Last week, Marvel released yet another one of their star-studded movies. This is no surprise as they have a history of doing so with great success. Spiderman, The Avengers, and X-Men are just a few successful big screen productions that Marvel Studios were directly responsible for. Marvel superhero movies tend to attract an immense amount of attention, annually breaking their own records and raking in huge revenue totals. Their newest movie, however, attracted attention for different reasons, starting new conversations and opening new doors within the action genre.
Likely in celebration of the 48th Black History Month, Marvel Studios opted to uncharacteristically release the movie Black Panther in February. This movie was seen as monumental within the black community as most felt it offered a certain representation that was never before seen in a movie. While there have been other more diverse superheroes, in this particular movie, most of the major roles were filled with people of color. Again, this was unheard of in a movie that was expected to get as much attention as Marvel cinematics generally do. It was released with an extreme amount of anticipation and, based on the returns, it did not disappoint. On March 24, it became the highest grossing superhero movie of all time, bringing in over $624 million at the domestic box office. This is a movie that is leaving its mark culturally and historically.
Earlier in my essay, I stated that the Black Panther movie offered a different representation for people of color on the big screen. This is not done in the original Black Panther comic book storyline. Ta- Nehisi Coates, a highly renowned writer, was responsible for the revision of this movie. The “third world country” Wakanda, located in Africa, is believed to be less advanced, unprofitable, and to an extent, weaker than the rest of the world. However, it is revealed that Wakanda is actually more advanced technologically than the rest of the world due to the rare resources it possesses. In this fictional universe, people of color possess the abilities and capabilities of a world power which isn’t a reality. They isolate themselves so that they are not poisoned by the rest of the world, even less so by “colonizers.” This depiction was a welcomed sight on the big screen.
Ta- Nehisi Coates is a renowned journalist, who is known for using his voice to shed light on his experiences as a black male in America. He is also well known for his second book Between the World and Me, which is essentially a letter to his son explaining the world around him, and its history with people of color. He explains to his son that the world is not safe for him and there is nothing he can do about it. He simply gives advice on how to maneuver through it, in order to put himself in a better position to be successful in life. This perspective is a grim one, but is a reality that people of color know all too well. Once again, Ta Nehisi Coates is voicing the black perspective for everyone to understand and listen. Too often, the struggles of people of color are belittled, overlooked, or dismissed altogether, and he refuses to let this happen. Coates forces the conversation about racial disparities to take place by triggering emotions such as sympathy and guilt from the reader. He hopes to have the reader understand the sadness and disappointment that comes with having to tell your child that the world is not built for you to succeed, and spark initiative within people who will make change a reality.
Last year, another movie unique to its genre was released. This movie, however, was not met with the same anticipation and high expectations. A horror movie, Get Out, introduced a new perspective, to say the least. The main character, Chris, is invited to meet the parents of his girlfriend, Rose, for a weekend. Initially, Chris recognizes that his skin color may be an issue and prompts his girlfriend to take it into account before allowing him to come. She dismisses his concerns, insinuating that his color will have no effect on the way the weekend plays out. Chris brushes off his doubts and agrees to go nonetheless. His doubts proved to be legitimate as the entire weekend he would feel ostracized due to the color of his skin and would even have his life threatened because of it.
Oscar-winning writer Jordan Peele told this horror story knowing that it would evoke a feeling that is all too familiar to people of color. He expressed (although slightly exaggerating) the fear that comes with being the only person in the room who looks like you. Peele uses this fear as his tool for connecting the audience to the actor. Throughout the movie, there is an increasingly awkward aura that surrounds and corners the character. The unfamiliarity he feels begins to couple with the fact that he is the only one who is not on the same page. Mentally, he is reduced to a lamb in a house filled with wolves. He can never truly feel safe or relaxed because he is clearly the outsider.
For a great portion of the movie, Chris is searching for something to put him at ease in an uncomfortable situation. On three separate occasions, he attempts to level with the only people of color he can find, as an escape from his girlfriend’s guests treating him like an exotic artifact or animal (Get Out 42:30- 44:00). In this particular situation, the audience is unaware that the guests are observing him and weighing his value. As the viewer follows Chris, they begin to understand how their comments may seem to have kind intentions but are patronizing or belittling. From the outside looking in, it is clear the guests’ comments are odd and a bit out of line. In the real world, this scenario is not an exaggerated turn of events. People are sometimes truthfully unaware when they are saying something offensive, especially in terms of race, gender, and other prevalent distinctions. By allowing those who may not usually be placed in this situation to experience it through the eyes of Chris, they can experience a scenario that showcases discomfort for minorities of all categories.
