Elizabeth: The Black Panther Effect

This is a poster for Black Panther. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, the publisher, Marvel Studios, or the graphic artist. Its use in this post qualifies as fair use under the copyright law of the United States.

I did my part to help Marvel Studio’s Black Panther pass the $1 billion mark at the global box office by heading to an afternoon showing last Friday with a group of my co-workers.  The movie, coupled with a relaxing lunch, was a bit of a reward for recent months of hard work at the Day Job.  Suffice to say, it was an entertaining reward and it didn’t take any arm twisting to convince us to agree to a few hours away from the office.

Although I don’t go to the movies very often – I think Frozen was the last thing I saw on the big screen – my boss had seen the movie the week before and liked it so much she wanted us to have a chance to enjoy it too.

The co-writer and director of the movie, Ryan Coogler, is originally from Oakland, and it was kind of fun to pick out familiar landmarks in the movie scenes that were shot in the Oakland area.  While I couldn’t quite see my own office building, I did catch a glimpse of glowing-top of the local Tribune building a few blocks away.

The movie itself was visually stunning with its bustling cities, vast open country, and the futuristic Wakanda.  It included a lot of strong-willed, kick-ass women, a number of technologically Bond-esque moments, and some eerie parallels to current world politics and social issues.

Also, it was fun.

A lot has been written about the movie for its representation of a black major comic book character come to life.

Manohla Dargis of The New York Times called Black Panther “a jolt of a movie”, and said, “in its emphasis on black imagination, creation and liberation, the movie becomes an emblem of a past that was denied and a future that feels very present. And in doing so opens up its world, and yours, beautifully.” ~ New York Times, February 6, 2018

Gil Robertson, co-founder and president of the African American Film Critics Association, added that the film was “critically important” and “a gate-opener opportunity for other black-centered projects.” ~ USA Today, January 31, 2018

The group of co-workers I attended the movie with was predominately, African-American and as I looked around the theater before the movie started, I couldn’t help but notice I was one of only a hand-full of Caucasian viewers.  Those same demographics were represented in the movie itself, which got me to thinking about what it is like to see a movie (or see a show or read a book) where the characters aren’t like you.  Sure don’t have the powers of Iron Man, Batman, Spiderman and the rest.  I don’t swim and sing like the Little Mermaid, or tame a Beast like Belle, but those characters still feel familiar and relatable.  But what if they didn’t?

On a related topic, a recent article by Maureen Lee Lenker in Entertainment (March 01, 2018) stated that “In 2017, romance publishing got even more lily white.”  She cited a statistic from The Ripped Bodice’s annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing Report that “of every 100 books published by leading romance publishers in 2017, only 6.2 were written by people of color.”  That’s a decrease from last year’s 7.8%

That’s both interesting and discouraging.  The last few RWA conferences I’ve gone to have had panels and sessions that focused on diversity in romance and diverse authors.  I know we’ve talked about those subjects here on the blog as well.  It’s not that books by people of color don’t sell – Sixty percent of The Ripped Bodice’s top 10 best-sellers of 2017 were written by authors of color, including entries from Alyssa Cole and Alisha Rai.  I also remember seeing a statistic in the Atlantic a few years ago stated that the most likely person to read a book was a “college-educated black woman.”

But there is definitely a disconnect, in books, as in movies.

Maybe the more than $1 Billion that Black Panther has raked in thus far will convince producers and publishers that embracing diversity is the way to go.  After all, money can be a powerful motivator, when other things have failed.

One can hope.

In the meantime, do you have any recommendations for books or movies by diverse creators or predominately featuring a diverse cast that you’d recommend?

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth: The Black Panther Effect

  1. I liked Black Panther a lot, too. It’s interesting that after you’ve been watching it for a while that when Martin Freeman, the white guy, shows up, he seems … a bit like a token. Kumail Nanjiani, who wrote and starred in the 2017 film “The Big Sick,” has said that it shouldn’t be that hard for white folks to identify with heroes who don’t look like them, since nonwhite audiences have been doing that for decades.

    Otherwise, there’s a lot of good stuff out there written by people of color. “Do the Right Thing” and “She’s Gotta Have It,” written and directed by Spike Lee, are older movies, but they really struck a chord for me when I saw them back in the 1980s. I think they’d hold up well today. I’ve enjoyed the “Dinosaur Mafia” mysteries by Eric Garcia and the Easy Rawlins mysteries of Walter Mosely. Probably everyone’s read the literary fiction of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker by now, but they’re always worth rereading. Maya Angelou and Audre Lourde for poetry. I like Jhumpa Lahiri’s work. Maxine Hong Kingston doesn’t write fiction as far as I know, but her “The Woman Warrior,” a memoir, was terrific. “My Year of Meats” by Ruth Ozeki was wonderful, and she’s written other things I haven’t read.

    Gosh, I feel a trip to the bookstore coming on….

    • Kay – you were definitely the right person to ask. Thanks for all of the recommendations. I see a trip to the bookstore and a Netflix binge coming on.

      Funny that you mentioned Martin Freeman. When that scene happened one of my first thoughts was indeed that he was the token white guy (although there were others, of course).

  2. I love a lot of the work Kay mentions (and haven’t heard of the things I don’t love, so maybe I need to update my wishlist). Lee and Ozeki are great!

    Bride and Prejudice, the Bollywood movie, runs into some of the problems of depicting “other” where “other” in this case is a non-Indian white guy. I’m not sure if it’s the script’s fault, or the actor’s fault (the character is a little lackluster and “token”). But despite the flaw, the movie is absolutely great!

    I really love Amy Tan’s books. These aren’t particularly diverse, but they are non-white. They also have the perspective of a minority woman who has grown up in white society, so she seems to have a knack for making the stories accessible to white readers.

    I finished reading E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India this year, which really is diverse in cast; I’d say about half Anglo, half India (and many different kinds of Indians).

    Plus, it turns out the Ivanhoe is also all about diversity, 1820s style. I plan to write a couple of posts about gender and diversity in the book. But basically, you’ve got the Norman/Saxon divide, with complications thrown in by Jewish characters, and guest appearances by “Saracen” characters. Scott, a white writer, does his best. Klunks pretty hard in some places, but at least he had the courage to talk about it.

    On my TBR list is a book about the guy who headed Nikka Whiskey in the early 20th century. His wife was Scottish, and she came to Japan to live with him. AFAIK, the book is only available in Japanese, and . . . well, with my Japanese, it might be a long time before I finish it. But it was also an NHK drama. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-30682239

    Watching The Black Panther is on my list of things to do when I go to the States!

    • Thanks for all the suggestions, Michaeline. You’ve definitely piqued my interest with Ivanhoe. I keep meaning to read it (I have a copy on the shelf) but never have. I’ll have to move it up to the top of the TBR pile.

      Hope you get to see Black Panther when you come to the states. I think you will enjoy it.

  3. This is definitely on our TBW list, but I don’t whether we’ll see it in the theater or wait for it to be available for our in-home viewing pleasure. Any thoughts about whether it’s one of those movies you really should see on the big screen?

    • I rarely see movies on the big screen, but this one had so many details and action that I think it would be better on the big-screen, though I guess it depends on how big your tv is.

      I appreciated the fact that the movie didn’t require familiarity with the Marvel Universe, since I’m pretty much clueless about that (though my son did give me the Cliff Notes version this afternoon).

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