Bad Juju: Big Budget Black Movies at the Box Office
Or Why I Cried After Seeing Black Panther
You’ve probably noticed that a majority of my articles have a slightly nerdy/comic book fangirl bent and this one is no different. And again, if you’ve read anything that I’ve posted I generally do my apologies right from the start so here it goes:
- I hope that everyone who starred in and helped bring the Black Panther movie to life, continues to work, has commercial success and chooses to tell more stories about the variety of human beings on the planet.
- There are so many more poignant and serious things to talk about-from government collusion, the mistresses of political figures, or the prevalence of school shootings over my disturbing feelings about a motion picture. I in no way intend to belittle or back burner those discussions in lieu of my colorful commentary and I hope that the people who are equipped to do so are continuously asking questions and putting resolutions out into the cultural consciousness.
- I don’t expect anyone, anywhere to agree with me. This is my perspective and it’s just as valid as anyone else’s. I’m sorry in advance if you don’t get it or feel the same way or are offended.
Having said the above, although I thought that the movie was good, it was painful for me to experience. In my crowded local theatre on a Saturday morning surrounded by little fair skinned kids and their open-minded parents, the end of the film got rousing applause. I’ve never seen an audience stay after a flick just to clap. I was in near tears and couldn’t get out of the theatre fast enough. For the little kids, I think this will probably one of the greatest memories of a movie from childhood that they could have and I think that seeing something like this so young might assist them in recognizing the similarities among us and not be immediately terrified when encountering a person of color with an accent. I on the other hand was shook. I drove home, saying to myself over and over again, I did not see what I just saw. I didn’t see that. But I think I did. And it makes me sad.
I really don’t think that these are spoilers but it might ruin the flick for you so, you’ve been warned.
Having been raised poor in the Midwest, I have been taught verbally and nonverbally about the cost of being different in thought and complexion and gender in a system that is afraid of you. You learn these rules and try to navigate your life with ideas in your head like, “They won’t like my hair so I will straighten it”. Or a thought like, “If you want to be the boss lady someday you will have to simply deal with ‘locker room talk’ for now”. Or even a thought like, “As a Black person, you have to be twice as good just to get half,” etc.
Now granted, no one should ever go to a cinema and behave like the characters that they see on screen and use that as the excuse to hurt themselves or others. It’s just a story and it’s not real. However, movies are supposed to get an emotional reaction from you. Movies are powerful vehicles that can open discussions about life that we may otherwise be afraid to have. I personally do not think that anyone in my country who was racist or sexist would stop being so because they saw this movie. They may feel emboldened to become even more so, quite frankly. Some of my son’s classmates, seniors in high-school have been forbidden to see the movie by their parents because they believe that it is too political for their nearly adult stomachs.
Maybe they are right. I have never sobbed so much because of a film. Everything that I had been taught by the racism and sexism around me showed up in full force while I sat in the theater. Am I just super sensitive and imagined it all because of 4 decades worth of paranoia? I dunno. Maybe. Either way, these were my take-aways:
1) Africans are liars and snobby and selfish. T’challa’s father killed his own brother and abandoned his nephew and lied about it to the Wakandans until his death. But I’ve been told this already. I have been told that Africans assisted and got paid off the slave trade. I’ve also been told that Africans don’t like us in general and that they think that they are “better than us” lowly black American descendants of “cotton pickers”. I’ve been told that we have no home with them and no home where we live now. This is what I felt watching the movie.
2) Women are good at everything except being in charge. T’challa’s sister was smarter than everyone in the movie, yet her challenging for the throne was a nice way to segue into the fact that she had to dress pretty for the ceremony in tight clothes. His Chief Military officer could defeat anyone in the country and all of the other military soldiers for the King were female, however they’d rather die than do anything other than defend the throne, regardless of who sat on it. They flip flopped. A lot. T’challa’s mom, the Queen, couldn’t just rule after the King died because there has to be a person with a penis at the top of the mountain I guess. T’challa’s love interest had to give in to him eventually or what was the point of all this? She couldn’t have her own mind forever, right? But I’ve been told this already. I’ve been told a family is only sort of a family if there is no man at the helm. And I can also clearly see that women aren’t in charge of a lot of things all day every day and that they are assumed better suited for running the show from the shadows instead of in the forefront. This is what I felt watching the movie.
