Some thoughts on Black Panther

This past Friday I arrived alone at Sunland Park Mall’s cinema and bistro an hour early before the afternoon showing of Marvel’s highly anticipated Black Panther movie because I wasn’t sure if it would be sold out. Turns out, there was no need for concern, as I paid the $5.40 admission and made my way to an empty theater choosing a seat centrally located and near the front in row C.

Soon, I heard the light chatter of other moviegoers as they started to trickle in from outside where a country was still reeling from yet another recent school shooting. But minutes before their arrival, a young white male, maybe in his late teens, wearing a t-shirt with a large Batman logo on the front sat several seats to my left in the same row.

Perhaps, he was trying to get a reaction by openly supporting the caped crusader. Or maybe he was unaware that Marvel has been wiping the floor with DC even with the box office success of Wonder Woman. I didn’t know and I didn’t ask. Then I thought that maybe he was waiting to see how many more Black people would show up before he went full-on James Holmes. Which, I think, is not out of the realm of possibility these days.

I, myself, was proudly sporting a Marvel Secret Wars graphic tee displaying the comic book cover of that particular issue on the front. And I and possibly-James-Holmes-part-two sat in row C alone with no one in front of us for the duration of the movie inside a theater that was nowhere near packed.

But after the movie was over I was disappointed and, no, not because of the film. I was disappointed because when I stood up to leave as the lights came back on I turned around to see that there were no Black faces in the theater other than my own. And it wasn’t just that. It was that we had just finished watching a phenomenal, history-making movie that managed to only produce a few laughs and some giggling from those in attendance.

I guess, I just really wanted them to see what I saw–Blackness being represented in such a positive light on the silver screen. I was overjoyed and swelling with pride watching people who looked like me, like my family members and friends inhabiting leadership roles that required intelligence, strength, wisdom, discipline, who were more than capable of governing a technologically advanced civilization that is Wakanda. There were so many moments where I just wanted to stand up and clap, shout out my appreciation. But I restrained myself not willing to disrupt the masterpiece that was unfolding before my eyes.

Because it’s not so much what I was watching but it was about what I didn’t see. Absent were the “magical negroes” sacrificing their own happiness for the good of the “White savior”. There were none of the well-worn slavery narratives as though we need reminding of America’s criminal history where the culprits who legalized our suffering, unpaid servitude, and dehumanization were never punished.

Black Panther put Black humanity on full display performing at its uniquely powerful best and also, tragically flawed worst. It was Black humanity with its varying shades of beauty moving gracefully, fighting skillfully, strutting with supreme confidence. It was Black humanity with all of its angry, vengeful, misguided hatred, and blinded by its own inhumanity. But most of all, Black Panther is a movie about Black humanity that demands equity, not just equality and not only from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) but the real world at large.

A world that still considers us the threat when we occupy White spaces. And a country that continues to criminalize our very existence and incarcerates us at extremely high rates even when the majority of the mass killings in the United States are committed by White males, even when the overwhelming evidence of the majority of historical violence and bloodshed inflicted on non-Whites speaks to the contrary. Because America would rather believe that we are more like Killmonger than T’Challa.

So, do I believe the movie Black Panther will change America’s negative perception of Black people? Judging by the audience member’s reaction on Friday, no. Not anytime soon, anyway. Because most non-Blacks in America have been conditioned for years to view us through a White supremacists lens which is often reinforced by media bias. They’ll never understand why this movie is so important to African Americans. Instead, there are those like the Roaming Millennial and Ben Shapiro who believe we should’ve been culturally satisfied with movies like Catwoman with Halle Berry and Blade with Wesley Snipes.

To them, I leave a video from my favorite rap group of all time. The “prophets of rage”, Public Enemy’s Burn Hollywood Burn.