Black Panther earns three Oscars. Since its inception Marvel Studios’ Black Panther has provoked and stoked a wide range of interest, and now that the blockbuster film is the recipient of three Oscars the film’s acclaim extends beyond the box office.
No, it didn’t get the top prize, but it was a barrier breaker as Ruth Carter was the first black woman to ever win in the Costume Design category; and another first for a black artist when Hannah Beachler took the trophy, which she shared with Set Decorator Jay Hart, in Production Design. Additional spice arrived when Ludwig Goransson earned an Oscar for the Best Score in a Motion Picture.
These awards and other nominations for Black Panther augurs well for populist cinema that is traditionally scorned when it comes to taking home the coveted awards, particularly an Oscar, which is Marvel’s first.
It’s a good bet the honors to Black Panther will not only boost the appreciation for populist cinema, it should also enhance the appeal of a number of products and projects such as Black Panther: A Paradigm Shift or Not? the forthcoming anthology at Third World Press, edited by Haki Madhubuti and Herb Boyd. “All of the celebration and awards for the film is nothing to thumb your nose at and we at Third World Press extend all our good wishes and hope we can do as well with our publication,” said Madhubuti, the press’s publisher and founder.
The anthology, which includes more than forty writers, film critics, scholars, and activists, has a timely appearance and should be able to reap some of the renewed media attention the film has sparked. Among the contributors are Nicole Mitchell Gantt, Jelani Cobb, Brent Staples, Abdul Alkalimat, Bobby Seale, Robyn Spencer, Diane Turner, Greg Tate, Maulana Karenga, Marita Golden, and Molefi Keta Asante, et al.
As may be discerned from the contributors the anthology is a compilation of mixed views and opinions―with both praise and a critique of the film. “The film has aroused a variety of conclusions, a wellspring of differences that we felt compelled to give them a forum,” said Boyd. “Like the film, the views expressed in the book are often very provocative.”
Gary Byrd turns 70 tomorrow. I thought this was as good an excuse as any to pull this out of my 2001 doctoral dissertation–an attempt to define Black (American) media ideology–to say an early “Happy Birthday.” Any mistakes are mine, and I welcome corrections from Byrd and all others. Happy Birthday, Brother Byrd!
A Byrd Flies In Buffalo
A major portion of the story of Black media can be told through the life and career of Gary Byrd. The radio veteran, who in the year 2000 was in his early 50s, is considered one of the links between the pioneer Black broadcasters and the current generation. Byrd’s 30-year career in broadcasting in New York City and Buffalo displays all facets of how Black media function.
Byrd began his radio career as a teenager in Buffalo, N.Y. Hearing Byrd’s powerful, charismatic speaking voice in a 1965 high school play, a part-time disk jockey for WUFO asked the fifteen-year-old if he had thought about a radio career. Byrd joined WUFO and, by the time he was 17, set his sights on WWRL. He was initially offered a job, but his grandmother made him turn it down until he finished high school. After a brief period at WYSL, located in upstate New York, Byrd joined WWRL in 1969 at the age of 19. His tenure there gave him the freedom to experiment that would allow the young disk jockey and poet to grow spiritually, intellectually and journalistically on the air.
“The Gary Byrd Experience”
In 1970, Byrd was given WWRL’s all-night spot. “It was late at night at the station … [the management said,] ‘Do what you can to keep the people up.’ They left me alone.” Being left alone to test ideas on the air during a time of experimentation in FM radio, the Black Power Movement and the Black Arts Movement, Byrd developed “The Gary Byrd Experience,” a blended and layered mix of music, interviews, radio news footage and his own Gil Scott-Heron-like poetry. (This format was similar to the one Del Shields used on his “Total Black Experience in Sound” show on WLIB-FM–a station that would, in 1972, be renamed WBLS-FM–but Byrd identifies his influences then as social comedian Dick Gregory and message-oriented soul music of the late 1960s. The program’s name is Byrd’s take on rock legend Jimi Hendrix’s band, “The Jimi Hendrix Experience.”) One of the poems Byrd created that he used on the air in the early 1970s was “Every Brother Ain’t a Brother,” his 1969 commentary on the social forces surrounding the Black Power movement. He said he wrote the poem because “at that time there were some interesting contradictions in the Black community.”
It‘stime for us to face the truth and level with each other It‘stime for us to face the fact that every brother ain‘ta brother. There are some who‘llsay to the world at large I’m no color. I’m just a man.” And some say to the folks uptown that Black Power is not their plan. But through it all we fool ourselves and fool one another By failing to face the simple fact that every brother ain’t a brother. Now there is a kind of brother who shoots a brother and thinks that makes him bad There‘sa kind of brother who says he’s Black because now it’s just a fad We‘re at the point in the world today for self-evaluation Just to find out where we really are in this racially tom-up nation And one of the first things we must do is stop kidding one another And get on the case of realism that every brother ain‘ta brother. Now I said that every brother ain’t a brother And I know you know that’s true. But look in the mirror carefully ‘Cause that brother might be you.
