John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Art by L. Fury and Nate Powell.
New York: Abrams Comic Arts, in conjunction with Good Trouble Productions, 154 pp., $24.99.
The change of artist did nothing to hinder the entrance into John Lewis’ world: one of bloodshed, and courage and almost constant activity and sound. Kudos to co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist L. Fury, who took the baton well from Nate Powell. The award-winning March (examined by this reviewer here) is followed up with a new triology, completed in text just before the congressman’s death last year. In this first installment, Lewis slowly realizes that the attributes that propelled him to Movement leadership–Christian witness, closeness to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King (derisively called “Da Lawd” by some youth activists) and a belief in integrated work–has got him ousted from his beloved Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It’s a time of X marking new spots, of Watts and draft cards afire, of Black Power shouted, of Stokely Carmichael ascendant, of Black self-determination on Black terms, and Lewis is exhausted. To Be Continued in Book Two. After all these decades, it is sad to see Lewis still refer to Black nationalism as Black “separatism”–as if such nationalism was still some abberation–but at least he explained in detail here why some thought it justified. Wedded to American thoughts and ideals, the hero decides not to put on a new face but to find a new place and space.
(I’m about to finish this film for the second time as I type this, so I think I can say a few intelligent words.)
This masterpiece is fascinating because of the tension within the film itself. If expanded to the six hours it should have been, what could have been an amazing Season 3 of the Black Panther Party HBO series of my dreams is instead a compressed, truncated story that pushes against the false-equivalencies the format has set up. How can you do a Black Panther film and not talk in-depth about the Ten Point Platform and Program? Or show the naked brutality that led to the naked brutality on all three sides? (The third side is the violence within the Party.) The Judas and the Black Messiah cast is Oscar-bound: LaKeith Stanfield does not miss one Shakespearian note, complexity showing in every brow and movement. Dominique Fishback steals every scene from Daniel Kaluuya, top to bottom, beginning to end, her poetry and prose indistinguishable. The writers and the director are happily trapped in the web of intrigue and anguish caused by Panther informant William O’Neal, but that emphasis comes at the expense of knowing him–and the quasi-sympathetic white FBI agent!–better than Hampton because the filmgoers enter in the middle of the latter’s movie. Having the Panther leader recite his greatest speech-hits does not compensate for this in the way the filmmakers think, but it’s all they decide to do. What do the Panthers believe in again? How’d they come about? What’s their goal? Sad that the political-personal merging, the key to so many American film classics of almost a century, was not good enough here for some (commercial) reason. This spectacular has made this writer want to burn Mario Van Peebles Panther and toss Spike Lee’s almost-30-years-old Malcolm X into the closet of film history, but The Spook Who’s Sat By The Door’s and Reds‘ clearly-explained political analysis, the focal point of its dramatic core, continues to beckon in the Panther’s afterglow while this reviewer is left wondering what might have been and what still could be.
Jared A. Ball is harsh but correct here in this very strong, well-written, well-thought out article. He has said out loud what many in Africana Studies have only said privately. And I think all of us have to be more careful in the future about providing uncritical support, and public platforms, to people who just say some of the right things about our history while omitting things whites don’t like, or just do some of the things we want while ignoring other things. I know many people feel that the larger direction of providing operational unity is more important, but I think we all have to individually decide what the cost of that would be. We can’t teach just half our history. As I said in my critique of Manning Marable: We don’t owe him anything; instead, we owe Africana Studies.