What Black Panther Does and Doesn’t Do for Black Culture

Long before it was released on February 16, 2018, Black Panther was hyped to be not only the next great movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but also, a defining moment for black culture. After its release, the movie was praised for all aspects ranging from direction to costume design. Its popularity has led it to become the third highest grossing US film ever, trailing only Start Wars: The Force Awakens and Avatar. Much of this success owes its thanks to the movie’s undeniable political tone. Black Panther is not just another classic Marvel, superhero movie, but rather “a movie about what it means to be black” (Times Magazine). Its release during a time of a regressive political culture makes just the existence of Blank Panther feel like resistance (Time Magazine). Its representation of black people and their culture is revolutionary within the film industry, especially in a blockbuster movie. For one of the first times, it gives a voice for black culture in Hollywood and offers model for black success in the 21st century. However, the movie is just the start. Despite its groundbreaking contribution to black culture, Black Panther falls short of its supposed political goals of black liberation instead settling to appease its white oppressors. The film is a success for its representation of black culture in the mainstream offering a perfect building block for the future, but it leaves the door open, in many regards, to fully breaking free from the oppressive stereotypes of blackness.

Black Panther is by no means the first black superhero movie. Both Blankman and The Meteor Man in the mid-1990s had black superhero figures along with Blade in 1998 and Hancock in 2008 (NY Times).  However, these movies were seen as partly comical or ignored the issues of blackness (NY Times). Superheroes are so beloved and powerful that the idea a regular black person could experience those traits was so far-fetched that the movies warranted humor (NY Times). The reason why Black Panther is so revolutionary is the fact it embraces its blackness and attacks the issues of black life head on.

This celebration of black culture within the movie provides incredible benefits for those who watch it, especially young black children. For many years, black people have abandoned cultural traditions, such as eating watermelon or traditional hair styles, that were once sacred to them for fear of being demonized or ridiculed (NY Times). In many cases, they have lost their identity, and Black Panther offers the opportunity for them to find it again. The movie is centered in the idea of exploring one’s reality and the personal struggle of accepting who you are (Time Magazine). Especially for black culture, it is similar to the “first time I knew I was black” movement. The struggles with identity are seen most directly in two of the main characters, T’Challa and Killmonger. These characters are mirror images of each other with drastic differences in their understanding of their own identities, despite their shared bloodline. This difference is due to their different upbringings, with T’Challa being raised as royalty in a rich African country and Killmonger being raised an orphan in poor Oakland, California. T’Challa is very comfortable with who he is while Killmonger struggles to find his true identity throughout the film (Time Magazine).

More than just the characters themselves, the film offers the chance for the audience, particularly black people, to explore their own identity. The portrayal of black culture in this populist and open setting is important, as it gives confidence to those who watch it. As Chadwick Boseman, actor who plays T’Challa, said, the movie provides “a great opportunity to develop a sense of what that identity is, especially when you’re disconnected from it” (Time Magazine). Not only does the film give black people a chance to see and understand black culture and tradition by relating to the characters on screen, but it also provides a great opportunity for others, especially white people, to see and understand black culture (Time Magazine). Alongside discovering one’s identity, the movie also gives people the chance to see a black superhero with its own kind of power rooted in strength, agility, and intelligence (Times Magazine). Instead of focusing on black pain, suffering, and poverty, the characters are portrayed as powerful and intelligent while still embracing their blackness (NY Times). This creates a perfect model for young black children to look up to providing them a path for future success. The fact that Black Panther is able to embrace black culture and provide strong, black characters in an extremely successful and widely popular film is perhaps the movie’s greatest accomplishment. Forget the fact that the movie itself is good by any normal standard, it moves beyond the traditional mold and contributes greatly to black culture.

Alongside providing an identity for black people in popular culture, Black Panther also is an expression of Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is an idea that combines African mythology with technology and science fiction to rebuke conventional depictions of black oppression and create a future in which blacks are in power (Time Magazine). For much of their history, black culture has longed for a homeland in which they can truly call their own (NY Times). Whether real or mythical, black culture has imagined a place and a future in which they had complete freedom and were absent of all fear from any type of oppression (NY Times). Somewhere where blackness is a thing with meaning, lineage, value, and power (NY Times). This is especially true for African Americans who have fought through slavery and segregation, and live in a place that is home but at the same time isn’t (NY Times). Black Panther and Wakanda provide just this home for African Americans and black culture. While it is not real, it still offers a place that is safe and untouched by colonialism. Wakanda represents what could have been for the history of black culture. It is also acts as a model for the future with Afrofuturism, as a place not devoid of racism, but rather one where black people have an even playing field in terms of wealth, technology, and military might (Time Magazine).

