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:

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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. đŸ™‚

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. đŸ™‚

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! 

Some Brief Words About That Nikole Hannah-Jones/Ta-Nehisi Coates Announcement

This is significant because this move will now establish a national, 21st-century Black liberal journalism tradition. I just wanted to point out that this will not erase what award-winning journalism professor Allissa Richardson has written: that post-modern Black activism–symbolically represented now by Darnella Frazier--finds mainstream journalism irrelevant.

With the Black liberal J-wing on the way to being established, this allows a Black Left to do what it is doing now–to build itself as an alternative. In the olden days, the best Black newspapers held all views. Here’s a book on that.

And with Haiti in the news, here’s an example of the present and future:

And the below is an on-the-ground Haiti discussion from this morning’s ReMix!

Official Press Announcement Of My New Book, “Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comicbook Biography, From Stan Lee To Ta-Nehisi Coates”

#theblackpanther #blackpanther #WakandaForever #BlackPantherLive #Reginald Hudlin #WhatWakandaMeansToMe

THE BOOK WILL BE RELEASED THIS WEEK! I WILL UPDATE WHEN IT IS ON AMAZON! 

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FOR MORE THAN 20 YEARS, THE BLACK PANTHER WAS ONCE ONE OF THE MOST OBSCURE OF MARVEL’S CHARACTERS.
THEN, FOR THE FIRST TIME, HIS BLACK COMICBOOK WRITERS TOOK OVER.

Now, a new book tells the history from the perspective of its Black and white writers.

MARVEL’S BLACK PANTHER: A COMIC BOOK BIOGRAPHY, FROM STAN LEE TO TA-NEHISI COATES (Diasporic Africa Press) is a collection of chronological thoughts about the 52 years this character has existed.

The first, in-depth examination of the first Black superhero to appear in American mainstream comics, it is a group of chronological essays—a “biography” of a comicbook character—exploring what writer Todd Steven Burroughs thinks about how this Black/African hero character has been shaped: first by white liberal American men—Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Roy Thomas and Don McGregor—then by a Black American liberal man, Christopher J. Priest, and even later by American neo-Black-nationalists Reginald Hudlin and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

It is about race, mainstream superhero comics and the Black American imagination within the backdrop of American history and world history. It’s about the limitations of white liberalism and the power of Black-centered but white-controlled American popular culture; ultimately, it’s how 20th century white liberalism had to yield to the 21st century multicultural reality.

This book, a new addition to the growing scholarly literature on the growing literature on Black American comic books, shows how Black writers developed the version of The Black Panther now seen and beloved on movie screens throughout the world.

Excerpts from the book can be found here and here.

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BEFORE HIS BLACK WRITERS TOOK OVER, THE BLACK PANTHER HAD FADED FROM THE LEE-KIRBY BAD-ASS WHO HAD TRAPPED THE FANTASTIC FOUR IN MINUTES TO, FIRST, A SIDNEY POITIER HARLEM TEACHER AND, LATER, A GUY WHO TOOK FOUR PAGES TO FREE HIMSELF FROM A BEAR TRAP.

“Marvel’s Black Panther: A Comic Book Biography, From Stan Lee To Ta-Nehisi Coates” shows the character’s growth under Priest, Hudlin and Coates, writers who understood that The Black Panther was at least as cool as Batman. Both Priest and Hudlin turned The Black Panther, a character known primarily for leaping around, into a literal Dark Knight; Marvel finally had a character that imitated and matched Batman’s powerful aura.

Christopher Priest brought him back to his first, dangerous Lee-Kirby Fantastic Four 1966 appearance, and
Reginald Hudlin then followed up by bringing him out of the comicbook store into the larger 21st century Black popular-culture world.
Ta-Nehisi Coates put him in the complex world of 21st century African domestic politics.

By doing so, Marvel now had the Batman-like character it had long wanted, and Black comicbook readers, Afrofuturists and Black fantasy-lovers had essentially a brand-new, culturally-relevant version of an established Marvel superhero.

