From The Ramparts
Junious Ricardo Stanton
The Black Panther Movie
“On a fundamental, emotional level, superheroes, whether in print or on film, serve the same function for their audience as Golden Age movie stars did for theirs: they create glamour. If that sounds crazy, it’s because we tend to forget what glamour is really about. Glamour isn’t beauty or luxury; those are only specific manifestations for specific audiences. Glamour is an imaginative process that creates a specific, emotional response: a sharp mixture of projection, longing, admiration, and aspiration. It evokes an audience’s hopes and dreams and makes them seem attainable, all the while maintaining enough distance to sustain the fantasy.” Superhero Worship Virginia Postrel https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2006/10/superhero-wors...
The recently released Marvel/ Disney film Black Panther is generating excitement around the world as it breaks box office records on a fast track to bring in at least one billion dollars if not more. As of this writing after two weekends the film has grossed over $704,000,000 world wide! I’m not a movie guy but saw it twice in less than a week. The film is sparking conversations and discussions about film, politics, portrayals of African people and the new ground the film is breaking.
Some have postulated superhero movies are fostering regression and an infantile mentality in our society. For me I think it is a form of escapism a way of disconnecting and focusing on the day to day grind by slipping into a fantasy world. I do agree we are being programmed by Hollywood, dumbed down and victimized by a nefarious agenda of social engineering designed to create non-thinking, dysfunctional, unproductive zombies and automatons.
For people of African descent the film Black Panther offers a respite from the depictions of Black people started by D.W. Griffith in his 1915 film Birth of A Nation which imagined us as degenerate criminals, dullards and reprobates. D.W. Griffith’s vile depiction of Black’s (played by white actors in blackface) set the tone and tenor for over one hundred years of despicable US (and foreign) filmmaking and film iconography. Following Griffith’s films we were subjected to Tarzan and Jungle Jim in the movies, Ramar of the Jungle on US television and a host of other films depicting continental and Diasporan Africans as savages and ignoramuses.
Sadly today filmmakers even Blacks still mimic Grifith’s iconography and acquiesce to white America’s projection of us as grossly sub-human, hyper-sexual dysfunctional personalities, especially in the music videos and so called “reality Shows”. Black men are criminals or at best the sidekick of the white hero and our women were portrayed as Mammies, Jezebels, hoochie mommas or Sapphires.
Fast forward to 2018, in the Black Panther film we are witnessing a sea change and a revolution. Black Panther it is not a Black film per se, it was produced by Marvel Studios a successful studio that is cranking out block buster movies based on their comicbook characters. The Black Panther character was first introduced in Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic in 1966. Later in 1973 the Black Panther and his fictional Wakanda home were given with their own comicbook. Over the years the comic has enjoyed a successful run in a genre where there were few Black superheroes in the comicbooks and none on television or in the movies.
Marvel changed all that when they introduced Wakanda in the block buster film Avengers Age of Ultron and Black Panther was introduced in a follow up movie Captain America Civil War. Yes Wakanda is a fictional place and its pure fantasy but so are most films even when there are supposedly based on real life people and places. It offers a vision or idea of what African people can do and be and it is based upon the historical reality of a time when African people were highly civilized and advanced.
Director Ryan Googler offers a unique vision of African people more powerful, imaginative and positive than the images and depictions of African people shown in any previous motion picture, even Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America which was a comedy. Even though the film is based on a fictional superhero and a mythical place in Africa, the film is resonating on a deep psychological level with Black folks around the world.
The images of richly melanin endowed people living in a secret highly advanced technological culture far superior to anything in our present reality, functioning in an highly ethical and traditionally based society is inspiring and glamorous! It is mind-blowing for many. This is uncharted territory for most of us. The set designs, costumes, hair styles and imagery are awesome. And the idea and depiction of a place like Wakanda is exhilarating because it offers possibilities and inspires us to imagine a better us and a better world.
I saw the film twice within a week both times except for a few scenes that evoked mild laughter, the audience sat in rapt quiet attention, no talking to the screen, no side conversations just watching. Most of the audience was white (owing to the successful Marvel movies that have generated billions of dollars and millions of fans). The second time I saw it the people in the theater applauded when the film ended. When I saw it on the first Friday, I think people were so awestruck at what they saw they walked out talking quietly amongst themselves. I was waiting outside and a few people nodded and gave the approval sign.
While I concerns about the violence in the film which is standard fare in these mega budget CGI films, I feel are desensitizing and manipulating us for war killing and imperialism, I was impressed and intrigued by the philosophical and emotional tension the film raises amongst the main characters especially King T’Challa the newly installed native born king of Wakanda who is still trying to determine the kind or ruler he will be and his cousin Erik Killmonger a African-American who has never seen Wakanda nor been initiated into the society who when we see him as an adult is sociopathic mercenary. The tension is driven by the questions: should Wakandans share their resources and knowledge with the rest of the world, lead a global revolution to free all oppressed people or remain isolated, hidden and secret. I am not going to spoil it by revealing anything more.
At a later date I will probably examine these questions and share some of my thoughts on the deeper story lines, like are comicbook superheroes making us infantile, explore the character relationships, the parallels to other mythical stories themes and personalities and the irony the film is being distributed so widely by Disney whose founder was an avowed racist and alleged pedophile.
The good news is, I don’t have to exhort you to see the film because it is doing buffo at the box office, but if you haven’t seen it, go see it.