Saturday, February 17, 2018

[MOVIE REVIEW] Black Panther: Welcome to the New Blaxploitation 2.0



Muhammad Rasheed - Back during the golden age of the HeroTalk message boards for the Museum of Black Superheroes, it seemed like every other newly-created thread in the main forum was about the Marvel Comics character Black Panther. In my memory it seemed like the vast majority of those were fanboy movie speculation fantasies, including casting calls. Echoing the most pessimistic naysayers around Candidate Barack Obama’s ambitious chances at the White House, I also remember that nobody thought a BP movie would ever happen in our lifetimes. Certainly not one that would have been worth a damn.

I just saw Ryan Coogler’s film and it blew me away. Even though I wasn’t one of those who felt the movie would NEVER get made, I absolutely thought that if it did, it would look more like the original comic… like Tarzan would have to make an obligatory guest appearance or something similar, complete with the grass skirts, huts, bones-thru-noses and et cetera of the original comic book depictions. I was very pleased to see a Black Panther movie that was far more impressive than what the old HeroTalk members even dared to hope for, with it being an amazing big budgeted, silver screen introduction to high-level Afrofuturism and what it could mean in the future for Black creators and Black genre works.


THE GOOD
  1. The movie was beautiful. I expected it to be this way when I first found out it had a Black director who went all out in making this a “Black movie.” Everything about it was a visual feast. From the casting choices, to the acting, the tech designs… I didn’t want to turn away at any point. The product itself was a proud representation of #BlackExcellence. Bravo.
  2. The movie was very pro-Black. It celebrated the Black people, and didn’t shy away or back down from that at all. The Disney-Marvel mega-corporation allowed pro-Black Black people to drive this product about 98%, Coogler took full advantage of that opportunity and it FELT that way. This was far beyond merely having Black representation in popular mainstream entertainment – this was a tiny glimpse into what having a full-blown Black-owned, multi-billion dollar Black film industry competing with Hollywood could look like. Coogler’s movie did a great job in cultivating that fantasy for this viewer while I watched.  Very well done.
  3. It would appear that Ryan Coogler spent almost every bit of that $200 million dollar budget on Black talent. Not just on the actors, but EVERYTHING. From using a Black-owned ad agency, to filming 80% of Black Panther on Tyler Perry’s new studio lot, this was a perfect demonstration in what right looks like from a Black empowerment standpoint.

THE BAD
  1. The same Black Americans that poured their skills, knowledge, talent, networks and resources into this white-owned intellectual property, could have done the same with a Black-owned product at any time. The uncomfortable feeling that Blacks waited for white Hollywood to give Blacks the space to do what they already had the power to do for their own community empowerment is aggravating.
  2. In order to make the Black Liberation-focused Killmonger the villain of the story, the film caricatured his cause from the perspective of the white supremacist troll community (“Kill whitey!”). This was actually very painful to watch, and served to alienate the Black American ethnic group from the movie they’ve always wanted to see. They did this to the movie's pro-Black Black American – caricatured his cause in the same way racist whites always caricatured Malcolm X’s cause beyond recognition – and killed him with zero effort to save him (and even had the king silently agree that the bottomless pit of the mass incarceration industry would’ve been the best place for him even if he had lived).
  3. They had the white representative of Western intelligence agencies be the brave, loyal friend of the movie’s super Black people. It was Western intelligence agencies that orchestrated the assassinations of the 1960s Black civil rights figures. It was Western intelligence agencies that created COINTELPRO and sabotaged and dismantled all of the Black Empowerment programs like The Black Panther Party of Self-Defense. It was Western intelligence agencies that were directly responsible for the evils white supremacy unleashed into the Black community which forged the man Killmonger became, yet he was the one presented as the unforgivable face of evil, while the actual orchestrator of the very evil that victimized the young Killmonger in the first place was presented as the film’s 'Token White' and squeaky clean friend of all Black people. This point is unacceptable to me, and makes me wonder if this was a result of Disney-Marvel executive meddling in the script, or whether Coogler did it organically within his own writing process. Either way it was a demonic choice and severely mars what would have been otherwise a perfect pro-Black story to me.
  4. In the Marvel Universe, a place where the martial arts function exactly the way they are depicted in everyone's favorite 'chop socky' flicks, I didn't like the close combat scenes between King T'Challa versus Killmonger. Whether he was de-powered or not, the Black Panther's millennia old, traditional close combat system should've enabled him to mop the floor with his cousin's US military fighting style. Just as Daredevil's 'mystic street ninjitsu' + American-style boxing was established as being superior to Frank Castle's USMC Force RECON fighting style, this should have been the very same.

