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“How ‘Black Panther’ Changed Our Perception of Reality”

Translation's Mahu Attenoukon, Netta Dobbins, Danielle Howe and Danitha Jones share their thoughts on the blockbuster film 'Black Panther'

Translation's Mahu Attenoukon, Netta Dobbins, Danielle Howe and Danitha Jones (from left to right).

Throughout each of our unique journeys into Wakanda, we all succumbed to one truth of what ‘Black Panther’ stood for in our lives – an unraveling and unwavering vision of what our heritage can and should stand for. Banding together as uniquely individual black women occupying various lanes in the advertising world by way of Translation, an agency committed to being stewards and students of the culture, made it all the more impactful for us. Examining the impact that ‘Black Panther’ has had on the world around us inspired us to share our stories of growth.


We bought our ‘Black Panther’ tickets a month prior to the release. The film would mean more than any other Marvel release for people like us, it was a cultural moment for everyone throughout the African diaspora. We were determined to not be one of the few people who were unable to purchase tickets the day the movie released.

It was the night of the premiere and we traveled from Times Square to Brooklyn to take our middle row seats at the Court Street Theater. ‘Black Panther’ would leave us all walking away with different perspectives. From the film itself to the number of women in pivotal roles to the distinct Beninese heritage that is shown throughout the movie, we all held a unique stance on the film. For us, the biggest takeaway was more than any of the aforementioned topics. It was about how the film inspired us to change our perception of our reality.

Mahu Attenoukon, Analyst: We Deserve To Be Seen For All That We Are

There have been countless times in my life when I would tell someone that my family is from Benin and I’d receive nothing but blank stares or feigned understanding. There were even times that I had to defend that Benin exists, as if it were as fictional as Wakanda. But when I watched ‘Black Panther’, there was my country and my history being shared and seen–in a blockbuster Marvel film, of all mediums.

When Killmonger corrected the museum docent about the origin of an artifact from Benin, I swelled with pride. And after I discovered that the Dora Milaje were inspired by the Dahomey Amazons from my tribe, Fon, I pored over every interview and article I could find about the film so I could learn more about these purposeful details.

Of course there have been other films that feature African culture, but ‘Black Panther’ was rooted in a way that I had not experienced before. Customs that are often misunderstood in Western media like lip plates, tribal scarification, and hair styled with red clay were all depicted as the norm and not as gratuitous folklore. Growing up I was embarrassed to wear my hair the way my mother would style it, stretched with thread, or take Beninese food to school, but in Wakanda, there is an overt display of acceptance. Director Ryan Coogler didn’t simply borrow imagery or costumes that were stereotypically African, he carefully weaved centuries of history spanning several different traditions into a universe that we all can see ourselves in.

I was reminded that my people, both ancestors and present day, are no less brilliant than Princess Shuri or unwavering as King T’Challa. We are not the helpless, regressive monolith that we are often depicted as and we deserve to be seen for all that we are.

Netta Dobbins, Social Strategist: There’s Still So Much To Learn

Spending the majority of my life in Nashville, TN, I never wondered about my family heritage. I was black and so were my friends. We’d accepted that our families were brought to America through the African slave trade, and we never thought to look any further than that. In all actuality, many people wanted to differentiate themselves from Africans, insisting that they were not African-American because they were not born, nor had ever stepped foot in Africa. They were simply Black.

When I moved to New York I saw that there were so many additional flavors of “black” and what being “black” meant. Dark skinned Latinxs, Caribbeans and even some Africans initially looked just like me, until they opened their mouths to speak. The different accents were apparent, and I even had individuals walk up to me speaking a different language completely, hoping I’d understand. Once I made friends in the city, I began to learn about how much their homelands and culture influenced who they were and many of them even had their countries flag in their cars, homes, purses, and so forth. To think about people with that much pride about where they were from excited me. After all, I was definitely not about to carry around a Tennessee flag. This sparked my interest in truly learning more about where I was from.