Thanks to Priest, Hudlin and Coates, one of Marvel’s greatest Hollywood blockbuster film superheroes in 2016, 2018 and beyond is an unapologetic Black Cat.

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The book answers the following questions:

• Which Black Panther writer created Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan?
• What is The Black Panther’s complex relationship with The Avengers?
• When was The Black Panther ever female? When was the Black Panther a half-Jewish New York City police officer?
• Who are the secret LGBT characters a Panther writer slipped into the 1970s comic book?
• How does Ta-Nehisi Coates’ first Panther storyarc thematically compare with his acclaimed full-length essay book, “Between The World and Me”?

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The book’s Foreword is written by Makani Themba, chief strategist at Higher Ground Change Strategies based in Jackson, Mississippi. A social justice innovator and pioneer in the field of change communications and narrative strategy, she has spent more than 20 years supporting organizations, coalitions and philanthropic institutions in developing high impact change initiatives.
The book’s Afterword is written by Greg Carr, Ph.D., J.D., chair of the Black Studies Department of Howard University.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS:

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

FOREWORD— Makani Themba, community activist/strategist, Higher Ground Change Strategies, Jackson, Mississippi

INTRODUCTION—Black Panther vs. White Panther

CHAPTER ONE— From Patrice Lumumba to Sidney Poitier: Early Fantastic Four and Avengers Appearances

CHAPTER TWO— The Jungle Book: Don McGregor Creates His Own Africa

CHAPTER THREE— The Finished Man: Don McGregor (Almost) Completes His ‘Panther Novel’

CHAPTER FOUR— The Return of the Kings: The Amazing and Wacky Adventures of Jack Kirby’s Panther

CHAPTER FIVE—The Client Was a Man of Remarkable Focus: A Panther and a Priest

CHAPTER SIX—The Spy King: How Christopher Priest’s Version of The Panther Forever Shook Up The Avengers

CHAPTER SEVEN—’Bad Mutha’: Reginald Hudlin’s Uncompromised Royal Black (Super-)Man and the Unbridled Black Imagination

CHAPTER EIGHT—Side-Swipes: The New York Ghost Cop and the Wakandan Princess As ‘Replacement’ Panthers

CHAPTER NINE—The (Black) Man Without Fear: That Time Panther Briefly Replaced Daredevil

CHAPTER TEN—Between the World and Him: Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Panther

CONCLUSION—Panther Slices Through Captain America: Civil War

AFTERWORD—Greg Carr, Chairperson, Africana Studies, Howard University

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Obama Embedded Journalist, Wokes :) (Or, How Trump’s Big White Lifesaver Pulled Him Out From Drowning In Kool-Aid)

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy.
Ta-Nehisi Coates.
One World Publishing.
367 pp. $28.

Why waste time knocking another writer’s immensely successful hustle when the target publicly decides to do it (somewhat) to himself? Ta-Nehisi Coates comes thisclose to admitting that he went a little bit Hollywood because Barack Obama’s 2018 campaign and presidency allowed the Howard University dropout to travel the Horatio Alger-Don King trail “from the unemployment office to the Oval Office.” One of his articles collected here, a select compilation of his Obama work for The Atlantic magazine, actually ends with his moving-on-up like George Jefferson and Weezie; that the scene ends a piece arguing that Malcolm X’s legacy lived in President Obama—the president who, in the beginning,  apologized to a white police officer who arrested Harvard Africana Studies professor Henry Louis Gates for breaking into his own house, and, at the end, refused to pardon Marcus Garvey—makes it, in retrospect,  even more puzzling and saddening. (Coates now admits his optimistic idea was “strained.” Really? You don’t say. :)) The honest-as-I-can-be new introductory essays are vitally important to understand the writer’s formulations as he was “swept away” by the Obamas while, not coincidentally, Michelle’s and Barack’s presence on the national stage “opened up” an elite white journalistic market to New Negroes who supposedly had new, innovative things to say. However, what makes this book and the superbly talented writer more than redeemable are its/his final two angry essays, “My President Was Black” and the epilogue, “The First White President.” Coates’ 2016 post-election night analysis of America contains immense socio-historical clarity. The pieces shake up the writer and the reader, allowing all to see the abandonment of Black America’s eight-year experiment with being adjective-less and to introduce in detail the insidious power of whiteness. (Taken together, the Trump-election duo pack a much better punch than his too-much-heralded 2015 single-essay work, “Between the World and Me.”) With The Donald now in charge whether people use his name or not, Coates’ years of literary sharecropping as forgotten as Friendster, and his white readers now fully understanding that they have never been, and are not now, innocent, the book’s end marks the beginning of a golden era of his writing.

