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?