A great premise of Alice Walker’s monumental work, The Color Purple, was the idea that Celie could become herself and validate her being, by writing letters to God. The notion that through an active imaginative process one can free oneself from the burdens of extraordinary pain and suffering remains a last bastion of self-actualization for many in a variety of settings and experiences. One need only glimpse at the news to see the sorts of terrors people live through–and the brilliance of their resilience.
While most of us do not live in the kind of tortured existence that Celie’s character experienced, we nonetheless tie ourselves up in the knots that bind us emotionally and physically to lesser or greater degrees. Some are historical, some are actual, some are derived from neurotic fantasy, but no less real or psychically draining.
In a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the actor Winston Duke who played the role of M’Bako, the leader of the Wakanda mountain tribe, the Jabari, in Marvel’s film, Black Panther, spoke to just such an idea. Speaking about the questions raised by the notion of an African country unfettered by Colonialism, and having come from Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, Duke tried to express the difficulty in attempting to consider life without the legacy of Colonialism. In thinking about it he said the film had been important to him because he realized that he actually did have power.
“I can set myself free through imagination,” he said.
And there it was, the concept that thinking a thing, that working through the problem that imprisons oneself can lead to a kind of freedom that not only will be for oneself, but as a legacy and roadmap for others to follow.
Down in the real world of living a life, working, teasing through the relationships of family and friends, and keeping oneself afloat for all those hours of the day–I am particularly affected by the idea that in willing something, staking the claim against whatever the odds are, one can free oneself. More to the point, that action resonates, because as one frees oneself, those around us see and experience that freedom. And as each of us works through the experiences that hamstring us, whether experienced yesterday or as a legacy across multiple generations, we do have within us the power to release ourselves from those things that hamper us so greatly.
At least I’d like to believe that, and as Winston Duke so elegantly put it, “I can set myself free through imagination.”