The Blackest Place On (Marvel) Earth
Those attuned to the perpetual phenomena of black cultural media will recognize the implications of the impending mega-hit movie ‘Black Panther’. This movie is objectively “For The Culture” and like it’s 2017 FTC predecessor ‘Get Out’, Black Panther is likely to outpace all expectations. Just for reference, Get Out, an independent movie, made over $252 million in the box office on just under 2,800 screens. That’s good enough to be the 17th highest ranked superhero movie of all time on 1,400 fewer screens according to Box Office Mojo. Black Panther is currently sitting at $139 million in advance ticket sales, is barreling towards 200 million opening weekend, and has all the screens.
We Lit AF, as it were.
In addition to the sheer math of it all, there is a groundswell of beautiful blackness primed and ready to show up to the movie theatre multiple times in full Black Panther regalia. In some cities, there are post movie afterparties, in others, community dialogues. Needless to say, the excitement is palpable and whatever you’re expectations are, you should probably up your bet.
The underestimation of black cultural media isn’t a particularly a new phenomenon, given its history. In the late 80s, the Cosby show saved NBC from imminent doom and shattered sitcom rating records, lifting the network on its back along with the black community. In years following, we saw the golden era of black television shape the agenda of new networks such as Fox, UPN, and the WB, with shows like In Living Color, Martin, living single, Sister Sister, New York Undercover, The Wayans Brothers, the Jamie Foxx show and the Fresh Prince. These shows were often rooted in the slightly hyperbolic normalcy of black life and it’s various manifestations. They represented black and brown families as wealthy and poor, serious and funny, joyful and grieving all in the context of contemporary black spaces. Ratings and rankings aside, The normalization of blackness in 90s television allowed for a generation to see themselves outside of the long-perpetuated stereotypes of previous eras.
Like most efforts to normalize blackness within our society, all of the television stations that used black media to build a base, eventually dismantled that effort piece by piece and replaced it with lighter, whiter, fair. If the process seems familiar, it’s because encroaching on and ultimately colonizing or gentrifying black spaces is ingrained in western ideology.
What television gained in representation during the 90s, it lacked in a truly radical vision of what uninhibited blackness might look like in the built environment. It lacked the representation and unabashed imagination that extends beyond the individual and into whole communities, neighborhoods, and cities. It is this vision that is most fascinating about the prospect of the Black Panther movie. The mainstreaming of an Afro-futurist people, kingdom, world, untouched by colonialization and able to harness the resources of the land. A world in which the value of blackness is not subject to the fears of whiteness and the grounds to which cities were built upon are not littered with the bones of those forced to build them. Now, Africa exists with 54 countries and is as culturally rich and different as you’d expect, but this world of Wakanda, this city of Birnin Zana, even as science fiction, represents that unabashed, uninhibited space.
Science fiction/fantasy movies, like all movies since the dawn of the industry, have a hard time disabusing themselves of the narratives of black inferiority or black struggle and often project the failures of present society in their portrayal of vigilante (mostly white) saviors. They show us a world in which the majority culture assumes both the position of nobility and the struggle of the marginalized, leaving truly disinherited communities out of the “representative” picture altogether.
Black Panther offers a change in script, so to speak, giving us an opportunity to consider how a futuristic (technologically advanced) world, when built through a black cultural lens, can continually strengthen communities and rival nations. In some manner, the visuals of the movie represent the furthest conceptual depiction of place as defined by the civil rights group bearing the same name, ‘the Black Panther Party’. In essence, the world created as a means to frame the plotline of a superhero movie also serves as a revolutionary model of futuristic black space. Black space, defined in this instance, as the physical world, the built environment in amplification of the habitual cultural tendencies of a self-determined black people from across the world.
Given that the Western world was built upon and is almost entirely dependent on the subjugation of black and brown people, a self-determined futuristic black city like Birnin Zana, Wakanda is as hard to conceive of as it might have been to imagine this movie being made, but alas, both are eminently viable. The psychological hurdles to conceive of such a city requires a historical knowledge of events that have been dedicated to separating black bodies from black land over centuries. It requires the creative ability to envision an alternative to those moments in pursuit of something entirely different.
This movie is inherently bigger than itself and it will be an epic adventure for so many reasons, though not a panacea, it is a step towards envisioning a world where a radical black future has an opportunity to become as normalized as Will Smith lounging in a mansion in Bel Air. If only for a brief moment in time, the Black Panther movie will make Wakanda, Birnin Zana, Black Twitter, and every local movie theatre in the world, the blackest place on earth. That in itself is worth a Wakanda dap, Drake clap, a Kendrick rap . #WakandaToday #WakandaForever