I was caught off guard during Game 4 of the NBA Finals last night, but not because of the drubbing that LeBron and Kyrie gave the Dubs. Since I spent most of the day off of social media and my favorite sites, I had no idea that the teaser trailer for a little upcoming movie would air during the game. During the commercial break, I was looking down at my phone when I heard the announcement: “And now, a first look at Marvel’s Black Panther” (or something like that). I gasped, threw down my phone, and sat up straight. After watching the trailer, I posted a very measured and appropriate response to my networks:
Yeah, I was hype, and I wasn’t the only one. As Game 4 went on, I started seeing memes like this pop up in my feed:
You may be wondering, “what’s the big deal?” You may also be wondering, “who are these black dudes with the funny hats?” If you’re in the latter group, stop reading this right now and go watch Coming to America and Malcolm X. You can came back later.
If you’re in the former group, allow me to step back in time a little to tell you about young Don Woods.
While I would buy the occasional comic book as a kid, my exposure to DC and Marvel superheroes really came from TV and film. I grew up with Hanna Barbera’s Super Friends.
Then came Tim Burton’s Batman, which kicked off my lifelong obsession with the Dark Knight. Like…for real. I even wore Batman cufflinks on my wedding day (a “day of” gift from my wife).
A year after Batman, the first Flash TV show had its short run on CBS, and I watched every episode.
A couple years after that, shit got real. It was all about Batman: The Animated Series (which was AMAZING), and the X-Men animated series.
Batman movies eventually got worse, X-Men movies starting hitting the big screen, then Spider-Man. Next, The Dark Knight trilogy brought Batman films to new levels. Meanwhile, Tony Stark was kicking off what would become the insanely successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).
And I’ve watched all of it…Marvel and DC…usually on opening weekends.
However, what you may or may not have noticed is that there haven’t been many people of color in those movies and shows. Not many women either. Sure, we have Luke Cage, Falcon, and War Machine now, but when I was a kid, which black superheroes on the screen could I root for? Maybe Storm???
Why should we care? Well, the images we see in media matter, especially in those formative years. And myths have mattered since the beginning of our time on this blue marble. We humans have always created myths, heroes, and villains to convey and challenge our highest ideals and to inspire, and it’s easy to see this with superhero narratives. And while I grew up with mortal positive African American images on shows like The Cosby Show (slow down…my point is only that the Huxtables were an important positive influence for many black families), A Different World, Good Times, Martin, In Living Color, and other “black shows,” on “white shows” (aka…regular ol’ TV), I saw a lot of comedic sidekicks and criminals. And I damn sure didn’t see any black folks saving the day!
So bringing the time machine back to 2017, there will soon be this major MCU event featuring a bad-ass, African superhero who’s also the king of a technologically advanced African nation that everyone wants to take over. I mean…look at this dude…
That’s a baaaad MF. And as my podcast crew noted months ago, the majority of the cast is black, the director is black, and the writers are black. All of that gives me goosebumps, and I envy the kids that will be introduced to the superhero genre via this movie.
So yes, I’m a very grown man who’s giddy about a superhero movie. I may tear up during the damn thing. That’s because it’s well overdue, and I can’t wait!
(Shout-out to Wonder Woman fans and young girls who finally got a great superheroine movie with a female director!)
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