Byrd began to redefine the role of disc jockey, calling himself a “disc journalist.”
His use of issues and music brought him attention from a fan of his radio show, musician Stevie Wonder, who invited him to write the lyrics to two songs, “Village Ghetto Land” and “Black Man” on Wonder’s double-album classic “Songs In The Key of Life.” In addition, Byrd recorded his own albums of poetry. With Bob Law, who became WWRL’s program director in the 1970s, Byrd attempted to bring the concept of predominately white “progressive FM” format to AM radio, but in a way tailored specifically to the needs of New York’s Black community. In 1984, Byrd would make a career move that would expand his reach and influence, and ultimately find a sphere of thought that he could claim as his own and share with his audience.
A Byrd Takes Flight As A New Experience Begins
By 1984, three years after Law’s “Night Talk,” a nationally syndicated Black talk radio program, debuted on WWRL, new talkers were on the WLIB airwaves. Mark Riley became WLIB’s mid-morning host, after the morning newscast. Gary Byrd became the early-to-late afternoon host on the daytime AM radio station. “The Gary Byrd Experience” had evolved from Black music to Black talk, and Byrd began to mix music to set the mood for his interviews and discussions. WLIB had a broadcaster in Byrd who attempted to meld the spiritual (music) with the social-political (talk) aspects of the African-American experience.
‘The Gary Byrd Experience” on WLIB, in Byrd’s mind a radio magazine, established Black rituals of sound. Each of the opening segments had its own particular sound, blending jazz with gospel, with Byrd’s voice opening and closing the show over the music. Unlike Riley’s show, which was call-in talk interrupted by music cues, Byrd, with music, rhyme and tone, tried to create a cultural atmosphere with his predominately Black audience. His “question of the day” for the audience, the focus of the leading segment of his program, was a more philosophical one than poised on the more news-oriented Riley’s show. When I began listening to him in 1987, Byrd referred to himself a “New Age Griot,” the latter French term referring to a name given to male West African praise singers who sing the history of a particular person, family or community.
A New Name, A New “GBE,” A New Site
While living and working in New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s, Byrd, who read on his own about Africa, began to be exposed to African-centered scholars such as John Henrik Clarke and Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan (known as “Dr. Ben”), who often delivered public lectures to cultural Nationalist groups and others. Jochannan, an Egyptologist, taught that the ancient Egyptians who shaped human civilization were Black-skinned Africans. Byrd told Gil Noble during a 1999 WABC-TV “Like It Is” interview that he was prepared “to sit at Dr. Ben’s feet” when he heard a tape of a speech of Dr. Ben’s. In the mid-l980s, Byrd went to Egypt, where he was told by a priest to go to a certain place along the Nile River and perform a ritual to gain a spiritual experience. That ritual, he recalls, gave him the inspiration to give himself a name that “would give me something to aspire to every day of my life, a new place to step to.” He adopted the name Imhotep, the legendary Egyptian first multi-genius.
Byrd began using his new name publicly around 1990. It was shortly after he did a special week of programming from the Apollo Theatre honoring African-centered scholars such as Clarke and ben-Jochannan. As a result of the success of those broadcasts, Byrd was given the mid-morning slot, live from the Apollo. With this move in place, Byrd subsequently announced that his name was now Imhotep Gary Byrd and that he was re-christening his show the “Global Black Experience.” The broadcaster, dropping the “New Age” from his self-description, had now decided to become the African-American broadcast equivalent of an African griot–a living medium for African-Americans, with the mission to “make African people feel good about themselves, and to make the world feel good about African people.”
The “New GBE: Africentricity,” as he called it, was done on the Apollo stage, a center of Black American culture. Still essentially call-in talk radio, it was done with a live studio audience, who came in from the street to see the show. Guests were onstage talking with Byrd–wearing dreadlocks and dressed in flowing African robes–while the members of the studio audience lined up to ask questions or to win prizes in a Black history quiz question Byrd would ask on-air.
The show became politically and culturally stronger in tone-as strong to the Black Cultural Nationalist left as white mainstream talk show radio hosts Bob Grant and Rush Limbaugh of WABC-AM were to the white right in the 1980s and 1990s. The new “rituals of sound” were more African and less African-American. The “new” GBE began with a recorded call to “Speak, Drums! Tell the real story.” After the theme, Byrd would read aloud the Nguzo Saba–the seven principles of Kawaida theory developed by Black Cultural Nationalist Maulana Karenga and popularized by the Karenga-inspired African-American holiday, Kwanzaa–at the start of every show. These principles include calls to African unity, self-determination and purpose. Then Byrd would read the headlines from The Daily Challenge, the city’s only Black daily newspaper. On “Black Press Thursday,” the day most of the city’s weekly Black newspapers would be on the newsstands. He read headlines from all of the city’s Black press. Byrd took advantage of the use of a well-known stage and culturally-eager studio audience to honor people who had made significant contributions to African and African-American life.