While Black Panther provides incredible benefits to black culture in terms of identity and Afrofuturism, it fails to go far enough in terms of truly creating a black culture free of outside influence. The movie undoubtedly does a great job at creating a unique black identity. However, it stills displays many of the destructive myths about Africans that have been around for hundreds of years. It displays a divided, tribalized continent that is run by wealthy, power hungry, and feuding elites whose nation, with the most advanced technology in the world, still relies on lethal combat or coup d’état for power (Washington Post). While these ideas could be defended by claiming the movie is displaying true African heritage, they are still at their core stereotypes that have been used to generalize and describe Africa as a whole.

Furthermore, other Marvel movies focus on somewhat ordinary people who, to the viewer, seem totally likely to be superheroes (Washington Post). Black Panther, on the other hand, must focus on African royalty and warriors to seem in the least bit believable (Washington Post). Alongside this, Wakanda’s wealth stems from a “lucky meteor strike and the benevolence of its all-wise rulers” and not from “the ingenuity of its people. (Washington Post). Despite the movie’s best efforts to provide a fresh identity to black culture, it still portrays Africa not as a physical place but rather, as a representation of blackness with people of one race sharing cultural unity and historical fate (Washington Post). To top it all off, despite Wakanda’s incredible technological advancements, a “returning” American is still able to stroll in and briefly come to power (Washington Post). This behavior follows extremely close to colonialism in the 19th century which is something Wakanda was supposed to be free from (Washington Post). The movie is still an incredibly important cultural event and is revolutionary in its representation of black people and their culture. However, it missed many chances to separate itself from many destructive stereotypes. While many of the issues above are simply “a part of the story,” their inclusion in the film feels almost like a cop-out. Instead of fully breaking the stereotypical mold of black culture, the director and producers played to the stereotype in some aspects so that the movie still be accessible to a non-black audience.

The danger of Black Panther not going far enough, in terms of breaking the stereotypes of blackness, is that it marginalized many within the African community who have little to gain from Afrofuturism. As mentioned before, the ideas of Afrofuturism within the film offer safety and peace to many within the black community. However, Afrofuturism offers little to non-African-Americans (Washington Post). Many of the ideas that come with Afrofuturism align freedom with the continent of Africa for the good of those African-Americans subjugated by slavery and segregation and not the people of Africa. They, being African-Americans, use the people of Africa and their land as props for their own struggles (Washington Post). Therefore, by failing to expel many of the African stereotypes and promoting Afrofuturism, Black Panther offers very little to the people of Africa.

The film at its core is also extremely political. It doesn’t shy away from any of the major issues that black people face around the world today. For the first time, it offers a great voice to many of these issues in a mainstream, blockbuster film. However, it fails to go far enough in promoting black liberation from oppression as it settles for uncontroversial politics. The movie follows an understanding of black liberation that advocates for bourgeois respectability over armed revolution (Canadian Dimension). It somewhat ignores the history of real-life anti-colonial struggles in Africa through its message that armed revolution is bad (Canadian Dimension). Overwhelmingly, the movie makes out T’Challa and his liberalistic approach to be good and Killmonger and his armed revolution to be bad. Yet, violence is ok for the white CIA agent when he saves the day from a black revolution by shooting down the ships carrying weapons (Canadian Dimension). This promotion of peaceful politics allows the white audience of Black Panther to feel comfortable with the movie without feeling threatened (Canadian Dimension). While a stance against full, armed revolution is not inherently bad, the movie seems to totally negate any chance of black liberation without the appeasement of whites. This message, of course, plays into Marvel’s bottom line of pleasing all moviegoers so they can fulfill their bottom line of selling tickets.

The movie also frames any person in favor of revolution in a negative light. Killmonger, the leading advocate for revolution, holds all the most hideous traits and is framed as a manic consumed by rage and violence (Canadian Dimension). This behavior follows the common troupe that “any black revolutionary who seeks to use violence to meet their aims becomes even worse than the system they’re trying to take down” (Canadian Dimension). Yet, this is not the case for all white revolutionaries. As seen in the recent movies The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner, white activist who use violence to fight an unjust system are seen as heroes while Killmonger is framed as a villain (Canadian Dimension).

