Black Panther & Our Cultural Narrative
Let's get some facts out of the way first.
By the time this post goes live, Black Panther will have been out for a little over a week. (I'm writing on Friday, 2.23 and the film was officially released on Friday, 2.16). As of right now:
- Black Panther has the highest Rotten Tomatoes rating (97%) of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, and it’s tied with The Incredibles for the highest rating of any superhero film ever.
- BP broke an overseas record (in the UK) before even opening in the US.
- It's garnered the highest IMAX ticket pre-sales for a Marvel movie and the highest ticket pre-sales in general for any superhero movie.
- It’s the most-tweeted about movie this year.
- It's surpassed Justice League‘s entire box office run in only four days.
- As expected, its $192 million domestic opening weekend beat Deadpool‘s already-impressive record for a February opening weekend.
- It blew past the estimates for a $160 million opening and places Black Panther as the biggest opening for an African-American director (Ryan Coogler) and the the fifth largest domestic opening weekend ever.
- Its Monday domestic earnings of $40.2 million are the biggest Monday ever, beating Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($40.1 million).
- Its Tuesday domestic earnings of $21.07 million were the biggest pre-summer Tuesday and beat out the former first place Beauty and the Beast ($17.8 million) and former Marvel first place The Avengers ($17.6 million)
- Then its Wednesday domestic earnings ($14.5 million) also beat former Marvel first place The Avengers‘ $13.6 million Wednesday.
- Black Panther is now expected to crack the half-billion dollar mark worldwide some time this weekend
... and the list goes on and on.
The point is, Black Panther is an incredible film, a kick ass superhero movie, and I don't need to tell you that - you already knew it. And if you didn't know, you need to fix it.
However, I'm not here to give you my review of the film. (Though I could, I've already seen it twice so far and that was in the first three days of its release. Also I'm a comic book film nerd. A film nerd, period. But I digress...) I’m here to talk about the subtle and not so subtle shifts in energy this film has the potential to affect and is already affecting.
We’ve all heard the expression that Art imitates Life. And that notion can be supported in a lot of ways. But the philosophical concept of Anti-mimesis holds the direct opposite in the opinion that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life (an opinion most notably supported by Oscar Wilde in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying).
In the essay, Wilde holds that anti-mimesis "results not merely from Life's imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy. (Source: LINK)
Read that again and digest it:
The Self Conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.
This statement demonstrates exactly why Black Panther and it’s subsequent success is so extremely poignant to our cultural narrative right now. We’re living in a time where our own ugliness is being exposed so quickly and so consistently that we barely have time to process it. How many Black men, young and old, have we watched get murdered in real time? How many Women of Color have we watched get not only left behind, but demonized by our justice system? Black Lives barely had a chance to Matter before every other cause that felt threatened by the notion jumped on board to try and silence it (or attempt to reduce it to a hate movement… I’m not going to dignify that shit).
Black People in America are certainly doing “better” now than any other time in this country’s recorded history, but to pretend that we’re living in a time of true prosperity and equality is a fallacy. To behave as though we should be grateful for the crumbs and table scraps we’re afforded in relation to the feast of opportunity most often made available to people of lesser melanin is an insult to our struggle. Black and Brown lives are being torn apart left and right and have been for so long we barely even acknowledge it. And the fact that we as a culture passively accept this state of reality in some way or another is heartbreaking.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of us are awakened to and aware of what’s going on and how sick these state of affairs are. I’m seeing Black and Brown people and our White Allies coming together in ways I’ve never seen before and it gives me hope that we will weather this storm together and come out on the other side much better for it.
Until things make a permanent shift, however, it is imperative to recognize why Black Panther, or more specifically what films and Art like Black Panther represent, is so important because REPRESENTATION MATTERS.
Here you have a blockbuster piece of Art that is not only garnering massive support and accolades, but has an almost completely Black cast as well as a predominantly Black production staff, supported by the Marvel Studios powerhouse. It’s a film that depicts people of African descent in positions of power, wealth, health and prosperity and injects them into a universe where, until now, the “superheroes” or individuals saving the world are depicted by predominantly non-brown/non-black people.
Normally in Hollywood if you see a film with this many Black and Brown faces in it, it’s main theme is one of slavery, violence, struggle, or comedy (more often than not border-lining on buffoonery). And while nothing is wrong with any of those genres by themselves (though, lets be real - we have ENOUGH slave movies. We can know our past without endlessly rehashing it), it is necessary to our cultural psyche to see Black People represented in more than these limiting and divisive ways. If we believe that Life imitates Art, then it’s important for Black and Brown people to see ourselves represented as more than slaves, criminals, clowns, jovial sidekicks or people overcoming a perpetual struggle most often imposed upon us by our oppressors. And for those films that represent Black and Brown people in a neutral or positive light, it is important to have the support of larger and more influential (read: monied) production companies that can back those films at the box office and provide the type of exposure they deserve without white washing the subject matter to make it more palatable to their perceived audiences.
The beautiful thing about Black Panther is that as much as it is a film depicting People of Color in a positive and powerful light, it’s not JUST a "black film". It’s a comic book film. It’s an action film. It’s a Marvel movie, and it’s one of the best. Marvel has not only outdone themselves with this piece, but they have proven to Hollywood that one doesn’t need to subjugate Black films to being “black films” because it's thought they won’t be marketable or well received. The record breaking debut of Black Panther has made that evident. Black Panther proves that with the right people working together to create positivity on a truly level playing field, beautiful Art can be made and presented to a public that too often sees Black and Brown people in subordinate or struggle-filled roles.
It Matters that little Black girls and boys can see people that look like themselves thriving and surviving without having to dumb it down or be the butt of the joke (or the one joking around).
Photos courtesy of Christopher Aluka Berry/Reuters
It Matters that Black Women see representations of themselves in positions of power, strength and beauty that is not dictated or restricted by the ideals of an askew societal standard.
It Matters that our Black Men see themselves as proud, family oriented, strong, successful, loving, caring, and upstanding members of their race. It Matters because we need to see and be reminded of our potential, our worth, and our power. It Matters because we have to know that our history in this country - as painful and as ugly as it may be - was NOT OUR BEGINNING. We came from somewhere before we were brought here or captured and enslaved here. We have a rich and illustrious history that we need to connect with. But if the only past we see represented is one of pain, violence and turmoil, is there any wonder why we often carry a subconscious air of negativity or inferiority within us?
Black Panther has the potential to get the ball rolling on shifting our collective psyche in a tangible and visible way. It’s doing its part to serve as a means to crack the shell of cultural obscurity and let the glow of enlightenment in. It’s an example of the great potential we all have to do better and be better. It’s up to us to recognize that potential and not let this high we’re riding on die out.
Let’s hope that this is just the first step toward truly equal representation for Black People in Art and Film henceforth. Let’s hope that this Art serves as a reminder to all of us that it’s not just about where we’ve been, but where we’re going. Let’s hope more production houses see the lucrative market available to them if they’ll just take a chance on “black films” with more depth and substance. Let’s hope Life imitates this Art and creates a domino effect that will plant seeds of positivity and pride in all of our hearts that won't soon be overshadowed or forgotten.
· Om Shanti · xx · EnerJi
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