MY FEARS

                           

Muhammad Rasheed - Well, it looks like Hollywood has finally managed to kickstart a new Blaxploitation era.  The original one from the '70s was apparently very lucrative for them otherwise they wouldn't do it, but now after several efforts ranging from the lazy/bare minimum, to the pull-out-all-the-stops Oscar nominee, it looks like they've finally done it again.

What may enable the new Black Panther film to really take off and launch a series of heavily exploitative copycats when so many previous attempts had failed, is that Disney-Marvel handed the white-owned property to an enthusiastic group of pro-Black Black people and just let them drive. The impressive result is that it gives the illusion that this is a "Black Movie" that will empower Black people.

Of course it's not, and it won't. Despite allowing Blacks to lovingly craft it themselves, the property is white-owned, and all the record-breaking, economy-twisting money Blacks will hand over to one of the Hollywood cartel's tentacles will do absolutely nothing for them. It will be very entertaining and fun though. I wish instead that they used that money to fuel their very own Black film industry and make themselves a Black-owned product with the same buzz they gave this one, which they could have done at any time. It's not too late for that, of course, but I wish they would wake up to that sooner rather than later. Disney-Marvel does not deserve this from Black people. Blacks deserve to give it to themselves, and I wish they would. It's time to compete against Hollywood instead of rewarding them for their scraps.

My prediction is based on the previous blaxploitation periods and how they played out, so I will expect some dedicated and brilliant efforts by business-savvy Blacks to capitalize on Black Panther's success, efforts that are eventually overtaken and smothered by thousands and thousands of "Black superhero" cheap knock-offs by deep-pocketed white film makers. The latter will lack the Black empowerment message the community needs, but will instead return to type and be full of the classic 'whiteness' message in the usual fashion. The result will be that the average Black person will rarely see the pro-Black diamonds because they will be overwhelmed by all the exploitative crap, causing Blacks to quickly get tired of of the new 'film genre.' Then all it will take is one major, white studio flop and Hollywood will declare that the age of the Black Superhero film is dead, and they will refuse to finance another. Then we will return to the pre-Black Panther era of wishing there were better Black representations in film.

The solution and best case alternative to re-playing this tired blaxploitation model over and over and over again is for Blacks to do it themselves and support their efforts. Use your talents for your own products, spend your good money on the Black businesses the way Coogler did, and spend your disposable wealth and investment seed on building up a Black entertainment empire. Tell your favorite Black creators what you want to see in formal proposals, get the crowd sourced funds together to pay them to make them. Create your own brand new safe spaces and stop waiting & paying for bigoted whites to do it for you.  Build up your own, and once you do it and are well established in your own mighty Black film industry (or any other industry), then you should collaborate with white businesses and do big crossovers that are lucrative and financially fair to all parties involved.

Please wake up to the fact that the "Integration Era" has never served you and was a white supremacist scam from the very beginning. Your original goal was "desegregation" and involved removing the barriers that prevented your interconnected Black businesses from increasing in wealth and political power through Economic Inclusion into the mainstream. This would have involved Black people being truly equal and free as full citizens of the USA, competing on equal footing with the other ethnic groups you shared the nation with, including the descendants of the former slave owners. The only thing keeping you from being in that place now is YOU. Please rise up and take your rightful spot in this land you helped build.

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