Movie Poster - Bonanza.com

Topics: Commentary, Diversity, Diversity in Science, Science Fiction

Marvel has only had a trailer out for its Black Panther film for one weekend and already the backlash has been severe.

The poster features Chadwick Boseman posing in costume as the titular Black Panther, the king of a fictional African nation, seated on his throne and looking powerful.

However, several critics compared it to a famous picture of Huey P. Newton, who was the co-founder of the Panther Party, a figure who in the 1960s was seen as extreme and “militant.” In the picture, Newton was holding a gun and spear, and while Boseman is not posing with any weapons, many are saying that the pose and even the chair are similar. [1]

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Will #LukeCageTooBlack be the next hashtag? Probably not. But following the release of Netflix’s latest Marvel series, Luke Cage, many viewers are complaining about the show being “racist.”

Many fans jumped on Twitter to protest Marvel’s audacity to represent minorities throughout the 13-episode series. “Lack of white people in Luke Cage makes me uncomfortable. This show is racist, how is this on Netflix,” one person tweeted. Another questioned why the black people on the show were speaking about being an African-American. “Im not racist but :/ why is luke cage so political :/ why do they talk about being black all the time :/ where are the white characters.” [2]

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Last week, the World Science Fiction society named N.K. Jemisin the first black writer to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel, perhaps the highest honor for science-fiction and fantasy novels. Her winning work, The Fifth Season, has also been nominated for the Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award, and it joins Jemisin’s collection of feted novels in the speculative fiction super-genre. Even among the titans of black science-fiction and fantasy writers, including the greats Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany, Jemisin’s achievement is singular in the 60-plus years of the Hugos.

The Fifth Season is a stunning piece of speculative-fiction work, and it accomplishes the one thing that is so difficult in a field dominated by tropes: innovation, in spades. A rich tale of earth-moving superhumans set in a dystopian world of regular disasters, The Fifth Season manages to incorporate the deep internal cosmologies, mythologies, and complex magic systems that genre readers have come to expect, in a framework that also asks thoroughly modern questions about oppression, race, gender, class, and sexuality. Its characters are a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars. The Fifth Season’s sequel, 2016’s The Obelisk Gate, continues its dive into magic, science, and the depths of humanity.

Just a year ago, the idea of a novel as deliberately outside the science-fiction norm as The Fifth Season winning the Hugo Award seemed unlikely. In 2013, a small group of science-fiction writers and commentators launched the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies” campaigns to exploit the Hugo nomination system and place dozens of books and stories of their own choosing up for awards. Those campaigns arose as a reaction to perceived “politicization” of the genre—often code for it becoming more diverse and exploring more themes of social justice, race, and gender—and became a space for some science-fiction and fantasy communities to rail against “heavy handed message fic.” Led by people like the alt-right commentator Vox Day, the movements reached fever pitch in the 2015 Hugo Award cycle, and Jemisin herself was often caught up in the intense arguments about the future of the genre. [3]

I have been literally waiting for this movie my entire life. I have been reading it, fantasizing about T'Challa and the fantastic technologies he commanded - no more fanciful than warp drive, but the character development from Jack Kirby to Ta-Nehisi Coates (ironically the comic he was authoring has been canceled and the Dora Milaje spin off has been also) drove the stories forward, so as in any fiction, I suspended belief and read on. I find it amazing you can say it's the #1 comic in sales and then cancel the series after two issues for...sales. I posted about it in 2015 [4], and to quote from it something I saw about the comic fiction that wraps everything said above neatly:

“Wakanda is a small country in Africa notable for never having been conquered in its entire history. When you consider the history of the region, the fact that the French, the English, the Belgians or any number of Christian or Islamic invaders were never able to defeat them in battle…well it’s unprecedented.”

Too black...too militant...not enough "diversity," and like Kamala Harris asking ANYTHING as part of her job in the Senate: too "uppity."

We wear the mask that grins and lies, 
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— 
This debt we pay to human guile; 
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, 
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise, 
In counting all our tears and sighs? 
Nay, let them only see us, while 
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries 
To thee from tortured souls arise. 
We sing, but oh the clay is vile 
Beneath our feet, and long the mile; 
But let the world dream otherwise, 
We wear the mask!

Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Poetry Foundation

The stress that African Americans go through literally shortens our lifespans at the genetic level. That "mask" is a hard taskmaster that exacts a price. Living in a system and society so exquisitely designed for you to frankly...fail, you create stories about yourself. John Henry was a steal-driving man. Automation and mechanization caused John to have a massive coronary in the myth, itself a metaphor in modern times for the replacement of mining jobs by robots.

The "Mask" makes shucking-and-jiving a necessary skill; step-in-fetch a disguise that roils beneath the surface of phony smiles. We anesthetize ourselves with religion, fraternities and sororities, drugs and alcohol; sometimes all of the above.

We are always celebrating "firsts": first black astronaut, first black astronaut from a historically black college and university; first black president.

Do I ask for your forgiveness when the trailer was met with exclamations like "dope"; "I'm hyped"; "tears of joy." Do I NEED your forgiveness?

True story: I never followed "Friends" or "Seinfeld." I've seen it in syndication...at the gym when someone else had it on. I heard a lot of water cooler conversations and saw the lament when the series were canceled. I didn't watch them because the cultural references were as relevant to me as "Leave It To Beaver." Did it halt the shows from having fans? Did I not watch "white shows?" Hell, I watched "Cheers" and even visited the bar back in '85. I also watched "A Family Affair"; "That Girl"; "My Three Sons"; "Rat Patrol"; "The Six Million Dollar Man" occasionally the cavalcade of non-cultural-themed shows was interrupted by "Julia"; "The Jefferson's" "Good Times" and the hope we'd all survive our own hubris "Star Trek." My watching, or lack of watching meant nothing to either shows' popularity or length of their runs.

After a while, you get tired of masks and grinning and shucking and jiving and making everyone from sad to mad puppies "comfortable" as your own telomeres shorten.

“Whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can't ride your back unless it is bent,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It's obvious from Luke Cage to Black Panther to NK Jemisin to Kamala Harris, straightened backs are a perceived threat to the social order. A social order inherently dependent on the debasement of others should be challenged artistically, politically and professionally (Guion S. Bluford and Ronald E McNair earned PhDs in the STEM fields of Aerospace Engineering and Laser Physics respectively). For that I offer no apology.

I joked with a college friend in a call to California that the rabid pound-puppy-trolls would come out in full-force by the time the movie premiered February 16, 2018. He laughed when I said "I'm wearing a dashiki and war paint." Who knew the venomous snowflakes would pounce 24 hours after our conversation?

I'm seriously considering the dashiki...

1. ‘Black Panther’ movie poster slammed as ‘too black and militant’, The Grio
2. People Are Complaining That ‘Luke Cage’ Is “Too Black”, Jessica McKinney, VIBE
3. N.K. Jemisin and the Politics of Prose, Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic
A conversation with the recent Hugo Award-winner about science fiction, race, gender, power, and Trumpism
4. Slow-Walking Wakanda, #P4TC, August 16, 2015

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Comment by Cecil King on June 17, 2017 at 5:58pm

The backlash is really hard to fathom! I loved the poem. Thanks for sharing!

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