Don't Be Fooled By Black Panther's Success

Black Panther
Black Panther Marvel

There are certain ready-made phrases we've been trained to employ anytime a perceived forward stride is made on behalf of marginalized groups in the entertainment industry. A movie or TV show will come out, helmed by the kind of people Middle America didn't know existed, and the media will go into a shameful frenzy. You might notice words like “revolutionary,” “landmark” or “historic” appear with greater frequency on the covers of pop culture magazines while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store. Suddenly, Mario Lopez has salient things to say about race relations and Kathie Lee and Hoda Kotb might be of the mind to shit out a Malcolm X quote as opposed to testing a new make-up kit on an iguana.

Some days, I genuinely believe this kind of quixotic blurbifying is every bit as poisonous as the Neanderthals that bleat on about how PC culture is destroying art. This isn’t to say I’m always abstemious when discussing or writing about the success of films like Black Panther or Wonder Woman; unfortunately, despite my position on the matter, I'm decidedly not.

It's exciting to witness characters that look like me doing things historically relegated to a very select group of people, in the real world and even in imaginary ones. To revel in this exhilaration isn't on its own deserving of contempt. However, it's when we conflate what amounts to little more than well-intentioned steps in the right direction with tangible, meaningful progress that we in turn submit to a less obvious breed of discrimination.

Moreover, to salute such shallow tokens of change comes at a cost. To minimize the things that make you you to the physical is to saddle yourself with impossible expectations. You’re no longer a person—you’re a number enlisted in an illusory militia. You speak on behalf of your tribe and with them in mind at all times.

I blush to think, that in the 21st century, after the efforts of figures like John Brown, Dick Gregory and Darwin, we’re still so eager to allow the basis of our allegiances and prejudices to survive on the merits of what shade of ape we happen to be. A standing disgrace. I'm not proud of James Baldwin as a black man, I'm proud of James Baldwin as a homosapien, a wonderful accident of biology. Cultural representation is important, essential even, but I don't get to take credit for the achievements of people that look similar to me anymore than I can get to condemn people that look similar to Andrew Jackson for his actions.

Black Panther is a great film, but don't be fooled into thinking the battle is won. It isn't and the each and every one of us are, in our own ways, complicit in perpetuating it. There are still lingering effects of the ignorance practiced by the authors of this country and we should do everything we can to repudiate them, in our art as well as in our policy.

Don't let the media lull you into complacency because our fiction is starting to get the right idea. That's not enough. Not by a long shot.

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