2022 Freedom Scholar Dr. Jared Ball!

(BWMN)—Dr. Jared Ball, an increasingly important activist in Black radical and Pan-Africanist circles, has been named a 2022 Freedom Scholar, one of ten selected this year.

The prize—a one-time, no-strings payment of $250,000, awarded individually to all ten scholars—has been presented to renowned intellects such as Robin D.G. Kelly and many others since the Marguerite Casey Foundation created the Freedom Scholars award in 2020. Scholars are anonymously chosen by former recipients. 

“It is a surreal contradiction,” Dr. Ball commented exclusively to BWMN via email after the award announcement. “But to be reminded or made aware of the value my work has to particular peers for whom I have tremendous respect is humbling, something I cherish, and am honored by. Most of us in academia are not disconnected, ivory tower scholars. We are just marginalized, unappreciated, and under-resourced. So this award is very much appreciated on several levels.” 

Ball, the host of iMiXWHATiLiKE! with Jared Ball podcast, the flagship program of the Black Power Media collective, is a professor of Communication and Africana Studies at Morgan State University, Maryland’s leading HBCU. He is the author of The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power, of which a second expanded edition is forthcoming in the spring. Ball, a board member of The Black Scholar journal and a frequent contributor to Black Agenda Report magazine, is a co-founder of Black Power Media, which has reached a total of 21,000 subscribers since it launched on YouTube in February 2021.

According to Ball’s website, imixwhatilike.org, “Ball’s research interests include the interaction between colonialism, mass media theory and history, as well as the development of underground journalism and cultural expression as mechanisms of social movements and political organization.” As an activist and advocacy journalist, he has been a longtime public champion of radical, independent media and political prisoners such as writer Mumia Abu-Jamal and Dr. Mutulu Shakur, the alternative-medicine specialist and godfather of slain hiphop superstar Tupac Shakur.

The other 2022 scholars are: Dr. Davarian L. Baldwin of Trinity College; Noura Erakat, J.D., of Rutgers University; Dr. Ruth Wilson Gilmore of the City University of New York; Dr. Sarah Haley and Derecka Purnell, J.D., of Columbia University; Mariame Kaba of Pratt Institute; Dr. Beth E. Richie of the University of Illinois-Chicago, Dean Spade, J.D. of Seattle University and Olúfémi O. Táíwò of Georgetown University.

Freedom Scholars “conduct research in cutting-edge areas of scholarship as varied as feminist prison abolition, global urbanism, alternatives to movement capture, Indigenous erasure and militarized policing—critical fields of research that are often underfunded,” according to the Casey Foundation’s website.

Dr. Ball’s award is “proof that principled radicalism and constant work—his 20 years of scholarship, activism and free, intelligent community broadcasting—always wins,” posted BWMN staffer Todd Steven Burroughs on social media after the announcement. He is co-editor with Dr. Ball of the anthology A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X.

Read the Casey Foundation press release here.

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A Very Belated 100-Word Review Of (The Sadly,-Now-On-Streaming-Because-It-Didn’t-Make-Enough-Movies-Money) “Black Adam”

The magic word is….uneven

It’s unfortunate that the tension between 1990s superhero-film cheesiness and 2022 superhero-film coolness makes this effort implode. A post-COP27 viewing allowed more sensitivity to how Egyptians oppress themselves with the West’s help. Too bad the film quickly traded in that theme for a third-act battle with a Hellboy knockoff and some fake AMC Walkers. God bless his soul, Pierce Brosnan, 30 years distant from the start of his ’90s James Bond, elevated Black Adam when he could (with fine assists from Aldis Hodge) but couldn’t save it. It’s not hard to see why few wanted a piece of this Rock.

55-Word Review of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” [SPOILER-FREE]

The nuclear family blows up

A memorial interrupted by a war film. Whether this is an epic will depend on how it fades into (Marvel) film history. If it’s not, it’s not because of a lack of trying by writer-director Ryan Coogler and co-writer Joe Robert Cole. Marvel’s ability to acknowledge fans and critics simultaneously is quite extraordinary and remarkable. #BlackPantherWakandaForever

Talking About Marvel’s “Black Panther” And “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

The deadliest of the species

So a Brazillian media outlet interviewed me via email about a certain Marvel character and a certain film. Here’s what I wrote:

*****

Todd Steven Burroughs, 54, writer, comicbook geek, public historian and adjunct Africana Studies professor at Seton Hall and Wayne State universities. He is the author of Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comic Book Biography, From Stan Lee to Ta-Nehisi Coates.

1) In your opinion, what is the importance of continuing the legacy of Black Panther in cinema, as it was one of the rare positive representations in Hollywood of a Black king, seen here at the head of an African nation among the most powerful countries in the world?

