Giving the Great Shift a Little Nudge

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The Black Panther Bait and Switch

By Dave Murphy Thursday, Feb 22, 2018
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Since I just happened to be in New Jersey, I took the opportunity to go see the movie that has many of my brothers and sisters feeling empowerment and pride in a fictional African country and its comic book inhabitants, created by two Jewish white men, however, like most researchers into the truth, I have a pragmatic view of Hollywood, so I know not to expect anything empowering to come out of it, especially not for people of colour, but having seen the trailers for The Black Panther, I began to allow myself a tiny hope beyond hope that, for once, this might be the film that would portray black people in a positive light, but as is so often the case, I found myself disappointed and really rather annoyed.

It turns out that the film that I had paid to see was the actually the trailer and Marvel Studios had pulled a bait and switch move and delivered a PALE imitation of the movie that we were promised.

The Black Panther Trailer

At this point, I would traditionally give a spoiler warning, but quite honestly, it's hard to spoil something so execrable any further without the digital file decomposing into a 2 hour, 14 minute still image of a steaming Wakandan Rhino turd, so I consider this analysis a valuable public service.

As a straight action/adventure film, it was slick and visually impressive as one comes to expect from a Marvel film, and it did contain some subtle nods to the truth (easily mistaken for pure Science Fiction), the technological superiority and grandure of Wakanda mirrored the technological gap between the Sub-Saharan cities, such as Timbuktu, Ashan and Benin City, and the far less developed European cities. of the same time, and the use of a language derived from Paleo Hebrew roots paid silent homage to the cultural inspiration for the Wakandans.   There was also dialogue such as:

‘All over the planet our people suffer, their leaders have been assassinated, their communities flooded with drugs and weapons, they are overly policed and incarcerated’
which gave public acknowledgement of the plight of the black man, however, such highlights were very few and far between.

It would appear to me that the original story penned by the two black writers and their white handler was a very different film indeed. The supervillain, Ulysses Klaue, who was introduced as a cameo character in Captain America Civil War, was built up to be the main antagonist and threat to Wakanda at the beginning of the film but was then suddenly and unceremoniously shot dead at the end of the first act.   This smacks of a hasty and rather sloppy rewrite and the reason becomes obvious when considered from the point of view of the producers.   In 1910, after a series of "great white hopes" had failed to beat Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion of the world, the last great white hope, James J. Jeffries, the white undefeated, former heavyweight champion was brought out of retirement to put Johnson in his place once and for all.   The fight, which was billed as the 'Fight of the Century' was filmed so it could be shown in movie theatres across America, however, the footage of last few moments is forever lost to history because when it became clear that Johnson would win, the cameramen were instructed to stop filming, so that the best champion of the white race would not be seen to be defeated by a black man, and black people would not get the unthinkable idea that they could be superior, in any respect, to the white man.

Klaue could never be the main villian for the simple reason that its a Black Panther film and so, by the time the credits roll up, The Black Panther has to win, and Hollywood is loathed to show a black man triumph over a white man.   Instead, without a plausible enemy to fight, the writers resorted to reinforcing the same old tired mythical stereotype, "Black on black crime", the proud and highly advanced Wakandan people were reduced to tribes of savages, brother fighting brother, the black man fighting the black woman.

Black people. Always fighting and killing each other.

Obviously Marvel Studios learned from its experience with its only other black superhero, that isn't a deferential sidekick or forgettable team member, Luke Cage. When Netflix released the TV Series in 2016, thousands of white people complained that a story about a black superhero, set in Harlem, failed to have enough white people in it, as if they thought that the white people living in the area attempting to gentrify Harlem, might play a critical role in the storyline.   So, while The Black Panther was marketed as having an all black cast, of course, it didn't, I mean, why would a film set in Africa about a fictional Sub-Saharan African country that was never invaded, enslaved, raped and utterly destroyed by European colonisers not have at least one indispensable white man on hand to save the day?

The plot gymnastics performed just to include the totally unnecessary character of Agent Everett Ross, strained credibility to breaking point; Knowing America's track record concerning countries that possess mineral wealth that it covets, why would they let an American CIA agent, of all people, into Wakanda after remaining hidden for centuries? Even if he was dying, wouldn't the smart isolationists keep him sedated and dump him off in Lagos, wearing a "I was drugged and left for dead in Nigeria..." t-shirt?   But no, he had to be there to heroically play a pivotal role in the already sub-micron thick, swiss cheese plot, subconsciously reframing the role of the CIA as the saviour of the fictional Black Panther rather than murderers of the real Black Panthers in the 1960's.

Could they not find a single Wakandan pilot with much more training and familiarity with the technology? Would they really leave such an important task in the hands of an unsupervised novice?
Presumably the sequel will feature the Americans bringing their unique brand of freedom to Wakanda, in order to liberate the poor, oppressed Wakandan people from their land, their lives and oh yeah, all that Vibranium.

Perhaps the biggest betrayal of all, was the limp wristed portrayal of King T'Challa, a Prince, trained from birth to be a King in a truly free country would not be so weak and indecisive.   He would have been trained to fight the inevitable challenge to his rulership all his life, so we are led to believe that a boy abandoned in America somehow taught himself to fight with traditional Wakandan weapons such that he was able to easily defeat one who had received the very best training available and had been preparing for just such a life and death battle??
The character, Erik Killmonger, looked to be about 10 years old when he was abandoned, when did he decide to start training? Where did he learn? Do Navy Seals learn how to fight with swords and spears?? Did he also learn gymnastics too, in order to stand a chance against T'Challa in his catsuit?

The dynamic between Killmonger and T'Challa was contrived to present a moral ambiguity that leaves the viewer confused and unsure who to root for, should it be the psychopathic bad guy who has all the most memorable dialogue and wants to help the plight of black people everywhere or should we cheer for the good guy who selfishly doesn't want to help us?

Many of us subconsciously sided with the psychopath, especially when his final words embodied more of the 1960's Black Panthers spirit than the 2018 Black Panther and ultimately T'Challa was left playing a minor role in his own story.

The movie ended with allusions to the weak-kneed T'Challa reign instituting the Wakandan Outreach Program, which is forked tongue language for the process of handing over its technology and sovereignty to the American government.   The nervous, half hearted applause from the bewildered audience said it all.

This was NOT a black movie, but it is just more dis-empowering propaganda, well and truly aimed at black people, and just like the eight year reign of President Obama, we got a whole load of hope but precious little else.