 

 

My Reaction to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “My President Was Black” In January/February 2017 Issue Of The Atlantic

coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates does an outstanding job here as a post-Black Nationalist foil to President Obama, explaining the latter’s lifelong attempt to become Captain America.  He really does a good job undressing the first Black President as a Black man who, because he grew up in Hawaii and Indonesia and completely loved and trusted his white family, he had the attitude/worldview that allowed White America to, in turn, completely trust him with the keys. (Coates correctly points out that Obama was in younger days an activist, not a protester; that says a lot when you think about it.) In many ways, I think that this is Coates’ breakthrough article, because now he can stop being an embedded journalist to Black Star Power. So enough of this I’m-trying-to-figure-all-this-stuff-out-without-offending-you-good-white-intellectuals role he has played to his loving white audience. Clearly, he has enough power, savings and fame by now. 🙂 Under President Trump’s naked, White Nationalist oppression, I hope Coates, a very talented writer who has played the game well, will now directly say what he really feels about white Americans, and White America, to a white readership who, interestingly enough, now trusts him enough that they will be ready to hear him. (I hope the lesson that will not be learned from all this is that white trust is essential for Black success and power, but that ship has probably already sale-d.) Coates will hopefully now tell truths undiluted by “dreams” (his or anyone else’s), or “Dreamers,” his annoyingly euphemistic name for whites in “Between The World and Me,” his award-winning update of James Baldwin’s “The Fire Next Time.”  Well, that next time came about three weeks ago. It’s woke-ness for everybody. Time to share the pain. Time to stop dancing what my friend, the writer Ericka Blount Danois, calls “the soft shoe.” Or, as Baldwin himself says in “Blues For Mr. Charlie,” his play inspired by the lynching of Emmett Till:

Richard: You still determined to break your neck.

Juanita: Well, it’s a neck-breaking time. I wouldn’t like to appear to be above the battle.

 

My Response To Wei Tchou’s Nation Magazine-Sanctioned, Not-So-Subtle, Attack On Three Black Opinion Journalists at MTV

the-nation

My friend Angel V. Shannon showed me this and this. She gets my public thanks.

My cent-and-a-half:

1) The first thing to remember is that journalism is a TRADE. Anyone has done it, anyone can do it, and now everyone is now doing it. So there are no real “credentials” to being a journalist. Ta-Nehisi Coates is a Howard University drop-out. So, I may add, was Amiri Baraka, one of the greatest writers on Black culture that Black America produced in the 20th century. In his introduction to “The Price of The Ticket: Collected Essays,” James Baldwin talked about how he didn’t even bother going to The New York Amsterdam News because those Negro college boys would have laughed him out the office. Tchou, interestingly, ignores the two-generations-old pipeline that connected Ivy League grads to jobs like hers. (By the way, Farai Chideya is one of those people; Harvard to Newsweek by 25 by 1994.) I guess in Ivy League Land, The Harvard Crimson is “experience,” huh?

Journalism schools were created because the industry was too lazy to train anyone, but needed bodies. I have three journalism degrees, and what I’ve learned from them professionally (from the first two) I could teach in 40 hours or less. As an American journalism historian, I can tell you with some authority (ulp, there’s that word :)) that almost half of the greatest (white, male) journalists of three-quarters of the 20th century had NO degree, never less a “pedigree” (although, some, like George Plimpton and Tom Wolfe, did).

