Being The Only White Guy In A Black Office After Black Panther

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If you think Black Panther was just another superhero movie, then you’ll probably be thrown by our discussions on race, colonialism, the relationship between black Americans/Africans, who the real hero of the movie was, and the role of technology in our communities.

We were tempted to have the community conversation the weekend after the movie came out. Think pieces were coming out left and right. Though I’d already seen it twice opening weekend, I needed more time to digest them. Plus we wanted to give folks a chance to see it. And they have:

[From Forbes last Monday … BEFORE IT HIT $920M WORLDWIDE]

 Black Panther just snagged a jaw-dropping $65.7 million in its third weekend of domestic release. That’s the third-biggest third weekend of all time, behind only Avatar ($69m in 2010) and Star: The Force Awakens ($90m in 2016).

 Like Jurassic World, it needed just 17 days to get to $500 million domestic, which will be one day slower than The Last Jedi and seven days slower than The Force Awakens.

Whether or not Black Panther catches up to The Last Jedi’s $619 million domestic total, it has already surpassed The Dark Knight Rises ($448m in 2012) and Avengers: Age of Ultron ($459m in 2015) to become the third-biggest grossing comic book superhero movie in North America. It sits behind The Dark Knight ($534m in 2008) and The Avengers ($623m in 2012).

It has already passed Finding Dory to become the tenth-biggest U.S. grosser of all time, with a final landing spot of between seventh place and fifth place by the time it wraps up.

A BRIEF  HISTORY OF BLACK PANTHER COMICS

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby created the character in July-Aug 1966, making his debut in a two-part Fantastic Four storyline in issues 52-53 (right after the introduction of the Silver Surfer and Galactus). He goes on to join the Avengers.

His first starring role was in a comic called Jungle Action written by Don McGregor in 1973. Of additional note, the run was illustrated by Billy Graham, one of the first African American artists in comics. This highly respected run that gave us Eric Killmonger.

The 1970s brought us all manner of problematic villains, like Man-Ape (now M’Baku). [It wasn’t just him. For example, during this time Luke Cage was fighting the pimp-looking villain of the week.] After a couple mini-series, they turn to a writer named Christopher J. Priest.

Starting out as Jim Owsley, Priest became the first black editor and then first black writer at either Marvel or DC (1979). He went on to play a major role in Milestone Media. FOR ME, THIS WAS THE DEFINITIVE RUN ON BLACK PANTHER. He re-thought the approach to Black Panther: he’s not a superhero, he’s a king (Peter David mimicked this approach when he re-vamped Aquaman). So he gives a reason why a king would join a super-hero team (such as spying on a group of super-powered individuals for whom borders mean nothing) as well as the problems this causes back home for his rule. Priest is responsible for most of the world-building seen in the movie: the tribe structure (pared down to five from Priest’s 18), kimono beads, Dora Milaje, the Dogs of War; the rehabilitation of the problematic “villain” Man-Ape (M’Baku); and Everett K. Ross (brought over from Priest’s run on Ka-zar).

Black Panther has been largely in the hands of black writers since.

Reginald Hudlin, of House Party fame, took over next. It was his run that gave us Shuri and on which the BET animated series was based (you can now watch the entire run on Marvel’s YouTube channel).

[Our discussion about resources was answered by T’Chaka in the series at the 5:00 minute mark]

Ta-Nehisi Coates. Roxanne Gay. Nnedi Okorafor. Black creators have taken up the reigns of the book.

WHICH BRINGS US TO THE MOVIE – Why was this movie important to you?

There is a vision of black solidarity world wide, bridging the relationship between those in the Diaspora and Africans. It’s a beautiful celebration of blackness: excellence and art. And it continues the conversation on how best to achieve black liberation: Booker T. Washington “vs.” W.E.B. DuBois; Malcolm X “vs.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. One of the great things about the movie is that it allows for a lot of discussion points that allows everyone to have a defensible position…

Team T’Challa – remain in isolation (elitist)

Team Nakia – Wakanda as a beacon and model for the rest of the world

Team Killmonger – use technology to initiate a worldwide black revolution

…with the caution that this is not about black liberation vs. black radicalism, but about seeing ourselves in all sides of that discussion. We’re simultaneously the African ideal and the abandoned Diaspora. The movie is more about exposing the problems present even in a utopian Black society.