Black Panther is truly something to celebrate when it comes to promotion of black culture. Its representation of black people and culture on screen in a major film is import for the identity and understanding of black life, especially for black children. However, the movie fails to go far enough in many aspects that could have shed more positive light on the fight for black liberation from oppressive white, neocolonial systems. Wakanda leaves white people free of guilt because they do not have to face the harsh realities of their history and are unthreatened by their passive politics which fall into white, colonial institutions (Canadian Dimension).  Black Panther leaves a lot on the table for being a truly revolutionary film, but it offers the perfect building block for black culture to continue to make headways into the mainstream.


Works Cited

Time Magazine

NY Times

Washington Post

Canadian Dimension

Lessons Untaught

When I first studied the poem “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” by Louise Erdrich, I was introduced to a dark moment in American history that I hadn’t run across in all my years of world and American history in school. The poem in centered around the cruel and unusual system used by the U.S. government in an attempt to “civilize” the Native Americans. Native American kids would be forcefully removed from their homes on the reservation and stripped of their native identities by being forced to wearing traditional clothing and short hair styles. “They were forbidden to express their culture.” The goal of these schools was to “Kill the Indian…Save the Man.” (NPR). Erdrich uses the view point of a runaway from one of these schools in her poem to describe the harsh realities of these schools. These runaways know they will be caught before making it home, but the little bit of hope given by the view “through the cracks in boards” offers enough motivation to at least try. (Erdrich).

Erdrich’s poem introduced me to an important moment in American history that without this class, I would have remained ignorant to. Just like the Indian Boarding Schools, many dark moments in American history are often ignored or breezed over in schools. This leaves many children completely unaware of past events which if taught, could be learned from and corrected or avoided in the future. However, many feel these true history lessons are too harsh to be taught to children.

Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin and Zariya Allen discuss this very issue of the American education system in their poem “Somewhere in America.” These three girls give a powerful reading of the poem in the video below that calls out the injustices of the education system in the sense of it failing to offer any real lessons. As they describe it, “the greatest lesson you will ever teach us will not come from your syllabus.” “There are many things missing from our history books,” and often time these things are left out due to their dark portrayal of American society. (“Somewhere in America”)

They attack topics from sexual assault and Japanese Internment to banned books and gun violence. All topics which are ignored in our education system much like the Indian Boarding Schools as teachers are required to teach material assigned to them by their government. As the girls say, we are taught growing up that “just because something happens, doesn’t mean you are to talk about it” and that its “better to be silent than make someone uncomfortable.” (“Somewhere in America”)

Their poem describes the major issue in our education that limits our conversations and healthy discussions about diversity. This sort of censorship of diverse ideas or the dark history of America offer no real educational or societal value as without reading and discussing these issues, no progress will truly be made. Through the studying of poems like that of “Indian Boarding School: The Runaways,” true strides in diversity will be made.\


“Somewhere in America” -Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin and Zariya Allen

NPR Indian Boarding Schools

“Indian Boarding School: The Runaways” -Louise Erdrich

Brad Lewis- Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, and the Comedic Model

Dave Chappelle, in his Netflix’s specials “Equanimity” and “The Bird Revelation,” tackles the issue of political correctness in comedy head on. He says just because something is a little offensive, doesn’t mean it can’t be funny. He uses comedy as an effective tool to address many hot topic, political issues of the day. From Donald Trump to the “Me Too” movement, Chappelle uses comedic stories as a method of sharing his views and stances on certain issues. His jokes often lead to an immediate laughter followed by a brief pause as you fully come to digest the actual statement he just made.

With diversity and political disagreements being placed increasingly on the forefront of the news cycle, this model has become almost standard for comedians. They are looking to share their messages and experiences as much as they are trying to make someone laugh.

Especially in a day in age where powerful blacks are called out for speaking their minds on political issues, comedy offers a safe avenue for people of color to speak their minds. Black comedians are able to talk about these issues because they do it in a “joking” manner, but predominant athletes, like LeBron James, are told to stay out of the issues and stick to sports. However, it does not make Chappelle’s messages any less meaningful because he discusses his views in a “joking” manner. Nevertheless, while these comedians are able to speak their mind through comedy, they still must seek the favor of whites often by saying their white fans are not the ones at fault.

Much like Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock follows a similar model in his Netflix special, “Tamborine.” He attacks many issues of race and politics while often being aggressive with his beliefs. Yet throughout, he seeks the approval of his white audience and is given a free pass to speak his mind because what he says is funny.