Journalism became a profession in the 20th century because of the MASSIVE need to fill space between advertising. Mass advertising had taken off because of the transfer of people from individual farms to collective cities. The mass audience/market had been born, and content was needed to draw eyeballs (later ears, then, with Tee Vee, the whole thing) to ADS. It was the same reason that

2) “Objectivity” was created. It was created after the Civil War. It was created after 100 years of American viewspapers. Why? For advertising purposes! Creating an “objective,” mainstream media allowed most people to be comfortable with buying the paper to read the advertisements. So both the newspapers owners and advertisers made a pile of money, ,and a WHOLE bunch of people got GREAT careers, travelling the nation and world for decades, with just a bachelor’s degree, decent typing skills and curisoity. They became “prestigious.” This is the real reason why “objectivity” was so cherished.

But what’s really happening here now, right?

3) The walls between mainstream journalism and opinion/literary/cultural/”alternative”/race journalism have been permanently destroyed by the Web 2.0.  The segregated world of the Black press, white press, LGBTQIA press, etc. is, now that we are well into the 21st century, getting both merged and, paradoxically, re-segregated. Dude at MTV wants his version of the old Village Voice, right? Well, the VV had both investigative reporting and identity politics writing. The Nation is crapping on the idea because it is representing all of the white male writers who now can’t get jobs–not because their jobs have been eaten by 2.0., but by these “unqualified” Black people. There ain’t enough room anymore for all of dem anymore (and their core audience is dying off): ergo, the old “unqualified” sting. It was different in the mass media era because there were enough jobs for everyone; not everyone wanted to be Norman Mailer or I.F. Stone when they could be the next Edward R. Murrow or David Halberstam. Whites had real choices, based on their priorities and proclivities. But now things that used to be done just in the “alternative” media have now become fulltime, prestigious jobs. Now, these elite white boys have to go teach English and #$%&–you know, the stuff we, as Black people, had to do all our lives, and still do (Rachel Kaadazi Ghansah, one of the greatest writers on Black American culture in the United States,  is a public schoolteacher; she’s not on welfare, begging The New York Times Magazine, where she contributes, to hire her.

I never forget that Albert Murray had to retire from TWO jobs (the U.S. Air Force and Tuskegee) before he was “discovered” in the late 1960s. It was the same time a 50-something historian and writer who worked, at various times, as a floor manager (read: janitor) for NBC and the operator of a sandwich stand, John Henrik Clarke, finally got a decent professor job at Hunter College.

So it was amusing to read this article, and to find out that Ana Marie Cox, for instance, is now “prestigious,” when I remember her as a 2004 blogger who supposedly upset the political journalism establishment! LOL! (Here’s the image from The New York Times Magazine cover, which showed her as The Next Big Thing. See, she’s white, so that means she can play a new game to get into the old game.) I remember her saying in that 2004 cover story that her goal was to be at MTV. How wonderful when white girls’ dreams come true! I’m sure Lena Dunham is proud! LOL!

In the end, then, this article is about how elite whites are pissed that they can’t get or keep anything for themselves without some “other” coming in and spoiling their frat party. So, no white boys: most of you will not be David Remnick, Thomas Friedman or the white male Gwen Ifill. Boo-hoo-hoo. And having an Asian female writer buffer your racism with an attempt as sophistication doesn’t take away this new truth.

A Belated CONGRATS To…….

Ta-Nehisi-Coates-092115-410x220

…….Ta-Nehisi Coates for his Genius Grant honor!

My hope is that like the Hulk, the angrier he gets, the stronger he gets! (And vice-versa!)

His victory has inspired my scribe crew! We’re all gonna hit it harder!

OCTOBER 14th UPDATE: And CONGRATS on being a finalist for the National Book Award!

Christopher James Priest Talks About His Time As The Writer Of Marvel’s “Black Panther”

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My favorite comicbook author not named Grant Morrison 🙂 talks about his run–my all-time favorite in the 49 years of the character’s existence. Priest’s run that made me a “Black Panther” fan! I no longer collect comics, but I will make an exception for this Priest BP collection!

(And I want to point out that what Priest says in Part One is what I say in my chapter of “Ages of the Avengers.”)

Ta-Nehisi Coates has his work cut out for him! But I’m sure he knows that!