BLACK PANTHERMONIUM (Part One)
As I stand on this long a$$ line…
By Bonz Malone
So… after a week of struggling and hustlin’, I’m finally about to see the release of Marvel’s “Black Panther”, a Disney based blockbuster that’s part of the imaginary, and wildly successful Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is set in the mythical African Kingdom of Wakanda: a technologically advanced nation led by Warrior King named T’Challa. Unlike past big screen adaptations of iconic Heroes and “Sheroes” from our childhood. Black Panther is unique in its cultural position in the comic world and has “let off” an unanticipated cultural shot in the real world as well.
A woman, who saw the cover of TIME magazine, asked “Who’s he?” “That’s Chadwick Boseman”, a friend of mine answered. “Why’s he on the cover?” “He’s the star of the new movie ‘Black Panther.’ “Black Panther?! (She whips around and looks at him with a look of shock). “What did he do?” My homie said, “He saves Wakanda.” Disgusted, she sucked her teeth, so hard they almost fell out, then said, “He Ain’t Save Sh%t!.”
It’s both interesting and yet disconcerting to see adults caught up in the hype of this movie, especially after living through the Civil Rights Movement. The term, “Black Panther” in 1966, when the comic book character was created wore a very different suit, made from much heavier cloth. Its thread was sewn with Maoism and intertwined with Anti-fascism, Anti-imperialism, Marxism, Leninism, and Revolutionary Socialism, which are all Far-left views. Today, Disney releases this highly anticipated film at a time when America’s political climate, if not social direction, is at an extreme opposite.
It doesn’t really matter what genre you jive wit (Action, Adventure, Drama or Crime) a character like T’Challa isn’t readily found in the media or in the hood for that matter. Imagine, an African King that is extremely rich and highly intelligent, who responds to bigotry appropriately and with dignity? I’d love to see that everywhere, every day! Arguably, this is the reason why this movie is extremely important. Children have to see positive images that they can aspire to and one of the strongest cultural influences has always been cartoons and comic books. The way we dress in color coordinated outfits and equally colorful outbursts, while defending our “Super friends” from insult and attack. That’s the cool sh%t, but on the flip, Hollywood has always been more negative in their portrayals of Black people, than positive. Not to mention the subliminal messages that has historically insulted our culture. All this makes me skeptical about the purpose for this movie, more than any socio-political punch lines. Here’s why.
Someone once told me that “The only black nigga in Disneyland is Mickey Mouse.” I thought of that a lot while reading the comments on social media and learning of the Pre and Post Black Panther parties that will continue for the rest of Black History Month. Sure, there are black movements and hashtags that can also help push the success of this film, however who else but Disney (who owns Marvel Studios) could not only finance this mega budget movie, but has the money and muscle to kill or cover-up any negative press or trolling or racist campaign? Nobody. Not even the American government would bet against “Steamboat Willie’s” projected financial earnings from this super nationalistic sensation, but I smell a dead rat underneath its instant success. There is no social movement on earth that can or will, replace or restore the moral bankruptcy of today’s society in any culture. Only hours ago, the first superhero movie to have an African-American director and a predominately black cast was released during a major industry shift in America. Once again, it’s on! The fight for fair representation and equal compensation is a greater bottom line to many who struggle, than the moral fortitude it takes to be dignified while enduring. If “Roots” and “Malcolm X” or “Selma” didn’t make you “Get on the bus”, will the Black Panther cause us to make lasting changes when “Public Enemy” or “X-Clan” couldn’t? Maybe, for today’s generation at least.
Being skeptical is proof of being conscious, yet it comes at great cost as many spiritual, social and political revolutionaries have learned. I don’t want to be viewed as negative cause then that would constitute me a hater “of all things good for the black community.” But I really don’t want to see us get played or “play ourselves” again, six months from now, when the Dashiki’s and boubous and the crowns and head wraps come off. When the cry of “disproportionate wealth distribution” is heard and the needs of social programs and after school activities go unanswered because no proceeds will have gone into the black community, unless the actors and director donated some of their earnings.
You see what I’m saying? The success of this movie is for much more than box-office bragging rights and I’m pissed that more people don’t think the same way. I’m not tryna hear that the net from the gross has been cast offshore in a Caribbean bank account named “Wakanda.” In Jamil Smith’s, TIME article he said, “The revolutionary thing about Black Panther is that it envisions a world not devoid of racism, but one in which black people have the wealth, technology and military might to level the playing field.” Although that’s a dope thought, I was disappointed that he didn’t mention in that same sentence, T’Challa’s underlining strength and most powerful weapon of all, his genius.
I want what’s best for people and the global community, despite what is the popular thought at the time. Whoever is brave enough to be a good person in this bad world is already a superhero in real life. Facts! But I’m tired of seeing and hearing the same old bull@#$%. I hope Black Panther does more than break records. I hope it helps break the stereotypical low standard of dignity and disrespectful behavior that young people externalize now. We all see it: after school, on the train, in McDonald’s. People already live in Wakanda. Every day, we wake up and say, “Wakanda Sh%t Iz This?!” If a fictional character from a mythical place can do that, then I’ll celebrate too. God knows, many everyday heroes from the predominately black hood have shed real tears and spilled thick blood. Their faces and names deserve to be on a T-Shirts, let alone the cover of TIME magazine for what they’ve done, not what Hollywood hopes to do.
By Bonz Malone
Bonz Malone is a celebrated graffiti, music and culture writer, journalist, researcher, hip hop anthropologist and actor from New York. His work has been featured in SPIN, Vibe, and The Source