Commentary: Black Panther Wants to Save Us From Donald Trump

February 13, 2018, 4:57 PM UTC

Three years ago the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag highlighted the racial representation problem in the entertainment industry—especially in film. But this movement was soon overshadowed by the onslaught of Donald Trump and his white nationalist movement that propelled him to the presidency.

Contrary to the vocal sloganeers who want to make America great (a.k.a. white) again, the Other America—people of color and white Americans who reject Trump’s bigotry—is hungry for a convincing narrative to oppose white nativism.

Enter Marvel’s new film, Black Panther. The movie, appropriately being released during Black History Month, offers a powerful counternarrative to Trumpism at a crucial moment in black American history.

One of the most revolutionary aspects of Black Panther is its premise. Created as a comic series by Jewish American writer-artist Jack Kirby in 1966, the eponymous black superhero represents the resistance to settler-colonial forces—the kinds of forces upon which America’s nationhood was constructed. Black Panther’s name is T’Challa and he is king of the African kingdom Wakanda, a nation powerful enough to rebuff the forces of Western imperialism. Wakanda is independent, advanced, and resource-rich in Vibranium—the stuff that Captain America’s shield is made of.

At the time of its creation (but today as well), Black Panther was one of only a handful of superhero comics with black characters for protagonists. And it was the first black superhero comic with a mainstream comic book publisher. Black Panther was one of a kind—a superhero from a fictional, utopian African country untouched by the evils of white colonial rule and exploitation.

But like many superheroes of color in the Marvel (and DC) universes, Black Panther was relegated to the periphery of the pantheon of superheroes—most of whom were white male characters created by white men.

While it’s easy to overstate the importance of one film, the Black Panther release is a watershed moment in America’s cultural history. The movie boldly establishes the Black Panther not as a sidekick or gimmick character, but a superhero for all Americans to admire. Critics have almost universally praised the film, which is produced and directed by black men and stars a who’s who of black acting talent, including Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther, as well as Forest Whitaker, Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, and Danai Gurira. Kendrick Lamar, who has won 12 Grammy awards, oversaw the movie’s soundtrack. The film boasts an accumulation of black artistic talent unlike anything we have witnessed in recent cinematic history.

This film has the potential to inspire not just the African American community, but also the broader black American community—including African, Caribbean, and Afro-Latin American immigrants—and even the African diaspora.

People have been and will likely continue to dress up for premiere screenings. This sartorial showcase goes beyond cosplay. Folks are rocking full regal and formal African regalia from a range of African countries. The sublime moment of the release of a black superhero film rich in black artistic talent has become a license for outward displays of black brilliance and black beauty.

Following the ugliness of the 2015 Charleston church massacre, continuing unchecked police brutality against blacks, and the 2017 Charlottesville fiasco, Black Panther offers a hopeful message for the future of black America. Most importantly, it serves as a potent reminder of black people’s great resource, our Vibranium—black film, black music, black art—black culture.

James Braxton Peterson is a media contributor, the host of The Remix podcast on WHYY, and the author of several books, including Prison Industrial Complex for Beginners.

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