Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review: Is The Black Panther Movie A Destructive Or Productive Movie For Black Progress?

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Appreciating Black Panther Beyond
the 12 Myths of Black Liberation

Review Of Marvel's New Black Panther Film Part 1 - By Earl Hazell

"And like these other real-world cultural references, the spiritual allusions in the “Black Panther” film reflect a fictional approach to a real-life African cosmology. Cosmology is a way that one perceives, conceives and contemplates the universe; it is the lens, set of beliefs, and religious practices through which one understands reality.

Within most African religious worldviews, everything is a part of the spiritual world and so physical combat or clothing or body modification are all infused with sacred resonance. The “Black Panther” movie is rich in African cosmology."

Yolanda Pierce Reflects On African Cosmology And African Spirituality In The New ‘Black Panther’ Movie

"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.Pablo Picasso

One would imagine that any movie breaking the majority of world records involved in the measurement of its success would have been out for at least a season, even today.  And yet here we are, still in the first month of the history of Ryan Coogler’s monumental achievement that is the latest Marvel Comics, Black Panther.

The film has made Marvel and Disney's Billion Dollar Club within a Month's Time.

The joy associated with seeing the many impromptu kente festivals of Black/African folk proudly seeing this movie all over the world, from Botswana to the Bronx to Brazil, is as indescribable as it is unprecedented.  Hindsight being 20/20, however, we should have seen this coming.

You cannot lose with a cast half this good featuring:

~ established heavyweights like Oscar winner  Forrest Whitaker

~ Gao & NAACP Image Award winner Angela Bassett,

~ “phenoms” of unquestionable craftsmanship, and unshakable integrity like Oscar winner Lupita N’yongo,

~ and the Scorsese/deNiro-type dynamic duo Ryan Coogler & Michael B. Jordan

~  extraordinary international actors in more break-out roles like Danai Gurira and Daniel Kaluuya

~ and Hollywood’s recently established Leading Man Mr. Chadwick Boseman...

...The recipe for history-making success seemed already written well before the movie was actually produced.

The above partial list of those in front of the camera, in fact, only scratch the surface of the traveling international city of artists and professionals that was created for the sole benefit of seeing this vision of a movie to its fruition. From costume designer Ruth E. Carter  and fashion brand Ikire Jones, to Kendrick Lamar, to Tyler Perry, a virtual Black American/Pan-African/Afro-futurist artistic community was established to make this into the global phenomenon it has become.

Which kind of makes me wonder how anyone could have a problem with it.  And yet, not.

Someone, somewhere, has a problem with everything.  However, a movie this meaningful facilitates conversations that are deeply important for the Black community, even when (if not especially when) they are buzz-killingly inconvenient and uncomfortable.

Christopher Lebron of Boston Review was the first among several others I read whose criticism of Black Panther was both pointed and unapologetic: “Black Panther, the most recent entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, has been greeted with the breathless anticipation that its arrival will Change Things [sic]...Which makes it a real shame that Black Panther, a movie unique for its black star power and its many thoughtful portrayals of strong black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men.”

While the “shocking devaluation of black American men” argument creates an exhausting déjà vu for Black moviegoers of a certain age, Lebron’s critique is worthy of wrestling with precisely because it is far from unprecedented.  Just about every movie with Black characters, great or otherwise, made about us, for us, with us or by us, has had more than its share of criticism from members of our own community (to say nothing of the dominant culture).

And this particular critique, while not new, must be taken seriously in the Black man-hating age of Trump in which we now live. Lebron’s critique is therefore important.  It’s also wrong.

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Wow! Part Of Black Panthers Billion Dollar Success
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For my money, Christopher Lebron’s critique of Black Panther is built on the very persistent but shaky foundation of a set of false ideas regarding Black progress.  Underneath debates of white supremacy vs. Afrocentricity; Afrocentricity vs. Pan-Africanism; neoliberalism vs. identity politics; heteronormative patriarchy vs. LGBTQIA reality and the like is the disquietingly often resurfacing of what I call The 12 Myths of Black/African Liberation: the dysfunctional and contradictory protocols governing how Black progress must take place, and of what it must consist, in the minds of a sizeable chunk of our community.

