Marvel's Black Panther - The Real Significance
T-minus six days before the premiere of Marvel's latest comic book adaptation. Black Panther hits the big screen on February 16th, and it will be glorious! Hands down the most significant event to happen in February. Some may dispute my claim, with Valentine's Day occurring on the 14th. Diehard romantics are probably shaking their heads, muttering about how I'm letting the sisterhood down. Think of the flowers, jewelry, and chocolates! But, I don't care. In 23 years of marriage, with only a few exceptions have my husband, and I celebrated Valentine's Day. It's just not that big a deal to either of us.
There's no Comparison
Now, before you banish me from the tribe allow me to state my case for the importance of Black Panther. I grew up during a time when there were few black characters on the screen, large or small. Of those, there were even fewer roles available that weren't for 1-dimensional characters - the stereotypical junky, single mother or low-income family living in the projects.
There have been changes in television, with The Cosby Show leading the way. More recently Blackish and This Is Us are producing excellent stories with deep and rich character development. In comparison, progress in the movie industry has been much slower.
A movie that showcases people of color, with characters that are independent, smart, funny, sexy and badass is rare. I'm not talking about devilishly intelligent or manipulative characters like Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained. Black Panther is straight-up advanced on every level, and Wakanda, a nation so far ahead that they keep their sh*t hidden because of the immaturity of other nations. It's a play on every character that was dumb-downed for fear of the repercussions of their oppressors.
As impressive as that aspect is, this movie satisfies a thirst that goes far beyond the history of black actors and the roles available to them, or the fantasy and superhero genres. There is a psychological link that speaks to the invisibility of communities of color around the world, and not just in mainstream media.
In 2016, Hidden Figures, (an excellent film) came out. It chronicled the untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race in the sixties. No one had ever heard that story. Surely, the accomplishment of these women warrants discussion in our homes and classrooms. If nowhere else, how about during Black History month?! That is what I mean when I say there is a thirst in communities of color. Our stories, beyond the slave narrative, are rarely told. Anywhere.
If not Everything, Optics are Certainly Huge
It is important to see images of oneself in books, on screen, and in magazines; especially for children. There is power in the ability to look out and see yourself reflected back. It sparks the imagination and creates possibilities for the future. That is why the election of Barack Obama was so important. Young people needed to see it so that they too can aspire to it. Older folks also benefited. The 2-term president represented breaking through a glass ceiling that had long been in place.
How often have you heard a young person say, I want to be like Lebron or some other high profile athlete? It has to do with the optics. In addition to athletes, rappers, and performers on screen, we need to diversify the stories. Celebrate the mathematicians, inventors, lawyers, astronauts, directors, and teachers. They too are our superheroes.
We Have Entered a New Age
Content creators are everywhere thanks to vehicles like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. And creatives are catering to people and stories that haven't been told. I'm not saying that mainstream media is dead nor will it be replaced soon. In fact, quite the opposite. I think (finally) the film industry is taking note of the appetites of consumers of color. Although late to the game in comparison to other industries, they are studying social media platforms and learning how to convert that information into mainstream entertainment strategies.
I predict we will continue to see an uptick of more colorful faces and original stories on television and in movies. Even further in the future, I foresee a day when a film like Black Panther will come out, and folks will be just as excited, but for very different reasons. The representation of communities of color will be such that the thirst that was a mainstay for so long, finally satiated will be forgotten. No longer my story or your story. It will just be a story.
I'm looking forward to that day. Until then, I'm going to enjoy the movie and celebrate all that it represents!
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