In particular, Chris Rock begins the show by bringing up the hot topic, racial issue of police brutality. He calls out the sheer number of blacks being killed by the police and jokingly comments that surely the police must think about killing a white man every now and then to even out the numbers. He’s conflicted in his opinion of the police as he’s a black male and therefore, should hate the police. But, at the same time, he owns property and values their protection. He lightens this conflict by joking about gang members acting as his protection when his house is robbed. His ability to bring up an issue and later, play off that issue in a joking manner allows his message to appeal to all audiences. He is even able to appeal to cops by pointing out the extreme difficulty in their job and states that he believes they should be paid more. However, while doing so, he takes another jab by saying we’re getting what we’re paying for. After this plea to all audiences, he finishes the bit on a serious note stating that often the outcome of these events are certain cops being blamed and not the system itself. He cleverly plays of the “bad apple” phrase using pilots stating that in certain jobs, everyone must be perfect as a bad apple means a plane crashing into a mountain.

Maybe his most relevant comments from this bit come from his lines about his “celebrity status” with the cops. From a distance, he’s just any old black man to a cop until they see his face and become instant fans. This joke is a great representation for why comedians get a pass for speaking their minds. From a distance, he represents a threat, but up close, he is a hilarious comedic. His comedy, alongside his plea to his white audience like his statements about cops’ salaries, are his pass to discuss these issues freely.

This pattern continues throughout the show with other issues including guns, the realities of life for different races, and Trump. Mr. Rock, as he asks to be addressed by kids within the special, uses his comedy as a way to speak his mind on political issues. Despite his fame, he seeks to appeal to all audiences often having to cover his bases after making some progressive comments. This combination is the standard model for comedians addressing racial or political issues and because of its comedic value, is often very effective.


Dave Chappelle: “Equanimity” and “The Bird Revelation”

Chris Rock: “Tamborine”

Brad Lewis Post 1: Craft and Jefferson

Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom gives the first-hand account of William and Ellen’s Crafts escape from slavery. The narrative, written by William Craft, tells the thrilling and dangerous events of their journey from slaves in Georgia to free blacks in the England. Besides the fun, action-packed storyline, the narrative also addresses many serious issues surrounding slavery and discrimination on the basis of race. Throughout the text, Craft addresses and gives examples of moments displaying what it means to be black, white, and/or a slave in the 1850s. Craft’s use of allusions brings an added value to this issue and the narrative as a whole. Perhaps one of the more interesting ideas discussed throughout the narrative stems from the experiences of Ellen Craft and other mixed or white slaves. To further this discussion, Craft cleverly alludes to the life story of a well-known founding father, Thomas Jefferson.

One of Craft’s largest statements about the racial issues of the time center around the idea of him, and slaves in general, as chattel. This is the foundation of the whole slave system as it regards slaves as property of their master. Throughout the narrative, Craft refers to himself not as a person, but rather as property. Everything he does within his context as a slave is centered around serving his master.

Many assume the distinction of a person as a slave stems purely from their dark skin tone. However, Craft explains this not to be fully true. The most blatant example he uses is his wife, Ellen. She is of fair complexion stemming from her white slave-owning father and black slave mother. By eye, she is not much different than any other free white. Throughout their escape, she is able to fit in as a white slave-owner without many questions. However, despite her complexion, she is still regarded as property within the slave system. This contradiction forms the basis for a strange practice within the slave system. As Craft explains, it was very common for white slave-owners to take interest in their women slaves and to have children with them. Yet, as was the case for Ellen Craft, the children, despite being part white and blood kin to the master, must suffer and live their lives as slaves. “That is to say, the father of the slave may be the President of the Republic; but if the mother should be a slave at the infant’s birth, the poor child is ever legally doomed to the same cruel fate” (Craft).

Craft alludes to the life of Thomas Jefferson in the quote above in order to call out this unjust system further. It was rumored in Craft’s time and is now known that Jefferson fostered many children with slave wives, and all the children were forced to work as slaves despite being the kids of one of the most influential men in America. This allusion continues a few pages later when Craft uses a poem written by William Wells Brown. Brown was a free black writer in the 19th century that famously wrote a book about one of Jefferson’s slave daughters. Craft cleverly uses this allusion to piggyback on the hot rumors of the time surrounding Jefferson. This allows him to better address this very strange practice with the barbaric system of slavery. While Craft decides to leave the more graphic and violent scenes of slavery out of the narrative, he is still able to portray its wickedness effectively by explaining some of its weird practices and laws.