On -isms: Listen during the Panther Discussions

By | Thursday, February 22, 2018 4 comments
After watching Black Panther, naturally my wife and I spent some time talking about it. Some of it was kind of superficial ("I need to find out how to use 'colonizer' at work without getting fired.") but a lot of it got into some of the larger issues within the film: the notion of a country hiding when it could be helping, whether the ends justify the means, etc. There was a lot to celebrate in the film, but a lot to consider as well. Particularly for a Black woman, like my wife. Being as I was the only one there with her during the discussion, I offered up my thoughts and opinions, but I tried to let her drive the conversation.

See, because despite my relative expertise in comics and superheroes (a genre which she actively dislikes), I knew that the movie wasn't about that for her. It was about that celebration of Blackness that was a through-line in the entire film, front to back. So from that perspective, she is decidedly more expert than me, a white guy.

She at one point noted that there was a lot to unpack in Black Panther and she would like to sit down for a debrief with around a half dozen of her Black friends to talk about it. With the friends she rattled off, I expect there'd still be jokes and light-hearted superficial comments, but I don't doubt that they could spend an hour or two just discussing Killmonger's "throw me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped off the slave ships because they knew death was better than bondage" line.

She had mentioned something to the effect of wanting to debrief with her friends to a white friend who hasn't yet seen the movie, and they responded by saying that they'd love to chat with her about it. And while she didn't say anything, my wife was definitely thinking, "Yeah, the conversation I'm thinking about isn't one that you'd even want to be a part of, much less be able to contribute to." The point being that she, as a Black person, wants to unpack the Blackness of Black Panther with other Black people who can fully appreciate that Blackness.

As it happened, we did later sit down with a few friends after we had all watched the movie together. Of the five of us, I was the only white guy. And in that ensuing conversation, I mostly kept my mouth shut and just listened. When there was some question about continuity or how the movie differed from the comics, I threw in some facts around those points, but by and large, I just listened.

Because in that space, in that setting, in that context, my opinion is worth zilch.

I have nothing to offer in a conversation about what it means to be Black in America. I have nothing to offer in a conversation about being oppressed. I have nothing to offer in a conversation about how traditional African elements were both updated and honored. Not when I'm sitting with four Black people, two of whom had actually been born and raised in Zimbabwe.

All these Black Panther posts this month -- in fact, all of my On -isms columns -- they're not for POC. Everything I say here is shit they already know. Shit they've lived and had to deal with their entire lives. These posts are for the white folks who have only one Black friend, but they're not even really a friend because they just know them from work. My point here is to amplify what Black people are already saying, but have been ignored for the past few centuries. Maybe if a white guy like me, who by virtue of marriage happens to be a little closer to the Black community than most white folks, says what people of color are saying, it will have some additional privileged resonance among other people who look like me.

With that mind, let me make this suggestion...

If you're around any POC discussing Black Panther, whether that's in person or online, keep your mouth shut. I don't care if you have every comic book appearance of T'Challa ever and know the full history of Wakanda backwards and forwards, that is not your discussion to have. If you're in a comic shop or around a bunch of comic geeks, by all means, dive right into the conversation and enjoy! But if you're the white person among a circle of Black folks, shut up and listen. I can guarantee you will learn some things you never even considered before!
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Phil said...

Please give us the short version of what was discussed. I’m a minority but not black so I saw the movie from a third perspective. I enjoyed it, I understood some of the messages but I’m sure I didn’t pick up on others. What I do hope is that Black Panther can replace the old stereotypes and we can stop looking at a movie as a ‘Black’ Movie and judge it just as a movie. What I liked is that all the protagonists were actual characters and not caricatures. Also there was no white savior . I thought it was more of a complete movie than the other Marvel movies in that it could stand by itself and you don’t have to see the other movies. But I thought the cgi was bad even as the design and look was fantastic.

I'm not sure I could give a short version. The discussion was kind of all over the map. Off the top of my head, some of the broad topics included:
1. Impressive use of African language and dialects (this mainly coming from two guys from Zimbabwe)
2. Breadth of representation of not just Africans but the Africa Diaspora
3. The real villain of the film was White Supremacy
4. Disappointment that there were any white people in the movie at all; Ross and Klaue were unnecessary
5. Powerful representation of not just WOC but dark-skinned WOC
6. Different audience reactions at different theaters (that was the third theater we'd gone to, and the second for others)
7. Impressive soundtrack that doesn't sound like it should be considered "just" a soundtrack

We literally talked for four or five hours, so I'm skipping over the cursory stuff and I'm sure I'm forgetting a lot offhand too.

Anonymous said...

I thought Ross was irrelevant also. i was sort of hoping Klaw would stick around and become living sound before getting defeated but there you go.
I think it's neat you saw it with two guys from Zimbabwe since they can give you an African perspective.
I thought the soundtrack was great also.
My complaints are nitpicks more than anything. I'm getting tired of the magic tech suit. How many times are we going to see this. Iron Man, then Stark makes one for Spider-man, now Panther has a tech suit of armor.
And as I stated some of the cgi was just not up to snuff. Other reviewers have noticed this also, it was really obvious in the challenge fights. All the people on the cliff-it looked amateur.
Overall I liked the movie and would put it in the top 4 or 5 of the Marvel movies.
I think it is interesting to compare the film to Shaft, a touchstone of my youth.

Phil said...

oops sorry thats my reply.-Phil