So I finally saw “Black Panther” the other day.
Well, I say “finally,” but it’s not as if it took me long. Or Marie. I mean, what, a week or so after release? And it’s TOTALLY not as if the practically daily articles about it on the freakin’ New Yorker website suggested it had intellectual depth. What a dumb magazine for trolls and yes it’s opposite day….
Yes that’s the article I got the lead photo from.
I’ve felt for some time that… that was a sad omission in the Black Lives Matter movement. The single, three-letter-word “too.” I know WAY too many people who had the “But ALL lives matter” reaction. And then I know at least as many people who got angry at that.
Advertising takes perfect wording. And a tag line is advertising. You’re not preaching to the converted in a movement, ideally. You’re trying to convert the unconverted.
And if tons of people, even the good people, find themselves almost reflexively replying with “But ALL lives matter,” even people like… me… then you have a messaging problem. And your movement gets limited.
Sure I can intellectually say “I know what it really means.”
But why stumble? Why disobey the laws of oratory Martin Luther King knew so well?
Recently I even heard a founding black female member of Black Lives Matter admit, on the radio, that it really meant Black Lives Matter Too.
So much tripping averted.
But back to the film.
Honestly, I never expected the film to be so… big. So gigantic.
I don’t mean… quality. I mean popularity. And yeah, no doubt that has something to do with my spoiled whiteness. I had just about no way of seeing, when Black Panther showed up in “Captain America: Civil War,” that African Americans, and people of African descent worldwide, could crave that so much.
Seeing magnificent people on the silver screen that “looked like them.”
No doubt at all that I’m spoiled and blinded by power. No doubt at all. And even less doubt, less than zero, that I’m incapable of claiming “reverse racism.” Or howling, like some white “friends,” that “slavery ended 150 years ago why don’t they just get over it” and other baloney.
I heard a white comedian on NPR a few months ago say, aptly, that if he were black, he’d have a hard time EVER stopping reminding people of the HORROR of slavery.
Cop pulls you over for speeding?
“Hi Officer. Did I do something wrong? And oh, by the way… slavery.”
And holy fucking shit, as a white man, do I have it.
As I’ve written in a lot of other blog posts, I have a real fascination with what we sometimes call “primitive cultures.”
Look back on my references to “People of the Deer” and the like.
Cultures in tune with “Nature” and the planet. And there’s a real admiration, envy even, for the health of those cultures. The glory in… community and spiritual ways, if not in material ways. Power and tyrant ways. It can become jealousy.
Sometimes its so toxic to look on “Civilization” and, when I’m able to step far enough away from it’s “Mother Culture” and the joys of the Internet, good art, freedom to travel, etc., and to see that we’re on a runaway cancer train toward the death of the planet, or at least the planet saying “Fuck this shit I’m having surgery or chemo so sad that one kind of cell decided to break ranks and try a coup but I’m not gonna let cancer beat me.”
And so that’s reminds me of Killmonger in “Black Panther.” Stomped down on by power in America, always aware of the glory of his African past… but a glory not gone as it is outside the film but… still alive in Wakanda (albeit generated by a hug alien asteroid of vibranium instead of Earthly things).
Though everything on Earth came from beyond Earth if you go back far enough. Just like even the Native Americans came from elsewhere if you go back far enough. Even the pre-human ancestors of African humans came from elsewhere. Even freaking Africa itself came from elsewhere, as continents split. Or as they rammed into each other like rhinoceroses on the Wakandan battlefield in the “Black Panther” finale.
What must it be like, truly be like, to have not just my privileged white male American level of regret about lost human glory… but a cutting sense of it far worse?
One of the great exercises in life is to see life through the eyes of others.
For artists, for writers, it’s even bigger.
“Write what you know.”
Which, in a broader sense, is… take on the challenges you know. Know your “foe.”
And, as I heard on NPR (repeatedly, from a writer in an “ad”), “If you take that seriously, it gives you courage to be brave in the World.”
…or for ill.
What do you DO with a broad understanding of the World? Of a situation?
Turtle? As Wakanda did in the past? Or reach out, as it began to do in its future? Turtle, by the way, is a term in the board game world (maybe beyond), for just… well, I suppose it’s obvious. Pulling in tight and being protectionist.
Of course I face that challenge. Like a lot of people.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” as they say. “They” being Ben Parker, Peter Parker’s father in the first of the Toby Maguire “Spider Man” movies.
I avoided the movie poster.
Or a cleaner, more powerful image of Peter Parker in his “final” suit. This one, when he was still in transition, makes him look more human. Vulnerable. The way I feel so often. Insecure with my power. Afraid to use it, for all kinds of reasons.
For me, it’s more about a fear it’s too big for me or something. Like great responsibility and power are antithetical to my identity somehow. I know that’s not “real” or “true,” and that it’s more a factor of habit and training. A person can become a great deal of amazing things if they believe in it fully, and want it fully. That’s more my issue. In Wakanda? Clearly, clearly, clearly the citizens and rulers and powerful women have NO lack of faith in their abilities. They just want to be sure they keep Wakanda safe. Don’t want it stolen away or diluted by the outside World.
Trying to go out into the World and use their power to save it? That sounds suspicious, all the more so when woven in like vibranium threads of irony to the fabric of an African nation.
Don’t want to… well, risk becoming… a kind of colonizer for the ills of the World. Power corrupts. If you want to make God laugh, make a plan.
The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
…maybe more aptly….
Just look at that strong, intelligent, potentially dangerous man.
Staring at his hands.
Like a philosopher king. Wondering what to do. Whether it will be for good or ill.
And how to make amends for the ills his father did, leaving the son of his murdered uncle, the man who became Killmonger, in America, in the slums. A history he chose to omit, for the “good” of Wakanda.
His father did great good too.
Clearly this all relates to Ozymandias and my post about “Watchmen.”
If Wakanda reaches out of its turtling and becomes a “Watchman,” who will watch it?
Who would watch me?
Who watches you?
Possibly no one.
But try anyway. Lying on your death bed having not tried to be great, or even to help, is no good at all. I like telling myself that. I like trying to hear it, too.
Whether or not something different kills me in the comic book version of my life (sure to be told) than in the film version.