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The politics of criticism and creativity in the Black experience

In this 2022 holiday season, we can all use a little TLC anywhere we can find it (or it finds us). This column talks about finding some solace in “Black […]


In this 2022 holiday season, we can all use a little TLC anywhere we can find it (or it finds us). This column talks about finding some solace in “Black Panther 2: Wakanda Forever.”

Lightning may not strike twice for this new film entry in the Marvel Films Universe owned by the Disney Studios. Or, as lightning usually does, not strike the same way.

The first film became a worldwide, must-see phenomenon, with millions of continental Africans, Diaspora Africans and various other folks finding value, pizzazz and a certain symbolic fulfillingness in the movie (the Wakanda salute became a ubiquitous symbol of pride and peoplehood, like the palm slap used to be).

It made oodles of money for the Marvel Comic Universe (MCU) and Disney, even winning some Academy awards, and it ended up being the sixth highest grossing movie in film history.

But this second film lost its major star — not to replacement, but real-life death — and had to make a fundamental decision sure to displease some people no matter what choice was made, of either replacing or going on without Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the king of Wakanda.

The choice made by Ryan Coogler, as director and co-author of the movie’s script, must have been at least close to right, as the new movie has dominated the box office since its November opening. It has been the number one box-office movie for the last eight weeks, earning over 900 million dollars so far. It is still going strong and probably won’t be bested until the new “Avatar” movie premiers. This, in spite of sometimes severe criticism from fans — Black and White — and early movie comments.

The film is too long (nearly three hours) some say; the film spent too much time bemoaning the loss of King T’Challa; there was not enough “real” action; who said a woman could be the Black Panther action hero?; and who gave the writers-director permission to fundamentally change Namor, a Marvel comic book hero from the fabled city of Atlantis, to a mythical Mayan warrior villain and bring in Native American-Hispanic historical themes?

While these are not nation-state issues of importance, these are critical aspects of the MCU-Marvel moviedom which includes Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Captain America, the Hulk, Thor, etc. That fan base is as big as a middle-sized country member of the UN.

This is a realm of creative control rarely achieved by Black artists in any field of endeavor, and Ryan Coogler, Wakanda’s director and auteur, should be recognized for the aplomb and vision he has displayed in this arena.

Many Black activists  have spoken out (some mistakenly) against Erik Killmonger’s depiction in the first film as a bloodthirsty, vengeful spirit intent on using Wakanda’s technological gifts to punish Whites for centuries of Black slavery and colonialism, even if he has to crush the spirit of Wakandans to pull it off.

Some critics wanted Killmonger to be a Pan African freedom fighter. In the new film, some have expressed dismay that the primary warriors for Wakanda’s future are now Black women (the Black Panther is a woman!), and they seriously question the need to bring Hispanics into all this (as if they never heard of the many giant African stoneheads which have been found in Meso-American artifacts).

But for all artists who have been and are a part of the continued African push to move ahead into the higher sunlight and away from racism, sexism and Black oppression, their visions are always more important than the public comments on their creative choices.

For the rest of us is the maxim: Look and learn, or walk away. Creativity will continue to rise up.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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