What real-world good is a fictional place?
Before Black Panther was even released, it began to take on extra significance among African-Americans for what it presented and what it represented.
The film presented a strong black cast telling an African-centric story helmed by an African-American director, but it represented even more. And representation matters.
In the last scene of the film, T’Challa (the Clark Kent to the Black Panther’s Superman) lands his technologically advanced plane on a basketball court in Oakland, CA.
An awed group of boys runs to check out the plane—except one small black boy. He stays behind to talk to the person who owns the plane.
He looks up at T’Challa and asks, “Who are you?”
The boy from Oakland is looking at someone like him, but who has reached an unprecedented level of success.
T’Challa is an inspiration—not simply to the fictional boy on the screen, but to many boys and girls, men and women in the audience who are not used to seeing someone like them shown in this way.
There is no denying the real impact simply the existence of the film can have for all those embodied in the young boy on the Oakland basketball court.
But Wakanda, the fictional African nation ruled by T’Challa, represents something as well—an even deeper longing.
The hashtag #InWakanda began to spread as many African-Americans spoke about what life would be like there. There were numerous jokes about black culture and how that would be manifest there, but there were also poignant comments about the justice and equality of the nation.
Unfortunately, some felt the need to dismiss those feelings and statements by asserting that Wakanda is a fictional place—as if people didn’t realize that already.
Yes, Wakanda is a fictional place, but so is Narnia and Middle Earth. And if those two imaginary worlds can (and do) spark heavenly longings inside of many (myself included), why could Wakanda not do the same?
This is again why the truths of Christianity should inspire more than the presentation of facts, but also the telling of stories. They often reach further and plant deeper than mere factual statements, while still pointing to the truth.
For C.S. Lewis, Narnia was a representation of the longings he felt for “Northerness,” as he called it. When reading a poem, he came across the refrain:
I heard a voice that cried,
Balder the beautiful
Is dead, is dead
Later, in his spiritual autobiography Surprised By Joy, Lewis wrote:
I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky, I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale, and remote) and then, as in the other examples, found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
I’ve had that same experience reading Narnia.
When I saw The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in theaters and C.S. Lewis’ name came on the screen, I cried. This place and person that was so influential in my life was being realized in front of me.
I imagine the feeling is even more intense for African-Americans seeing Wakanda on the movie screen juxtaposed with their own historic and present experiences in the U.S.
Like ancient Israelites looking over into the promised land after enduring centuries of slavery, Wakanda offers African-Americans a glimpse at what life could be like without discrimination and oppression.
And those glimpses point beyond themselves to the great truth that there is a place of justice and freedom. There is a place without racism and oppression. The perfect place does exist outside the movie screen.
The Christian should never discourage a heavenly longing in someone else. Our desires for imaginary places point to the existence of an actual place.
We have a desire in us because its fulfillment exists.
As Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Wakanda is a fictional place, just as Narnia is a fictional place. But the longings both can evoke are very real and are reminders that God is still drawing people to a world much more real than this one.
He is calling us home and may use Wakanda or Narnia, Hogwarts or Middle Earth to stir our homesickness and point us onward.