Not since the election of President Barack Obama has my timeline been flooded with this level of Black pride and essays about minority children being able to achieve their dreams as a result of someone else’s achievement. The source of the latest explosion of social media postings and articles is Marvel’s Black Panther.
The Black Panther movie has smashed box office records while also becoming a cultural phenomeon. Marvel Comics has had a great deal of success with most of its superhero franchises including Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man etc. The appeal to patriotism, lure of escapism, power of storytelling, and the age old battle between good and evil combined with a generous dose of humor have resulted in billions in revenue worldwide.
In my previous life as a secondary teacher in Hawaii, I clearly recall one of my students asking me why such a big deal was being made over then Senator Barack Obama potentially becoming the first Black President of the United States. My student reasoned that he didn’t make an issue out of White men being the president so he had a hard time understanding why some of his friends would base their vote on skin color alone. My response was that he didn’t make a distinction about a White person being the president because that was the race of all previous presidents and therefore was not a determning factor in his decision.
At the time, the question caught me off guard. In my own mind, I struggled to pinpoint exactly what and why the Obama presidency meant so much to Black Americans. Ultimately, I concluded that the history (slavery-Civil War-Jim Crow-Civil Rights movement) of Blacks in America had generated a skepticism about our ability to achieve true acceptance, mainstream recognition, and higher office especially among older people.
Aside from the politics (some conservatives/GOPers can’t seem to differentiate between the symbolism and the policies), there are several similarities between the election of President Obama and the impact of the Black Panther movie.
1. Both feature relatively young, well educated Black men at the height of their power.
2. The loss of a father is a major part of the comic book origin of T’Challa (Black Panther) and the upbringing of Barack Obama (Dreams of My Father).
3. The election* of President Obama and the featuring of a Black actor in a mainstream** superhero role are groundbreaking and represent the shattering of the glass ceilings in politics and Hollywood respectively.
*Before Obama, there were the Jesse Jacksons and Alan Keyes of the world but eveyone knew they didn’t have a chance to win their party nominations let alone the presidency.
**Cult hits like Wesley Snipes Blade or anti-heroes like Will Smith’s Hancock aren’t as mainstream as the Black Panther character.
4. Positive depictions of Black Americans in the media, aside from athletes and civil rights figures, are a rarity.
As a general rule, I think it important to refrain from placing an overemphasis on the success of others as an indicator of whether I am able to achieve goals in my own life. Some of the articles heralding the Black Panther as some sort of panacea for all that ails the Black community are a reach. At their core, superhero movies are meant to entertain as well as inspire. If the success of regular kid from South Carolina gives a child of any color the courage to pursue their dreams then #WakandaForever.