On -isms: Black Panther Wrap-Up

By | Thursday, March 01, 2018 1 comment
Every day for the last month, all my blog posts here have centered around Black Panther. My way of celebrating the Black Panther movie. It's a little far afield for my typical posts here in that I generally try to keep things centered on comics and not pop culture in general, but this Black Panther was different.

When I first met my wife, she had written off comic books as a medium pretty exclusively for cishet white men. And it wasn't an opinion that was easy to refute; it was (and is) spot-on in many respects. At the time, I acknowledged what she had seen as valid and, over the first few years of our relationship, showed by example that it wasn't ALL like that. At the time, I was already largely avoiding the superhero genre to focus on smaller, independent works so that wasn't difficult. She's seen enough of the different stuff I read now to know that there's a wide variety material out there, and she's even picked up a few books for herself.

But it's been Black Panther that's really captured her attention. Beyond just seeing the movie multiple times and watching interviews with the cast. Even before the movie came out, she had dove into the Black Panther comics (mostly the Ta-Nehisi Coates ones). She spent a lot of time reading character back-stories on Wikipedia and watching YouTube videos discussing various character arcs. She's gone deep enough into the lore that she's schooled devoted Marvel fans on obscure aspects of Klaw's history and how that might be interpreted in future movies.

She still doesn't care about superheroes. But she does care about celebrating a culture that's frequently shunned by those in power. I try to do that by looking for comics by minority voices generally. But frankly, that means that I run across a lot of crap; however well-intentioned it might be, it's just not executed very well. That doesn't usually bother me since A) I figure I'm helping out some struggling artist -- most artists don't produce brilliant works right when they start; it takes a lot of time and practice to cultivate their craft -- and B) because my interest comes from the medium itself first, instead of the message, I can generally still find interesting ideas and experiments in the craft, regardless of how well-realized they are.

My wife, though, she's here for the celebration of being Black. If that takes the form of a movie or a comic book or whatever, if it's done well and isn't distorted by going through so many white lenses, she will happily partake. And that strikes me as a business model worth pursuing. It's not for everybody, certainly, but there's an audience of people out there who, like my wife, are down for a good celebration with other people like them. Black Panther was a predominantly Black film, but it wasn't exclusively Black. White people weren't barred from working on it, by any means. But there were enough Black folks in positions of authority to make the movie authentically Black. Without those white lenses. That's why so many Black people turned out for the movie and it's already in the top 20 highest grossing films of all time. That's not "highest grossing superhero films" -- that's "highest grossing films." All movies. Ever.

Most superhero movies are just superhero movies. And that's partially why they don't draw movie-going audiences into comics -- you're celebrating a genre that's been celebrated in many ways for generations. The movies are fun, but not uniquely special. Black Panther isn't really a superhero movie. Presented without the Marvel Cinematic Universe context, it would easily pass as a general fantasy/sci-fi flick. And even then, it's not about the celebration of the genre, but using the genre to celebrate something that is rarely celebrated in American culture: being Black. That's not only long overdue, but clearly a good recipe for financial success.

I can't wait to see more people realize that.
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Phil said...

I felt that it was a fantasy sci if movie. You’re right. I ordered the Epic collection to the read the Klan storyline. Thanks for letting me know. Also it’s sad that if the Panther fights the Klan now some people would complain but in the 70s it’s was clear. He’s the Panther he’s a good guy and they’re bad guys.