Let me be honest. I’m riding the wave of excitement about Marvel’s new Black Panther movie. I can’t wait to go see it in theaters. But a recent NPR interview by friend and Jersey-native Tre Johnson got me thinking about the ways opportunities open up around these culturally phenomena (and the ways that exclusion of cultures has historically denied access to those opportunities). In other words, Black Panther means more to New Jersey’s economy than local business stimulus at and around movie theaters, it also means opportunities on mainstream platforms for talented writers and artists of color who rarely get their due.
Here’s one of those opportunities, an NPR-interview by the supremely-talented Tre Johnson, a Trenton-native:
In the interview, Tre Johnson highlights his excitement and the deep meaning for kids who rarely were able to see themselves in films. Isaac Bailey captures similar themes in a piece for CNN on black excellence from Obama to Black Panther:
That’s where we are, and that’s why seeing black excellence unapologetically take center stage again — if only for two hours and 15 minutes — on the big screen means so much.
It’s a let-your-hair-down and scream-at-the-screen if you want to moment. It’s like going home, one in which the media can’t keep distorting who you are or ignore you or decide your brand of excellence isn’t quite good enough.
Seeing extremely talented writers like Isaac Bailey and Tre Johnson do commentary on cultural issues close to their hearts is stunning to behold. That such commentary is enabled, in part, by a movie that embraces Black culture rather than excluding it, is even more so. But it also points the ways that cultural phenomenon create opportunities, and the way that historical exclusion of perspectives from those movies trickles down into historical exclusion in fields such as freelance writing.
A diverse culture is a better culture, and comes with opportunities for talented people from diverse backgrounds to share their gifts beyond their normal readers. Black Panther is far from the only opportunity for talented black writers, but it does open doors to talk about issues that rarely get mainstream attention and to highlight important work that rarely gets its due. In that way, it’s an important part of breaking down the economic segregation that stems from the deep ways our country’s culture and communities are segregated.
I’ll leave you yet another example of commentary reaching a wide audience on a mainstream platform that was encouraged, in part, by the prominence of Black Panther. This is from Tre Johnson in Rolling Stone:
As a child in school, I rarely reached for the black or brown Crayola crayons in my superhero coloring books; I have a lifetime’s worth of Halloweens where I weighed how often I could or should dress as the white superheroes. I couldn’t find ones that looked like me both outside of and underneath the mask. An entire generation of children will now know that a black superhero, society, imagination and power can exist right alongside Peter Parker, Steve Rogers and Bruce Wayne. An entire generation of children will not know what it feels like to not see themselves reflected back on costume racks, coloring books or movie screens. We’re at a pivotal time where these characters and stories are coming not out of permission or obligation, but necessity.