WHO IS THE REAL HERO OF THE MOVIE?

T’Challa – both hero and villain: his kingdom remains untouched by colonialism, yet he is also unwilling to help black people outside of his kingdom. He saved Wakanda and stopped their technologies from being being abused in the export of war, yet he abandoned black people around the world.

ERIK KILMONGER MAY BE THE MOST NUANCED, COMPLICATED, AND SYMPATHETIC “VILLAIN” PRESENTED IN (COMIC BOOK) MOVIES!

Killmonger: “His royal father is killed by his uncle when he’s young, he’s stuck exiled from his homeland, and he returns there once he’s grown older to claim the throne from the person he views as a terrible king.” That’s the story of Simba from The Lion King, a hero’s journey. He was the abandoned child of Wakanda forced to fend for himself in a society dominated by white supremacy. He give voice to the idea of worldwide black liberation. He exposed the problems that existed in this utopian black society. On the flip side: he shot his girlfriend, he choked an elder woman, and he killed a member of the Dora Milaje. Ostensibly about black liberation, he seems content to do that with no regard for black women. In many ways he’s the personification of toxic masculinity (where did he learn that?).

Killmonger burned the garden of the Heart-Shaped Herb, which was his right as the king, however, it would leave a future with no Black Panthers to protect the kingdom. Thus the future he imagined wasn’t utopian for anyone but himself. Like the Joker, he’s content to watch the world burn, for Wakanda to suffer as much as he suffered. In the end, it was his bid for world domination through ruthless violence that had to be stopped (not black radicalism).

In many ways, who was the hero could be view through the lens of how each viewed women.

ON THE AGENCY OF WOMEN

With its Afrofuturist lens, Black Panther with its depiction of women offers a critique of the present (speaks to a deeply patriarchal society) and offers a model for what the future could look like: with women being equal to men, T’Challa not being threatened by their power, knowledge, or wisdom. Women play an active role in every segment of society, from the Wakandan “Secret Service” known as the Dora Milaje (based on the Dahomey Amazons) to scientists to cultural leaders. In fact, Black Panther is out of second act of the film and the ladies don’t miss a beat.

[One of the things that struck me was the depiction of black on black violence. It was largely bloodless, which was probably a deliberate choice of Ryan Coogler. When violence is necessary to be depicted, there is no reveling in broken black bodies (ala slave films).]

The presence of the CIA – a friend/manipulator of Wakanda?

When Everett K. Ross was introduced in the comics, it was largely to create an access point for white readers. The book was going to be unapologetically black under Priest’s run, so there was some concern from management. In Priest’s words “I figured, and I believe rightly, that for Black Panther to succeed, it needed a white male at the center, and that white male had to give voice to the audience’s misgivings or apprehensions or assumptions about this character and this book.” With the comic largely told through his eyes, this allowed Black Panther to remain enigmatic.

Throughout the movie, similar to the comics, Agent Ross gets presented as useless, the comic foil. As M’Baku says on behalf of the audience, “Why is he even here? Why is he speaking?” His role wasn’t as “white savior” as some people feared, but he was more an extension of Shuri during the climax. She was controlling him/he took his directions from her as he learned what it meant to be an ally.

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BLACK AMERICANS AND AFRICANS

With many of the problems in African countries stemming from colonialism, mirrored by those in the Diaspora, the fact that the relationship between blacks and Africans is so fraught with -animus and competition (including the derogatory way we refer to one another) remains disheartening. African American culture is very influential in Africa (and vice versa). The movie calls for bridges to be built and unity to be had. But we continue to unpack this.

The conversation is to be continued.

For now know that there is no Wakanda, but the dream of such powers us—black people around the world—to continue to stand up and forge the reality of it for ourselves.  As T’Chaka told his son, T’Challa, “Stand up. You are a King.”

Additional reading:

‘Black Panther’: Why the relationship between Africans and black Americans is so messed up

Editorial: You Love Killmonger At The Expense Of Black Women

In Defense Of Erik Killmonger And The Forgotten Children Of Wakanda

The Most Important Moment in Black Panther No One Is Talking About

‘BLACK PANTHER’ SUCCEEDS AS URBAN UTOPIA: THERE ARE NO CARS IN WAKANDA