I struggle over “importance” being the right word. The comicbook geek and the Africana scholar forever warring inside me go back and forth on it. This is a white corporate product starring characters originally created by white Americans with some later help from African-Americans, and now it’s a film produced by a white conglomerate, one written and directed by African-Americans starring both African-Americans and the children of continental Africans. This is not an authentic, organic African cultural product–which shows our powerlessness to do one ourselves. Remember: America was comfortable having a Black president serve two terms but there is still no Black American that can greenlight a Hollywood film. The great writer Haki Madhubuti has called the first film “dangerous.” And if you are committed to African liberation, how can you not call it that? The first Black Panther is an exciting and powerful movie, one that made me tear up with joy, but it’s also a film whose climax shows a white male CIA agent shooting down African revolutionaries. I have known about T’Challa since I began reading Marvel Comics as a pre-teen, but I have only loved him since I first read, while in grad school in the late 1990s, a groundbreaking, satirical Black Panther comic series written by Christopher Priest, its first Black writer. Reginald Hudlin, its second Black writer, did his best to make T’Challa a decolonized character fighting European imperialism. But what about realdecolonized African heroes and Black/African filmsBlack Panther only shows that the billion-dollar Disney/Marvel Cinematic Universe can make popular any kind of story starring anyone, that it can make anybody in the world into a popular superhero, but it is not an advance for Black, African and African Diasporic filmmaking. I’m excited as any fantasy-loving Marvel Zombie about this sequel–I got my ticket for the November 10 Thursday afternoon sneak preview weeks ago–but the African reality always is in the back of my mind. At the same time, I quietly agonize, I do acknowledge what this franchise means: African children–and some adults–around the world get to see themselves as the most powerful people on Earth. I think that’s where any importance really lies. So it’s complicated for me, internally and externally, intellectually and emotionally.

2) How much do you think the success of the original film is due to the ferocity and brilliance with which Chadwick Boseman embraced the role of King? Can a sequel be as successful without him? He was the heart of the movie, in a way, right?

I have in my living room a mounted, framed poster of Chadwick Boseman on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, so I don’t want my next sentence misinterpreted. I don’t think it’s an insult to say that Boseman’s channeling of Nelson Mandela–even using similar speech patterns–made him the most boring character in the film! LOL! In my view, the success of Black Panther was the dramatic balance between T’Challa (Boseman), the amazing Dora Milaje and other female characters (Gurira, Nyong’o, Wright, Bassett) and Killmonger (Jordan). This may sound strange, but as I mourned Boseman I did not worry about the sequel at all because I knew director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler and Marvel mastermind Kevin Feige could and would compensate and recalibrate well. That first teaser trailer–one that caused tears to flow on YouTube, including my own–showed they were still in command of this world they made–Wakandan characters in particular and the MCU as a whole. The film is already on track to make $1 billion worldwide, so all is well. 

3) Since we have now some distance from the first film, do you see any positive impact of Black Panther on the way Hollywood mainstream films portray Black people these days?

Well, here’s what I wrote one year in. I don’t think it’s changed Hollywood at all, with one obvious exception: it’s clear that without Marvel’s Black Panther, there would not exist The Woman King. (Look at the chronology of the greenlighting of that film here.) And I definitely don’t think The Woman King‘s familiar-feeling vibes, non-sophisticated story and Hollywood filmmaking style, along with a wide release date right in front of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, is in any way coincidental. As I wrote, The Woman King is Black Panther 1.5. 🙂

I will be very interested in how indigenous people in the Americas will react to seeing Meso-American people and culture as a major part of the MCU worldwide juggernaut. I think turning Namor, The Sub-Mariner and his people indigenous is a stroke of genius! I’ve loved the Sub-Mariner since seeing him as a pre-teen in very dramatic animated stories on second-run syndicated television in the 1970s (which is the link; here’s info on the original 1966 limited-animation show I saw in ’70s reruns). 

And, an important note: the fact that Wakanda Forever‘s bi-cultural, big-screen clash of the titans is coming at the close of a year that saw the Disney+ streaming emergence of an Egyptian superhero and Desi people getting a deservedly critically-acclaimed drama starring teenage superhero Ms. Marvel, is neither accidental nor incidental. Again, Disney/Marvel is leaving no money on the table. 🙂

It’s clear that if the great writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is right in that the first Panther was Black people’s Star Wars, Wakanda Forever is positioning to be the trying-to-be-bigger, trying-to-be-even-better sequel, a Black Empire Strikes Back

But here’s what I’m most fascinated with as 2023 approaches: will Angela Bassett, an Academy Award nominee, be nominated and win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her anchoring Wakanda Forever and Oscar winner Viola Davis be nominated for and win Best Actress for her film, too? Can Black American women sweep the female Oscar contests for portraying African royalty? As they say in the comics that inspired all this Panthermania, to be continued! 

36-Word Review of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story”

He writes the songs of love/ And special things

A deeply appropriate parody of all music biopics, with sly commentaries on based-on-a-true-story anachronisms, falsehoods twinned with factual distortions and even white appropriation of Black music. This film solidifies Daniel Radcliffe as a rising comic genius.

The Black Artist? A Very Belated 158-Word Review of “Elvis”

Freedom Suite?

An overlong but serious and well-done meditation on how Black American artistry is the engine for true 20th-century American freedom of any type, perhaps of any time. The first half grounds itself in a Magic Negro experience par excellence, a remarkable 21st-century achievement because it pretends to take on the issues directly; it attempts to muddle the mind so that cultural theft is confused with willing baptism into the Church of the Real Thang. In this flick, Elvis–whose early life is presented with all the speed, rhythm and wail of early rock ‘n’ roll and then some–is recast by biopic history as a public champion of Black stylings, his struggles made to mirror and parallel another, and more dangerous, freedom movement taking place outside his door and largely off-camera. And then the bejeweled latter half, the slow, disappointing realization of being lied to, exploited and manipulated by The Man. Powerful, but ultimately, however well-intentioned, racially manipulative.