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BLACK PANTHER:” Made in America

“Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,

Stealing my breath of life, I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.

Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,

…Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,

And see her might and granite wonders there,

Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,

Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.”

-Claude McKay-


               When it comes to American race relations, Americans never cease to amaze!  For example, notwithstanding the fact that the Civil War was the one in which the largest number of Americans lost their lives, a recent Southern Poverty Law Center report indicated that only 8% of high school seniors knew that slavery was a central cause of the War. 

Other than America, where can people, back to back, elect Barack Obama and Donald Trump as their nation’s leader, resulting in a time of intense racial polarization, aggravated so much on a daily basis by the most senior leaders that it seems that Ephesians 6:12 was written today, i.e., we struggle not just “against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm.” 

Yet, in February 2018, Americans received the “Black Panther,” a movie that transcends the usual racial stereotypes promulgated by Hollywood and has become a “blockbuster,” i.e., it has smashed an array of box office records having, for example, had a $192 million debut in American and Canadian theaters and a predicted global debut of $361 million (see The Baltimore Sun, February 19, 2018). 

Upon first hearing about the “Black Panther,” one might have developed a jaundiced eye, given the fact that “Disney” is the last name of one of the most conservative film makers ever; someone who many believed was anti-Semitic; a person who produced movies with racially stereotyped characters in Dumbo, Fantasia, and Song of the South. http://www.vulture.com/2013/12/walt-disney-anti-semitism-racism-sexism-frozen-head.html   Nevertheless, “Disney” produced the “Black Panther” which might be the most progressive, Marvel family, action-hero film to date in terms of its portrayals of race and gender.

               Central to the success of “Black Panther” is the presentation of emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and physically strong Black women playing an array of complex roles.  For example,

  •       A Black woman is a leader in science, technology, and medicine.  In the fictional African country, there is no need for a special Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) program to prepare women and minorities for careers in these fields.  On the contrary, such competence is the norm.
  •        A Black woman holds the military rank of general and others compromise an elite guard. 
  •       Black women are in strong maternal roles as well as equal if not at times superior partners to men. 
  •      Black women are senior political leaders and decision makers.
  •      There is no “mammie,” “jezebel,” “docile domestic,” “castrating,” or otherwise “ratchet” woman.

Instead of a privileged White male serving as the knight in shining armor coming to save Black people from themselves, “Black Panther” presents a highly competent White male pilot who, in the end, has to be saved.  During a battle, the White male took a bullet for a Black woman and, in turn, a Black woman saved his life by applying her knowledge and skills related to advanced spinal surgery.  When it does come time for the White male to “do the right thing” in another battle, he is directed by a Black woman who has greater expertise. 

In sum, “Black Panther” most certainly does not belong to the sexist Disney tradition of Snow White and Cinderella.  On the contrary, “Black Panther” provides a consistent portrayal of strong Black women --not a group of haggard Black women in need of a debaucherous “Girls Trip.”

               There is a considerable amount of cultural authenticity presented by “Black Panther.”  Especially important are the strong values the Black characters exhibit about love of family and country; respect for elders; respect for human life, so much so, that advance technology is put to the use of improving the quality of life as opposed to being used to conduct war and dominate other humans. 

More than once, when an antagonistic Black male loses a battle and is on the verge of losing his life, the Black protagonist offers to save the severely wounded men’s lives.  And, as a cultural throwback to the disposition of some facing the prospects of slavery (“before I’d be a slave, I’d be buried in my grave and go home to meet my Lord”) one dying Black man opts to die rather than possibly survive in an unjust society. 

Throughout “Black Panther,” Black men are strong complex beings --men who are not afraid to cry, men who are highly educated, and men who love and protect their families as well as their longstanding cultural traditions.  They are dignified, royal beings who seek to preserve their homeland and the universe.  “Black Panther” has nothing to do with presenting Black men as highly sexualized beings seeking to exploit women.  Nor do we receive yet another rendering of the “gangsta” with no concern for the victims of a “drive by.”

Of considerable importance is the fact that “Black Panther” not only makes many positive cultural contributions, but it is also arguably the best super hero, science fiction, action movie to date.  It has taken these genres to another level just as, when given an opportunity, Michael Jordan and other Blacks transformed basketball, the Williams sisters transformed tennis and, using their intellects, Black female mathematicians took America into space.  “Black Panther” might well be the catalyst that causes a paradigm shift in the use of Black people as actresses and actors, costume designers, script writers, directors, producers and, in short, what to date has been known as “Hollywood.”

Finally, as a testament to the success of “Black Panther,” it is a family movie, a movie that has been watched and subsequently discussed by children with their guardians.



Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Pittsburgh Urban Media Contributor

February 21, 2018

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