In 2015 I took my first genealogy test. I learned that my family hailed from West Africa– which I could’ve guessed from my assumption that we were brought here through the African Slave trade– but being able to pinpoint an exact location made me open my eyes so much more. From then, I purposely found myself trying to learn more about African culture as a whole, embracing their music and food, reading more from African authors and learning about culture.

To me, ‘Black Panther’ showed me that there was so much more still left to learn. After talking to Mahu, seeing how her home country was vibrantly displayed throughout the film, and the joy she expressed talking about it encouraged me to continually dive deeper and search for more about my family’s history.

Danielle Howe, Social Strategist: Inspiring Healing And Coming Together

Growing up with parents that were native to Jamaica, I was never privy to my ancestral roots. I was never aware of the richness that existed prior to the colonization of the generations that came before me. My older relatives were affected by this, instilling ideals in us that separated us from our black American brothers and sisters, ideals learned from a long-standing ingrained colorism and erasure of the once booming communal life that blacks around the world shared. My lack of knowledge never struck me as jarring until the deep dive of Africa that ‘Black Panther’ offered me. This cinematic marvel – one that depicts a blend of all African cultures, traditions, and customs – breathed new life into the meaning of “woke” for me, highlighting a rich and beautiful history that I’ve been missing for what seems like an eternity.

‘Black Panther’ is a whimsical dream come true for myself and for so many others that have watched their history fade continuously into the suppressed background. Aside from the much-talked about cultural and political challenges made throughout, it showcased what an actual utopian society looks like for black people everywhere. I was never privy to this kind of thinking growing up, as the ideal utopia was latent in attaining the esteem and approval of the fairer-skinned privileged people that never accepted us. Much like black Americans, West Indian heritage has been tampered with, and our mindset surrounding what true black esteem represents has been repressed. But with this beautiful journey into the depths of Wakanda, I believe a new stream of consciousness has been awakened within all of us – making ‘Black Panther’ a film that hopefully inspires healing and togetherness through empathy, acceptance, and most of all – education.

As up-and-coming black talent in this hectic and often divided advertising and marketing industry, the biggest takeaway was more than any of the aforementioned topics. It was about how the film inspired us to change our perception of our reality in both our personal and professional lives. Finally, there is a blockbuster film that respects and celebrates our cultural wheelhouse, motivating us to amplify our voice throughout the halls of Translation and every boardroom we inhabit moving forward.

Danitha Jones, Content Producer: What’s Needed to Live Better

There were never any dinners around my kitchen table growing up—just Thanksgiving. There was never any time to actually sit and talk. Everyone was working, making ends meet in New York City. Sometimes I imagine what life would be like if I was told stories about my ancestors being kings and queens, and how my history didn’t start with slavery.

I grew up in Bushwick, Brooklyn where there was a melting pot of cultures. My classrooms were filled with Black Americans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans, and we were taught basic American history like the rest of the world. Early on, I never found myself in situations and places where my culture was the main topic of conversation.

‘Black Panther’ gives a perfect mix of history and entertainment in a way that entices viewers to want to learn more about their culture. As entertaining and fictitious as it is, there was enough truth thrown in to remind me that there’s more to my story. Here’s this beautiful, fictitious land within the motherland where all life began. In Wakanda, familial bonds are strong, women are leading, and there’s enough wealth to go around. And that’s cool, but I’m more Killmonger than T’Challa. I’ve seen and experienced far more in the United States than I ever will in Africa.

There were lines like “Just bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships because they knew death was better than bondage” that hit closer to home than any fancy CGIs could. It’s the type of line that resonates enough for me to think of my real heroes like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Assata Shakur, and others who fought extremely hard for our people to understand where they came from and what was needed to live better.

Someday I’ll mention ‘Black Panther’ around my dinner table. I’ll talk about it to the younger generation so that maybe, just maybe, it’ll spark an interest in them to know more about gems they witnessed on screen.

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