Last week I decided to go see Black Panther so I could see firsthand what the hoopla was all about. So far, in just two weekends, Black Panther has grossed a whopping $700 million—and still counting. I decided to go see Black Panther after I saw Joy Reid, the most intelligent political mind on television give her nod to the movie with the criss-crossed arms gesture. I said to myself, Joy, please, you are a black woman, you and I both know that it’s just a move—a Hollywood, futuristic, special effects movie—produced by the same Marvel Productions that gave us Superman. The online comments about the movie cautioned black viewers on everything from how to watch the movie—a-ha—“don’t talk back to the screen,” to what to do after seeing the movie to not get fired by your presumable white boss.
And so, off I headed to an Amarillo United Artist theater where I plopped down in a seat—to see a matinee—–on a weekday–with all of 5 other people watching—me being the only person of color. Oh, well, this is Amarillo. I must confess that I went to see Black Panther with a biased attitude toward all sci-fi, special effects movies. I have never seen any of Hollywood’s portrayals of Superman—a white man wearing a cape who could “leap tall buildings in a single bound.” Really? Bunk! I walked out of Jurassic Park and went home—too outrageous and outlandish. I thought Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a joke—and all the sequels. I seem to be unable to “suspend disbelief” long enough to take seriously any sort of “super human,” futuristic, man saves the world from itself, action movie. Having said that I vowed to sit through Black Panther regardless of the disconnect between “my reality” and the big screen.
And so the movie began. I will not divulge anything in this post to “tip the movie” to anyone who wants to see it. As I started watching Black Panther I realized that two things were going on—the storyline contained in the dialogue, and the action of the movie. This is true for any movie. There is the underlying script—the story being told—and the people, props, and special effects that give the story a “big screen” life. Black Panther has a thoroughly believable story line—about what could happen when a precious unique natural mineral, that could possibly heal and uplift all humanity, is discovered in a remote part of the world—namely Africa. This basic theme of the storyline is not too far from the truth given that Africa is now—and has been, the focus of all the world’s powers for exploitation of its rich natural resources—including exploitation of black labor. The ethical question that become the central theme of Black Panther is who, what person, what leader, should be entrusted with the power over that precious resource for the greater good of all humanity. And so the battle begins for just such control. And it is here that the special effects take the viewer into an arena not seen before on the big screen—super human heroes and heroines all of whom are black—except for a couple of non-black people.
All the hoopla about Black Panther is not about the underlying storyline of man’s obligation to his fellow man, but about the fact that for the first time in history dark skinned people are the super heroes. This is what is selling tickets to Black Panther. This is also what is so surprising about the greats hauls of money that the movie it bringing in. I spoke with a friend about the movie and asked her if she knew how much money the movie about Thurgood Marshall made. That movie was about how Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African American appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court, used his legal skills to fight for civil rights. The movie made no money—probably less than $2 million. Black America did not go to see a movie about the history of the civil rights movie through the eyes of a man at the forefront . I asked her if she had an explanation of why Black Panther could so far gross over $700 million—and the Thurgood Marshall movie gross almost nothing. We both agreed that America, including, Black America, would rather see outlandish nonsense than face certain hard truths—especially on the big screen. Americans would prefer to be dazzled by big screen characters wearing special effects gear that propels them into the stratosphere, than see a movie where a man had to stay in the library studying to conceive a strategy to address America’s racial divide. We both agreed that the generation that is shelling out the dollars to see Black Panther is that same generation that refuses to see the realities of a number of things including the deepening black-white wealth gap, and the return of virulent racism that is dividing the country almost to the point of Pre-Civil War America. Americans, including Black Americans, don’t like the truth. As one block buster movie said, “We can’t handle the truth,” and so we suspend disbelief and rally behind a movie that is off in fantasyland. But the reality is that when Black Americans leave the movie, as I did here in Amarillo, and return to their communities, their jobs (if they can find one), and their second class paychecks, that the truth of Hollywood’s unrealism smacks them right in the face. But, don’t lose heart, the end of the movie offers a glimmer of hope for the unrealism of the movie itself.
Copyright 2018 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.