The significance of the “New GBE,” from a cultural standpoint, cannot be overemphasized. Byrd, by 1990 a cultural hero of sorts and opinion leader in New York’s cultural Nationalist and activist communities, was now broadcasting an African-centered show from the Apollo Theatre, a legendary Harlem landmark on 125th Street–the same street used by many of the streetcorner orators, including Malcolm X. These ancestors now had descendants with new, more sophisticated stepladders and megaphones. The unedited voices of these “children” could now be heard around the nation’s No. 1 local media market–the New York tri-state area–in cars, homes, or on Walkmans while jogging. Black senior citizens and others who learned about Black history and culture from Byrd and his guests could now drop by to see them in person and ask questions. Teachers set up class field trips, as I helped to do in 1992 for journalism and broadcasting high school students attending the Seton Hall University Upward Bound program. “The New Negro Movement” of the 1930s had become a 1990s African-centered renaissance, live, on-air. The “New GBE” allowed Blacks to participate in a collective African-centered media experience, using the most powerful medium in Black communities, the radio.
Below is a .pdf of the actual page in The Crisis magazine that featured my Q+A interview with him, back in 2006. (No copyright infringement intended.) It was after he had just become mayor of Newark. And here’s what I wrote about the aftermath, which was part of this.
I don’t remember what year this was, but I do recall how kind the Barakas were. Long had I promised to take Saswat to meet the Barakas, so when his father came to visit from India, the time was more than right. Saswat’s dad is a major poet and activist, and was very happy to meet them. Lez Edmond never missed a good time, and knew Mr. Baraka for decades. So, stars properly aligned, we all got together and Saswat, the creator of this blog, pulled out his camcorder.
NEW BOOK DISCUSSES THE STRUGGLE OF BLACK WOMEN ACTIVISTS THRU THE LIFE OF JOURNALIST IDA B. WELLS
Ida B. Wells-Barnett is the historic link between Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist and Civil War hero, and Ethel Payne, the pioneering twentieth century Chicago Black journalist who took up the journalism role she had pioneered. She lived during the time of the birth of Jim Crow and died 24 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white man, spurring the mass-action wing of the Civil Rights Movement.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931) has gone from mid-twentieth century obscurity to a major twenty-first century subject in Women’s Studies and the history of Black American media.
But her life was much more complex than the one paragraph portrait written of her: Black journalist, anti-lynching crusader.
She was first and foremost a mother and wife. She was also a local Chicago community activist for decades. She was a devout Christian who believed deeply in the Black church and in Black schools, even when those institutions didn’t believe in her. She had no problem publicly criticizing Black ministers who failed to represent their flocks, and Black school systems when they failed the students in her charge. She would be fired and ostracized by many elements of the Black community for her stands. She was a major leader of several movements: the suffragist movement, the Black women’s club movement, as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. She was maneuvered out of power in many of the movements she led. It was especially despicable that, as the NAACP became more and more involved in anti-lynching, she was left out of its history, erased from the cause for which she risked her life!
By the time Wells-Barnett died, white women and Black northern men and women had the right to vote, the NAACP was on its way to becoming the most powerful civil rights organization of all time, and the Black press, thanks to the societal changes of the twentieth century, was about to become the most powerful nonreligious institution in Black communities.
This work is not a work of biography as much as it an ideological portrait from a Black feminist perspective. It’s a book that discusses the ideas and institutions around Ida B. Wells-Barnett as she spent her life in teaching, journalism, anti-lynching campaigns, and civil rights and political organizing. It discusses how she balanced white racism of both genders, and sexism from Black male leaders. It attempts to show how one Black woman created and maintained her selfhood amidst such challenges.
It is for Black women activists of the twenty-first century—those who are committed to showing that Black lives have always mattered most to them. It is for the young Black women who have spearheaded major protests and demonstrations during the presidencies of both Barack Obama, a Black Democrat, and Donald Trump, a white Republican.
This personal history tells us not only that there’s no easy road, but no reward for standing for the basics of civilization. It shows that victory does not equal celebration or credit. That when you use a sword to cut down injustice, the people who pass through the barriers you broke can have selective amnesia.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett demanded her own terms in life. She got them; she lived the life she wanted. But it was always a struggle, and the only reward was being able to express herself and live her own values in a deeply repressive time.
Table Of Contents
CHAPTER ONE—A POST-CIVIL WAR LIFE OF HOPE, DESTOYED BY PLAGUE; PARENTS AND AN ADOLESCENCE STOLEN
CHAPTER TWO—MISS IDA B. WELLS, THE SCHOOLTEACHER WHO FOUGHT ON A TRAIN
CHAPTER THREE—THE SHAPING OF BLACK AMERICA: IDA B. WELLS, THE BLACK PRESS AND FREE SPEECH IN POST-RECONSTRUCTION MEMPHIS
CHAPTER FOUR—KNOTTED ROPE: WELLS’ CAMPAIGNS AGAINST LYNCHING
CHAPTER FIVE—THE ‘PRINCESS OF THE PRESS’ BECOMES A FETED CLUBWOMAN
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.
***** 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.
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”?
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.