There’s a shift taking place. When Lupita, aka Wakanda’s Nakia, stepped on center stage taking Oscar gold, she brought with her a shift. The appreciation of dark skin is a new phenomenon in our modern times. The trinkeling of it’s appreciation into mainstream society has been happening inch by inch, that is until Black Panther grossed close to a billion dollars globally in the box office.
I grew up in an era when Black people on screen were an anomaly. During the generation that followed me, Black images became a misnomer. That is we went from having no to very little representation on television and film, to overwhelmingly negative images when we were on screen. These images go back to The Birth of a Nation in 1915. This film ushered in the first installment of “the Black man is dangerous” programming into American society. The story where a Black man raped a White woman was fictional, but bled into the physique of American society as if it were factual. Simply put this tale lead swarms of people who watched to believe that Black people were evil. The creators of the film intentionally marketed this film in this manner as result to the defeat the south received after the Civil War. This grossly false teaching was the spine behind the birth of the Klu Klux Klan, who spewed fear in the minds and hearts of White people that Black folk were to be feared and therefore stopped. It was at that time when suddenly the narrative was turned on it’s axis. Oliva Pope has nothing on these spin doctors who took their gross immorality of enslaving, brutalizing, raping and terrorizing a people for hundreds of years, into playing victim of a terror themselves. This terror that never happened, the belief that Black people were inherently evil was never true but was then born into a new century. And what better platform to push this campaign but through media, that is on film. American bought it. America incorporated the lie. America bought into the guilt trip, grudge driven lie the southern plantation owners held due to loosing their free labor workforce. So while licking the wounds of their defeat and deflecting away from their own folly, they created a narrative that Black people were inherently evil, and America believed them, for eight generations since the end of the slavery, America still believes them.
Enter one hundred more years of negative images on screen, film and in music of who and what Black people are, and behold you have generations of White people who believe the fallacy that Black people are below them by some moral code, and that we are to be feared. But this programming did not stop with how White people view Black people, even more detrimental to the soul and spirit is the adaptation of this thinking in which Black people have adopted about themselves.
I grew up as a latchkey kid, when divorces skyrocketed, and single moms scurried off to long houred jobs away from their children. We were raised in front of television sets. Today children are raised in front of tablets, smartphones, and video game control panels. Technology has improved, but our image of ourselves has not. We are all still very affected and influenced by images shown on whatever screens we once used or are currently using.
Those with dark tones who are most decorated and appreciated on screen are overwhelmingly corrupt and evil. From Mo’Nique taking Oscar gold by portraying a welfare receiving, iron skillet throwing, vindictive, abusive, single mom in Precious. To Denzel Washington winning the same award for his portrayal of a trigger happy, manipulative, power hungry, crooked and corrupt cop in Training Day, we have had very little positive representation on grand platforms. That’s no disrespect to these talented and beloved actors, but we must cast a light on why these roles were chosen to be celebrated by an army of their peers, when there were so many more roles they’d both embodied which were positive images in other films.
Then there’s the superhero. The superhero is an important character in American society, although it may never be up for an Academy Award, it draws on heartstrings unlike other roles in movies. These characters transport us beyond our fleshly limitations, and for a moment we can be transformed like them. In many circles it’s believed that the first superhero recorded was Mandrake the Magician in 1934. He had the super ability to change people’s beliefs. How ironic is that as we were recently introduced to one who is also tackling people’s beliefs, The Black Panther. He is this deeply integral man from royal priesthood. He possesses not only great wealth but great intelligence. When he happens to put on a special body suit, he is also able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Oh and also he happens to be deeply melanated. The superhero who’s physical ability is not his only strength is a phenomenon, and among those people who were used and abused for their physical abilities ony, this superhero is a supersuperhero to those who look like him. He defies odds, he rebounds when he’s down, he is humble, he cares for family and nation. His greatest quality is not his tricked out suit, but the width and magnitude of his heart. He defies the darkest of lies about those with pigmentation, he is good, he is noble, he is us.
Let us not forget that the Black Panther is not the first Black superhero, but he is indeed the first Black superhero who matters. No one was striving to be the alcoholic, kid slapping Hancock, or the goofy, dish pan gloved wearing Blankman. Today’s young boys and girls look to Black Panther and his plethora of strong men and women who stand beside him, and will strive to be like them. They will strive to be brilliant, to excel, their measuring stick to their own capabilities will be much greater than ours. This movie is life giving. It took me a couple of weeks to gather the words to write this article, now after seeing the film three times I now understand that we may not see the full effect of these images for an entire generation.
These images are subconsciously changing the thinking of a billion people, it is the new millennium’s Birth of a Nation. This generation coming of age today will teach the generations following them to see themselves differently. The idea to be brilliant, and smart, and thoughtful, and good, lives in Black skin. This paradigm shift is happening among White people too in their view of us. The idea and truth that good, beauty and all things noble do indeed come from Africa is an awakening needed across every continent. We are new because of this film. Black girls and Black boys, and children of color everywhere will make decisions for their lives based on how they saw themselves reflected in the characters in this movie. In addition women and men will have an opportunity to do the same for their lives. Black Panther has changed us forever. #WakandaForever