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.
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.
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 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.
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).
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.