Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Black Panther Movie: I'm Just Going to Say It.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
Black Panther just became the third highest grossing Marvel-release film of all time in the U.S., outpaced only by The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron (two of my favorite movies). I’m a marvel junkie. And an action movie junkie. So much so that even my husband says he wouldn’t mind the occasional romantic comedy every now and then. 

This is kind of unusual for a girl, I know, but if you’ve read my book, you get it. And it’s not really that unusual. Humanity’s had a crush on superheroes since story tellers have been spinning yarns. What was Hercules (circa 2000 b.c.) and the other demigods who fought on mortal behalf, if not superheroes? How about Beowulf (circa 1000 a.d.) who used his super strength to rip the arm off the monster Grendel? Humanity has always needed its heroes.

The Black Panther brings it: talented actors, action, compelling characters, good triumphing over evil, cool tech, plenty of heart…yep, this movie’s got it all. But I think there’s more to its popularity. I think it’s a movie we all need.

For one, it’s an antidote. Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, I was surrounded by racism in some of its ugliest forms and from all colors. Whites who hate Blacks, Blacks who hate Whites. Browns, Beiges, Yellows, and Reds who all hate each other and Whites and Blacks. But Memphis, like much of the world, also has, I believe, an even larger majority from all colors who want to see racism in all forms end. I belonged to this faction and I believed with all my heart that I didn’t have a racist cell in my body, especially since I'm part Cherokee and therefore, multi-hued myself.

My trip to Chiapas (the subject of my book Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls) was the first time I glimpsed how living in a world with racism, however subtle, had impacted me deep within my psyche; how it had sunk in its ugly tendrils like a virus, quietly influencing me in ways I still don’t fully recognize.

The Black Panther is not just heartening, fun entertainment. It’s not just a long overdue movie about a Black superhero. It’s also a poultice that draws these subconscious poisons to the surface where they can be recognized and rectified. 

Several times during the movie I was distracted by arguments that seemed to come from…well, from someone who thinks differently than I thought I thought. “Why do all the bad guys have to be white?” I found myself asking. “How come all the white characters but one is a bad guy?” “How come there aren’t more white people in this movie?” Where did THAT come from??? Sound familiar? We ALL need this movie. This is what I don’t believe: I don’t believe it is possible to live in this society and not be influenced by its biases and some of those biases are flat out wrong and need to be confronted before we can fully move forward. As we confront and dismiss these toxic mental parasites, the Black Panther gives us a new message to soothe the raw, exposed psyche. Or maybe I speak only for myself. Maybe I make much ado about nothing?

Either way, I plan to go see the movie again for two reasons: 1) so I can see if those thoughts have any more fight in them and reckon with them if they do and 2) It’s a damn good movie, worth seeing again.

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer, researcher and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls. 

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