Everybody is afraid of something. Even the bravest of people shiver at the thought of hearing that they need to complete a certain task. Fears vary from public speaking to slaying a dragon. In any case, it is something everyone has experienced. Knowing this, Get Out and Between the World and Me both grab the hearts of those who choose to open their ears. Coates fears for his son’s future because of the world he lives in. There will be too many scenarios in which he won’t have control over what happens to him. In particular, Coates discusses how expendable the “black body” is in America. With Trayvon Martin as his example, he explains to Samori Coates that his “body” is not valued as it should be. He is an outcast and the world would not care if something happened to him. Nearly identical, Chris is the outcast on a much smaller scale. Due to the fact that his material value outweighed his capabilities in the eyes of those who surrounded him, he was almost forced to fold to the wishes of those around him.
This fear extends to the Black Panther universe as well. Wakanda is an isolationist country. They hide their rare and valuable resources (vibranium) from the world around them. They understand that in the event that other countries discover their secret, they will begin to weigh Wakanda’s material value as well. After being captured, Klaw, a secondary antagonist, begins to spread Wakanda’s secret (Black Panther 54:30- 56:45). He tells an American CIA agent about their massive hordes of vibranium and how it is used to power their nation. Since vibranium is the rarest, strongest, and most valuable resource in their world, Wakanda has used it to better their own nation. If other nations knew of this, that would only place more complications on their doorstep. Already, Klaw has shown that people would be willing to make weapons and further their own agendas with this material. Because of this, Wakanda has been forced into hiding, keeping them from acting out against injustices such as slavery. Their vibranium would hold more value to others than the country itself, making them expendable. Expendability is a common theme displayed in these three works as it is overall how some people of color feel they are looked at in the bigger picture, and this scares us. Therefore, Jordan Peele, Ta Nehisi Coates, and Ryan Coogler shower this feeling over the viewer in the hopes that they can realize not only how the world views people of color, but how we view the world.
These three depictions while moving towards similar goals, also take extremely different routes when it comes to getting their point across. Between the World and Me casts a large shadow of the world, showcasing that people of color are often insignificant when it comes to making a difference because we are not only too few in number but we lack power and capability. Get Out exemplifies the uneasiness of being colored in a world essentially run by white people. When you are surrounded by people who do not look like you, there is a lingering uncertainty that can make you uncomfortable in any setting. For example, towards the beginning of the movie, Chris and his girlfriend come into contact with a police officer after they hit a deer on the road (Get Out 12:20- 13:10). Even though Chris and Rose are the victims of a car accident, the police officer begins to antagonize Chris, going as far as to demand to see his license. As Chris begins to submit, Rose immediately grows more hostile, calling the officer out. Each character holds two different perceptions of the way things are, forcing them to react the way they do. Chris sees the world the way it is described in Between the World and Me. He understands that some things are unfair and out of his control, so to prevent the situation from escalating he concedes. Rose, however, does not. She realizes the discrimination taking place, and does not back down. She does not recognize any danger in becoming hostile with an armed officer, most likely due to her upbringing and perceptions of life around her. In response, the officer backs down. The audience is able to release a sigh of relief and almost smile as Chris was able to avoid tragic situations similar to those of Mike Brown or Philando Castile. Situations that have been a dark cloud hovering over our community stand as a constant reminder that life is not fair.
In contrast, Black Panther is a movie where people of color are the majority, controlling a growing, profitable nation. In the world of Wakanda, there is a feeling of confidence and motivation seeing that people who look like you are responsible for great innovations. As opposed to being hindered by the world around you, they created and developed their own. This movie doesn’t seek to depict the struggles that people of color have, rather it seeks to be motivational. Wakanda is a representation of what we can be capable of if we put our minds to it, no matter what life consistently tries to embed in our minds. Similar to how Superman represents the best parts of human nature, the Black Panther is supposed to do this as well, but from a more relatable standpoint.
These texts are extremely important to the current perception of Black America. The black perspective has not received an abundant amount of representation. Many movies where it was showcased, only glorify the negatives of the community. Black Panther and Get Out attempt to revise the lens in which we are viewed. No longer are we to be used to depict areas of low income; we can and will be used to depict characters worthy of being role models, and/ or relatable figures. In addition to revising the lens, great minds are now branching out and creating new ones.
In a country where African Americans represent less than 15% of the American population, but nonetheless, represent just under 40% of the prison population, it is a breath of fresh air to have them viewed in a much more respectable and understandable light. In both movies, the protagonists are relatable. We fear with them, we fight with them, but most importantly, we can understand them. This is the goal of both Jordan Peele and Ta Nehisi Coates, who both understand how black people have perceived whether it be professionally or socially. By providing a lens for the viewer to see through the eyes of a person of color, they are contributing to a world with less discrimination.
These three depictions of black culture are literally worlds apart. One is a nonfiction recalling, another is a realistic fiction horror story, and the last is a fictional fantasy. However, each of these three stories serve a common purpose. That purpose is to not only remedy but contextualize the black perspective. By putting our perspective on the forefront of everyone’s minds whether it be for two hours or two hundred pages, we hope to secure a future in which we are better understood and easier to relate to. In turn, the silent hatred that some may have for those who look different then they do, may finally evaporate. These pieces of art are more than just entertainment, they are a part of a movement, a movement to allow nothing less than equality.