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

Rainy Days And Mondays Always Get Me Down: Fear And Loathing As Midterms Approach

So it’s too early in the morning to worry about whether this post will be an example of good writing. I’m watching (listening, really, to) Vigilante, Greg Palast’s new documentary on Georgia voting suppression while I’m updating my blog.

This post-Halloween pre-dawn screening is an appropriate end to a frightening weekend. Tiffany Cross is fired from MSNBC on Friday for directly confronting our enemies and unapologetically using late-’60s-style Black activist language in doing so. A Yale academic conference spends two days directly linking American white-supremacist history to what Palast is outlining in my ears. In my New Jersey hometown, the-used-to-be-a-ghetto Newark, former Black nationalists cry out in the Newark Public Library for us to vote because, as I’ve heard them say all my life, it’s the only way to stop the coming fascist tide. Meanwhile, some of my Dee Cee folks are decrying the choice between, as one of them calls it, Fascism and Fascism Lite.

Everybody’s right, particularly if we meld an insider/outsider strategy, but that’s not enough. Why? Because between then and this Monday morning’s typing while viewing, I made the mistake on Sunday of getting offline just long enough to read last week’s New Yorker. Pennsylvania has gone crazy (to no surprise to Mumia Abu-Jamal and his supporters, I’m sure!) and very well-organized right-wing school activists refuse both fact and truth.

See this post’s lead photo? That’s my attempted reading this week so can I reward myself, guilt-free, with the half-escapism that Wakanda, the white-created and corporate-endorsed theme park of the African mind, represents.

Damn, was John Henrik Clarke and other historians right when he said that “all history is current events.” Well, I really hope the historical half-successes of both Black liberalism and Black revolutionary-ism loop around again and soon, because Palast is reminding us that in 2022 only one side knows they’re at war, and for many reasons, it doesn’t seem to be ours. And those retrograde warriors, not us, seem more willing to confront their opponents face-to-face, kidnap, kill, go to jail, slander and lie with every single breath, organize and vote like their children’s lives depend on it and spend their last billionaire dollar to maintain the white American race-supremacist structure that was so inspirational and utilitarian in the last century to both the apartheid South African government and Nazi Germany. Not surprisingly, these right-wing warriors are not “outside” the white-supremacist, capitalist system they created for their own benefit, but they are unapologetically and consistently clear that their collective goal is to make sure we Wakanda forever are.

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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! 

#BlackPowerMedia Provides A Clear Outline As To Why #MumiaAbuJamal Should Get A New Trial Or Be Freed Immediately

Book Micro-Review: Alone, Together

Black is you, Black is me, workers are us, now we’re free

Claude McKay: The Making of a Black Bolshevik.

Winston James.

Columbia University Press, 464 pp., $32.

In the first of an apparent two-volume work, James demystifies the iconoclastic McKay by immersing him in the colorism, colonialism and capitalism of his native Jamaica. Because his upbringing is so intellectually, culturally and personally fierce, to be fully awake is a choice that would have been difficult for him not to make, even though many around him actively preferred the blissfulness of social slumber. A wide-eyed search for the perfect space leads to intellectual daydreams of a far-away land filled with hammers and sickles, items that would become the ideological tools of many, many 20th-century Caribbean, African and Black radicals. The origin story of a poet who, regardless of the racial and classist fires all around him on both sides of the Atlantic, refused to stay in an inglorious spot.