One thing I enjoyed about Boots Riley’s film Sorry to Bother You was the portrayal of white vestment in black leadership. The film’s protagonist Cassius delineated the upward mobility the black sellout attains once detached from principle. Anticipating a revolution, whites decide to get in front it and offer Cassius a position of leadership where he is to follow the orders of his adversary and incite a black revolution. This dynamic illustrates the issues I have with the Black Panther film affect and what it represents.
Two years after its cinematic debut, I will be honest and say that I wish the black panther film never came out. It’s presence functions as a social form of reparations despite re-presenting a pervasive American myth-the white savior. In this instance, I prefer to surpass the obvious and superfluous presence the white CIA agent represents and speak directly of Stan Lee, the white man who authored what now functions as a staple in contemporary black culture. This dynamic elucidates what Riley depicts—white influence as ever-prominent in black uprising.
Thoughts of a white-lead black uprising, immediately takes my mind to John Brown, who, is a convenient point of reference in (too many) discussions on black revolution. This reference proclaims Brown as a white savior figure who “rescues” blacks from whites. Brown demonstrates the type of revolution that does not disrupt white comfort; this is why we know his name, this is why, a white supremacist world deemed him worth of a page in their story. Yes, he was hung, but he also hangs in history as the type of revolution that maintains the myth of whiteness as essential to black liberation.
Ralph Ellison also depicts the white orchestrator to black uprising in Invisible Man when a white man recruits his “safe” narrator to oscillate black agitation. Ryan Coogler’s film and adaptation of Lee’s comic similarly arrived at a time of contemporary contention
Trayvon Martin. Mike Brown. Tamir Rice. John Crawford III. Sandra Bland.
To the casual onlooker, the black world needed T’Challa and Killmonger. They were the band-aid white America sought to put over a bleeding black America. To actually invest in “curing” this contention would erase whiteness, but to present the representation of a cure as the cure is a victor for the adversarial forces who foment both the cause and effect. Thus, though technically only a supporting character in the film, Stan Lee seizes ontological authority of the black narrative with the film adaptation of his comic.
Why is it a white man’s imagination that becomes the cinematographic panacea for black contention? For the same reason that Toni Morrison cannot escape Faulker comparisons, why shows like Highway to Heaven, Little House on the Praire, and This is Us exist, why the most renowned scientists, lawyers, writers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, media experts are all white men or women, because America cannot and will not part with the idea that the white man is god.
The film presents a white man’s imagination as embodying hope for the black collective. Need I remind you that black presence and coerced labor in the Americas embodied a white man’s imagination as well.
As a product of white imagination, the black individual takes on a collective burden to humanize whites. Sam Smith’s Black Panther, therefore, not only superficially mollifies black agitation, but posits white seizure of black epistemological authority as “for the good of humanity.” The black collective experienced something similar with The Oprah Winfrey Show. African descended embodiment of the American dream, Winfrey epitomizes the condescending cadence of “Amazing Grace,” the grace being the hegemonic forces that frame themselves as sublime in Oprah’s “climb.” Ironically, though the show is named after her, Winfrey is hardly the subject. Just as Black Panther does with a predominantly black vast, The Oprah Winfrey show delineates white hegemony as consummated in white absence. Additionally, both illuminate a refusal of the white world to support or or promote what does not include them.
Thus, as Black Panther, The Oprah Winfrey Show, amidst countless other examples, illustrate what the white world acknoweldges as black success, exceptionalism, or progress, eludciates a dedication to continuously employ black people as objects, even in their “revolution.”
Nevertheless, “Wakanda forever” can and will manifest because of its failure to dethrone white male hegemony as global king, and that’s a forever I neither want to see or wish to take part in.
This forever, implies that all we as black people can ever hope for is to be cast in the white man’s black revolution. This, of course, is not a revolution at all but white supremacy diversified in praxis.