The 12 Myths of
Black/African Liberation

1 - We as Black/African people of the global diaspora must all be in monolithic, unanimous agreement regarding what liberation is

2 - We must all liberate and be freed at the same time

3 - It must be something that has never happened before

4 - Eurocentric cultural paradigms (white supremacy, patriarchy, Puritanism, heteronormativity, rape culture, pedophilia, capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, militarism, neoliberalism, evangelicalism, etc.) must be completely destroyed (in white Christian apocalyptic fashion) before new Black ones can be fully conceived, let alone built

5 - It must feel exactly how liberation is believed to feel among the unliberated (i.e. some variation on the multiple orgasm theme)

6 - It cannot involve white people in any meaningful capacity

7 - It can only happen with white people in a multitude of most meaningful capacities

8 - No other people of color (e.g. Indians, Chinese, Inuit) can have a meaningful voice or role in its development or achievement

9 - Black heterosexual/”cishet” Men must exclusively lead us, in every capacity, regardless  

10 - Black heterosexual/”cishet” Men can never be allowed to lead us ever again, in any capacity, regardless

11 - It must occur at one of two rates of speed: a) so slowly that the snail's pace incrementalism all but preserves the status quo by keeping it pegged to inflation (literally and figuratively), or b) so quickly as to occur by virtue of all of us traveling through a Star Trek-like wormhole, making a light speed quantum leap through Star Wars-ian hyperspace into the New World overnight.  

12 - Art may provide commentary on the transformational process of the community en route to liberation, but artists cannot.  They cannot and will not be allowed to lead.

That last one, excluding artists from the political, socio-economic, cultural and psycho-spiritual leadership council of Black revolutionaries, is arguably the most important, because it is the most dangerous.  It is the most dangerous for one simple reason: every artist learns how well-meaning but absurd the other eleven myths are much faster than the rest of the general public, and can easily facilitate the dismantling of any undemocratic social structure built with them as an excuse.  

For example:

Regarding number one, no two artists can ever completely agree on anything, let alone two or more nations of their audiences or consumers.  Unanimity is a more ancient myth of its own.
Two: all artists, like fruit, vegetables, trees, animals, people and ocean life, mature at different times. Simultaneity is yet another myth of a more ancient time.

Three: new paradigms and art forms are usually developed while the old are at the height of their powers, maturing in secret and just not revealed until the old are in decline.  They don’t wait until the previous world is over to be born.  The idea that we must wait for white people to die in order for us to truly live is itself a self-referential symptom of white supremacy; one hiding in Christianity and (often through which)  aborting Black agency.

Four: we don’t have to be Christians during Holy Week to know that you can’t have a Sunday morning rising without a Good Friday; a scientific look at the excruciating experience of a caterpillar, turning into living soup in a cocoon before becoming a butterfly, is all the sign an artist has ever needed to know that neither transformation or liberation ever feels like how you want it to feel.

Five (from those who believe all white people ruin everything): for every ten Elvises, whose contributions to Black art forms are somewhere on the dubious to superfluous spectrum, there is a Bill Evans, whose fruitful relationship to Black genius furthered its growth and development in new directions.  

Six (from those still struggling with Stockholm syndrome who believe without white people we are nothing): and for every Bill Evans, there is a Monk, Bud Powell, McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Herbie Hancock that made even his contribution almost superfluous.  

Seven: Krishnamurti, Ravi Shankar, the Ainu of Japan, the ancient Taino of the Caribbean, the French cultural Intelligentsia supporting American Jazz throughout the 20th century; the Italian Maestri and German Intendants cultivating the careers of Black American opera singers…the meaningful voices of non-Black People of Color, along with common ground-achieving European whites, continue to be fertile soil of their own for the seeds of Black creativity throughout the centuries.
You get the point.  Artists live in the reality that the myths of Black/African liberation are African-American adolescent fantasies that the global Black diaspora is desperately waiting for us to outgrow.  It’s not our gifts or talents but this nugget of wisdom—born from the painful mènage a trois that is the depths of our unrequited love, the unforgiving dominatrix of our craft, and the on-again/off-again toxicity of our beloved community—that makes us professional artists in the first place.

In fact, artists are usually the first ones to see the deceit and bad theatre of our religious, business, political and self-appointed cultural leaders; long before even their enemies.  That’s what we all had to swim upstream against to become successful, however “success” is professionally (not personally) defined.  You don’t get more Ecclesiastical than even the most original Black artists; we’ve already lived our own Book of the Dead, and we know that there is nothing new under the sun.

 We also know that a person has to understand all of this before they can truly facilitate the kind of lasting transformational change our people truly need.  Nothing, therefore, is a greater threat to a fake leader, or a fake ideology, than a real artist.

Fascists (both authentic and unconscious), as a result, always look to get rid of us first; firstly through invalidation, secondly through exploitation, thirdly through liquidation.  The truth, however, is always clear: art is the true refiner’s fire, powering authentic liberation.  Why else would even our intellectuals be taught to disrespect it?

Stay Tuned for Part 2 Soon

About Earl Hazell:

Earl Wellington Hazell, Jr., native New Yorker, is a bass-baritone opera singer and jazz composer/arranger who, when not working with companies nationally and internationally, is the Executive Director of the production company Jazzoperetry [Jaz-OP-ruh-tree], Inc.  He lives with his wife, Dr. Alexis Davis Hazell in Tempe, AZ.   

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