With the release of Black Panther some people see it as a genuine tool for mental emancipation of black people. They see it as an important movie to undo the false perception that super heroes belong only to the white world. Some people see it as a movie that will give black children confidence and self-worth in our attempts to break away from white supremacy and perpetuated black inferiority complex.
On the other hand some see it as a tool by white companies like Marvel to continue making money out of the desperation of black people for white affirmation and validation. They see it as a tool that is yet again used to enrich white companies using the history and image of black people like most Hollywood movie productions have done. Some see it as economic machinery in which not only will white movie makers make billions but also white distribution companies and white owned cinemas while black people benefit little or none from the movie itself.
The movie has opened up a much needed discussion around the need for Afrofuturism especially in the mainstream. Pan Africanist School of Thought was one of the braves to review the movie and they’ve termed it a “superb Afrofuturism film” and applaud Marvel for growing up.
Other major newspapers and movie reviewers also waged in. New York Times gave the movie a positive rating and Fox News stated that the movie was necessary in opening up the discussion around politics and race.
Let me give a brief background for the need of such a movie.
People often, if not all the time, perceive themselves according to what society portrays them. How beauty, intelligence and normality is being portrayed in the mass media can influence how they conduct themselves into fitting the picture of hegemonised and institutionalised depiction of what is positive and progressive in society. It is this power that the mass media have that promote what is known as the ‘thin ideal’ – that a beautiful woman is the one who is thin and preferably white. It is this definition that has seen many women trying too hard to lose weight as they see every time they switch on the TV the perception on beauty is that which someone who is a plus-sized woman does not fit into. It is this power that the mass media have that have many black women bleaching their skin and lightning it to fit what mass media sells as beauty; whiteness. That which has most black women putting on weaves and abandoning their African hair because it doesn’t fit into what ‘society’ regards as ladylike to say the least. Society that is underpinned by white normative value system. That which is whiteness is normalised and all else is othered. That which is prone to anti-black cynicism.
In the history of Disney Princesses it was only recently that a black princess movie was created. After more than 70 years of depiction of beauty as wrapped around whiteness. Out of the eleven Disney princesses ten of them are white. Apart from the fact that Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) spends most of the time in the movie as a frog, the damage done to young black girls is too immense to be brushed off by the depiction of black people as subservience to accepted definition of beauty. To most of them beauty is white Barbie. To them beauty is white Cinderella, white Snow White and others who look like them.
In the depiction and portrayal of heroism in the mass media whiteness is supreme. From super heroes movies such as Spiderman to Superman. From Robo Cop to Iron Man they all have one thing in common they fit the accepted definition of heroism. To a black child it is only in whiteness where role model can come from. When they switch on TV they see black people walking in sagged pants. They see gangsters and the worst of mankind that the mass media presents as blackness.
One writer Frantz Fanon once stated that blackness in society represents ugliness, funeral and backwardness, or at least how it is portrayed in the society. On the corollary whiteness represents purity, virginity and all things positive. It is this imaging of black people that has entrenched black inferiority complex that had been and continues to be indoctrinated into black people’s psyche through mass media that somehow they are subservient to white people. It is this portrayal of black people that has cemented white supremacy in the white world.
One of the prominent black scholar bell hooks speaks vehemently about the imaging of black people, especially black women. She provides in her analysis how movie producers like Tyler Perry in his famous Madea movies on which he portrays stereotypical notions of how black women behave. Loud, swearing and uncivilised beings. She argues that it is this depiction of black women that promotes a flawed picture of what a black woman is. One other movie creator is Martin Lawrence with his famous Big Mama movies. It is this negative black imaging that is used by the media to depict black people as uncivilised beings. It is this imaging that is used to promote Afro-fobia of Africans in the continent towards those in the diaspora. They are being depicted as low life beings that are lazy, sexually active and angry. The same way mass media will depict Africans in the continent to those in the diaspora as those who are illiterate, backward and barbaric. W.E.B Du bois explains this to have been what prevents meaningful amalgamation between black students from the continent entering American universities and their African-Americans brothers and sisters.
Frantz Fanon once warned us that the oppressor is not satisfied merely with holding people in their grip and emptying black people’s brains of all form and content. ‘They turn to [black people’s]history and distort, disfigure and destroy it.’ Any reference to black people’s history, in order to justify white supremacy, becomes that which is barbaric. Africa is often referred to as a dark continent in which its religious practices and customs are regarded as superstitions. Its rich history is concealed from us and thus stripped of the great power we inherently have.
This proves that Black Panther could not have come at better time as black people across the globe hunger and lust for positive imaging of black people in the big screens. However, as much as the Black Panther movie is of historical importance on how black people view themselves and their strength we need to guard against white corporations, like Marvel who purports themselves to have grown conscience all of a sudden, making financial success out of our desperation for affirmation and validation by white people. The biggest winner in this case remains white corporations that produces, distribute and white owned cinemas that broadcast the movies.
Steve Biko warned us a long time ago of the seemingly noble intentions of our current neo-colonisers of funding so called black spaces that deal with matters of black people including their history. In his chapter on White racism and Black Consciousness (chapter 11 of I write what I like) he warns us of not falling for the apartheid state funded Radio Bantu which is controlled by whites for the sole purpose of controlling black narrative and spreading propaganda. Tariq Nasheed speaks of the illusion of freedom. He states that when white people are to take from black people they present a black face. In the literature space this could not have been truer. The emergence of the black imprints of white companies that has for centuries survived through the subjugation and suppression of black excellence and economic disempowerment can neither be the solution for us black people to re imagine ourselves nor for us taking charge of the narrative of our history. These companies were built on the blood and tears of black people. They were built on propaganda propagated by white supremacy and the white washed narrative that undermines black excellence. It is absurd for us to believe they will, out of either conscience or the need to transform, depart from their founding principles.
What we are then left is what Steve Biko once said “black man you are on your own”. D Hunter author of The Game Of Life, referring to white publishing companies making money out of desperation of black people having their stories published, thinks more blacks should enter the industry and start their own publishing companies. “It is all about presentation and unity. Without that, we are lost to our own devices, complaining when we should be applying ourselves to start our own and move forward,” he points out. “We [should]not look at what others do, but what we can do. There are big names in urban lit, but it was the route they took, the decisions they made along the way, hard efforts, and their writing abilities that put them there.”
This could not have been truer. The time has come for black people to not only have their stories told and shown on big screens but for them to be capacitated to produce their own content. In this way we avoid both the prospects of white corporations making money out of our history and stories and having our stories and history told in a tainted and skewed manner to fit whiteness.