3) No matter how much technology/money/prestige that you give savages, they will still be savages. You would think that since Wakanda was so much further advanced than the rest of the world they would have figured out a scientific way to make those magic flowers; or even come up with a way to no longer need magic, or other violent rituals. Why would a technologically advanced place be filled with warriors? But they are in Africa right, and to everyone in my country, it is the most primitive place left on the water ball, full of riches and resources yes, but governed by the uncivilized. I’ve already been told this and this is what I felt watching the movie.
3) At some point, regardless, a ‘colonist’ is necessary for your salvation. Could Middle Americans have survived a 2-hour film without seeing one fair skinned character? Evidently not. And what’s crazy is that the two Caucasian characters were polar opposites- a “good” guy and a “bad” guy. And we are so used to them being allowed those roles that we didn’t question it and wouldn’t. They can be good or bad. They get to be human. But the brown skinned characters are all lumped into one side- bad. Sure, T’challa is the King and inherently considered slightly good in his royal role but he wasn’t going to accept the ‘bastard’ at first like his father before him hadn’t, which makes him kinda bad. (Supposedly they despise us, remember?) T’challa had no intention of helping all of the brown skinned people on the planet because as a human, he has the right to be able to say no for the sake of his own but we couldn’t and wouldn’t accept that as an audience and he caves at the end with the center in the inner city but under duress. And the nephew was every poor black stereotype ever. Greedy, Abandoned, Manipulative, Violent, Misogynistic and Hip Hop. He had no redeeming qualities and would rather die than take responsibility for his own actions. At no point did it ever occur to him to just go to Wakanda civilly? No. He had to murder everyone in his path (which is a racist’s worst fear) for no reason mind you, just to exact vengeance, feel vindicated and to take over. This is what I felt watching the movie.
4) To the world, America is the bad guy. This surprised me the most and I know that the producers of the film probably were hit with the historical line Studios offer on big budget movies, that an all-black cast won’t sell overseas. However, if the bad guy is American, it will sell. And big. The rest of the world laughs at us, a lot more lately and if we can cash in on that hatred, why not? The American CIA officer literally tried to defy a KING. Who does that? And the antagonist, is American. And we’ve all heard this before right? That they hate us everywhere, simply because we rush in and do foolish things, we don’t consider other’s traditions and values when we determine that they need our help and resources and all that we ever want to do is start wars all over the planet in the name of capitalism and democracy. This is what I felt watching the movie.
5) Blacks in America would be better off dead. After the women in the movie bring the dead T’Challa back to life (for what, I dunno) they use the ‘colonist’ to stop the weapons from being exported and defeat all of the other tribes, and even help The King figure out how to beat the American ‘brother’, who when captured, tells the audience (when T’challa half heartedly extends an olive branch) that where he is from death is better than even royal prison. I almost choked on my popcorn. So that’s it? Do we all feel like that? Are we supposed to? Are we just a bunch of discarded people, who are mentally unstable and therefore prone to exhibiting irrationally sadistic behaviors for attention only to fall on our own swords when we don’t get our way? Yikes. So, fighting for your rights at home makes you a cry baby, trying to go to Africa to find your roots makes you a wuss and none of this is worth living for, only dying? Wow. This is what I felt watching the movie.
So now, sitting at home at my computer, I wonder if the ecstatic audience that I saw the film with were clapping because the costumes were great, the scenery was lush, the soundtrack was awesome and the action scenes were big and imaginative and clever. I wonder if they were clapping because love won in the end and altruism is beneficial to everyone in society. Or were they clapping, because they all saw what I saw- and agreed with it wholeheartedly?
I cried because, I’ll never know.