Tag Archives: Falcon

Getting It Right (1)

black panther 3
Credit: Disney Marvel

I have mentioned in a post series titled Recovering Ideals (under the category of Graphic Mythology – black strip on the left) how my friends and I emulated Superman in our play. While looking at some recent talk show videos on Youtube, I really began to understand how important it was for the black community to have the same thing. I saw children and adults alike beaming, proud, and geeky about Black Panther (2018 Disney Marvel, directed by Ryan Coogler) and the fact that it was even made, and it occurred to me that this was very healthy. The Disney Marvel universe has already incorporated positive images of black heroes and superheroes in its films. Take, for example, the following: Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, Anthony Mackie as Falcon, and Idris Elba as Heimdall. But this is the first time we have seen a superhero movie whose primary character is black, whose cast is predominantly black, and whose director is black (not to mention many other production personnel). This makes Black Panther an important pop cultural property for the black community, regardless of who owns the film rights.

black panther 4

Was the movie historically accurate or revisionist? Were its portrayals realistic and plausible? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I don’t see accuracy and realism as the purpose of fantasy. It’s about idealism, and the movie delivers on this score. An artistic product which has widespread appeal and which makes positive portrayals of an often stereotyped culture is invaluable, and the same can be said for role-modeling. I keep reminding myself that a majority of blacks in this country, including some people whom I count as friends, are descended from ancestors who did not come here of there own volition. Being white, I know I cannot fully appreciate what effects that has had, and I am reminded of various people and events from history.

jack 1

jack 2

When Jack Johnson was boxing his way through a series of great white hopes, black communities all across America were celebrating. This man, despite his flaws, was shattering the lie of white supremacy.

Jesse Owens Medal
FILE — In this Aug. 14, 1936, file photo, Jesse Owens competes in one of the heats of the 200-meter run at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. One of the four Olympic gold medals won by Owens at the 1936 Berlin Games is for sale in an online auction that runs from through Dec. 7. (AP Photo/File)

jesse 1

Jesse Owens did the same thing at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, prompting Hitler to leave the stadium. I was touched by the fact that Owens was befriended by a German rival.

bg1
Jesse Owens (center left) and Bill Garrett (center right)

bg2

 On a somewhat more personal note, I have previously included the names of Bill Garrett, who broke the color barrier in Big Ten basketball, and Dr. James Roberson, who placed fourth in the Olympic decathlon trials and who was one of only a few blacks admitted to the Indiana University Medical School upon graduating from college. Both of these men were friends of my father from his days at Indiana University. Dr. Roberson’s family  slept in our home, and we  slept in theirs. I have mentioned this in a previous post, Breaking The Color Barrier, under my Graphic Mythology category (black strip on the left).

black panther 15

Now the Black Panther has been added to the modern pantheon, so … “Long live the king.” Role models, both real and fictional, are important. They were important to me as a child. They are important to me as an adult. As I have aged, I have grown to realize how much I took this for granted and how some demographic groups have felt under-represented.  There have been two recent films which I felt the producers really had to get right. One was Wonder Woman. The other was Black Panther. Okay, I know I should actually get around to reviewing the latter, so I will return to this topic next week.

black panther 13

Breaking The Color Barrier

bg9

I grew up in the presence of superheroes. One was my father, another my mother. Then there were two of my father’s college friends, men with whom I became somewhat familiar. One was Bill Garrett, the first man to break the color barrier in Big Ten basketball. He is shown in the picture below, second from the right. You might recognize the next person to the left: Jesse Owens, whose four  gold medals in Track and Field at the 1936 Berlin Olympics put the lie to Hitler’s claims of a master race.

bg1

The man I grew up knowing as Mr. Garrett was an All-American at Indiana University.

bg2

Another friend of my father’s was Dr. James Roberson. He was on the track team with my father, and he placed fourth in the decathlon at the Olympic Trials, missing the team by just one spot. He was also one of only a few blacks admitted to the IU medical school when he graduated. He became a prominent ob-gyn on the eastern seaboard. My family spent the night at his house in Rochester, NY, and his at ours in Indianapolis, IN. His son – James Jr. – and I became friends while he was on the basketball team at IU, where I was in graduate school at the time.

Dad, Jim, and three other large fellows crammed themselves into a sedan and went to compete in the Penn Relays. It was during that road trip that my father received his first taste of how difficult it was for blacks to travel in America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Finding establishments where three whites and two blacks could eat or sleep was problematic.

I think this constitutes an appropriate introduction to the topic of breaking the superhero color line, and Marvel Comics took the lead in this area. In a video interview, writer Stan Lee once mentioned some of the resistance he encountered when he introduced black characters into his stories.  He and artist Jack Kirby (who were both Jewish) created the first black superhero to appear in comics. He was T’Challa, prince of Wakanda. a.k.a. the Black Panther. He made his debut in July of 1966 in Fantastic Four #52.

bg4

Falcon was the first African American superhero, a man named Sam Wilson. He first appeared in 1969 in Captain America #117.

bg3

In 1972, Luke Cage appeared as a new category of superhero in Hero for Hire #1. This one interests me since he is so different: a former convict subjected to experiments in prison. The idea obviously draws from real life abuses that were once hidden from the public eye. Luke comes out of this mistreatment with super strength and unbreakable skin, and he works the grittier end of the Marvel spectrum.

bg6

In 1975, Storm was introduced as the first black female superhero. Born Ororo Munroe in NYC to a Kenyan princess and an American photographer, she becomes an orphan when her parents are killed in Cairo, Egypt. She scratches out her survival as a thief in the streets of Cairo, is mistaken for a goddess, and is ultimately recruited by Professor Xavier to join the X-Men. As her name implies, she has the power to control weather. Her first appearance was in Giant-Size X-Men #1.

bg7

As in the case of many superheroes, it is interesting to watch their evolution both conceptually and artistically in the hands of different writers and artists. The changes can be intriguing, exciting, upsetting, and controversial depending on one’s point of view, but their mere existence generated controversy at one time, making their creation of observable social and cultural significance.

bg8