, find a local bookstore, and buy there!
The copyright for image(s) used in this review are likely owned by either the publisher of the book, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the book. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
The essays in this anthology are © by their authors or rights holders. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED