Ryan Coogler deserves a Nobel Peace Prize:






By Dr. Rhonda Sherrod

March 23, 2018

copyright 2018


Not long after White supremacists brutally dismantled Black people’s brilliant Reconstruction efforts, D.W. Griffiths’ movie, Birth of a Nation, considered a “technological masterpiece” during its time, aggressively sought to marry destructive “art” with the destructive “science” of the day to underscore the fake, vile notion that Black people were morally and intellectually “inferior.”  That horrific, but extremely well-received film, the first ever to be screened at the White House (during the Woodrow Wilson administration), stands as a testament to the power of “artistic” propaganda. 


Finally, someone has sought to tell profound truths that center the intellect, beauty, and self-governing ability of Black people in a manner that provides a pathway to healing from the effects of White supremacist thought.  Is it any wonder then that Black Panther has captivated the hearts and minds of Black people?  It was a seismic shift in the culture of movie-making.  In two hours, Ryan Coogler managed to capture many of the elements needed to smash falsified concepts about Black culture to smithereens. 




Forget the best director award.  Ryan Coogler deserves an NAACP Image Award and a Nobel Peace Prize for helping Black people find some peace in a theatre.  For once it was there, the serenity that eludes many of us as we seek to be entertained despite the presence of racist tropes we have to dismiss or overlook in order to enjoy a movie.  For as film analyst, Ed Guerrero, author of Representing Blackness, has written,  “…Blacks have been subordinated, marginalized, positioned, and devalued in every possible manner to glorify and relentlessly hold in place the … racial hierarchy of American society.” 


Finally, many of the attributes of Black men and women, that we readily recognize, are being celebrated in film.  Along with the complex issues the audience is left to ponder (including familial conflict, having the wherewithal to fight for exalted and prized values or displaying allegiance to country even when things have gone grotesquely astray, and isolationism vs. open relations) we see intelligent, complex Black people grappling with profound problems that have long vexed humankind.  The beauty and brilliance of the Black male—the same one this society tries to reduce to animalistic characteristics and treatment—was on full display.  The beauty, grace, and elegance of the Black woman—her brilliance and bravery, her loyalty and sense of fairness, her protective nature, her ability to think in dangerous situations, and her capacity to set it off when the situation warrants it—was also on display.  Satisfyingly, there was no need for a White savior to take the lead and save Black people.  



The Truth About Africa


Importantly, the Motherland was properly invoked.  Ryan’s honest portrayal of the grandeur of African countries—as represented by the fictional kingdom of Wakanda—was cause for jubilation after decades of being subjected to vicious depictions of Africa (and Africans) as “uncivilized” in television and film, when we have long understood that civilization itself began in Africa.  We know that Africa is unparalleled in its aesthetic beauty and natural resources, and that its riches have been pillaged and plundered for centuries.  Most of all, we know that Africans had a magnificent history of human achievement way before the colonizers came, and that high-intellect and creativity, as well as stunning craftmanship, abounded. 


The fascinating rituals that far too many Blacks have been made to feel ashamed of were powerfully rendered; and the colorful, vibrant clothing that we have been told is too “loud” was a refreshing counterpoint to the conforming European garments we are expected to wear.  The spiritual, rhythmic quality of the drums—drums that were outlawed in the American south because of the messages enslaved Black people ingenuously sent to one another—created a stunning aura.


And Ryan broached the divide—the enmity that racist rhetoric and images have introduced into the relationships between African Americans and other Black people throughout the diaspora.  Through his use of “vibranium,” he gets at the fact that, while Europeans were trying to make Blacks ashamed of their ancestral homeland, they were busy taking and exploiting African human and material resources to build whole economies.  Fittingly, the racist rants in the film came from a villain whose greed was more than obvious.




The sureness of Shuri was stunning and exciting to witness.  The joyful exuberance of her cerebral engagement with science, technology, and medicine was a thing of beauty.  It meant so much to Black people’s collective psyche to have the genius that we know our kids possess amplified.  Shuri is the embodiment of what we know our children to be, even as society has severely disadvantaged them.  It was life-giving to watch her deploy her immense cognitive resources to innovate and create, because far too many Black kids have to use theirs just to survive in disinvested neighborhoods.


The Power of Love


And love, like John Coltrane’s masterpiece, was presented as supreme.  T’Challa and Nakia’s bond is one between equals.  He is clearly besotted (“Don’t freeze”/ “Did he freeze?”) and doesn’t care who knows it.  As a team, they work well together.  They respect each other, and, once it is hashed out, T’Challa is open to Nakia pursuing her calling.  The relationship between brother and sister is loving, supportive, and frolicsome; and the resentment Killmonger displays toward T’Challa demonstrates the unalterable need for love.  Finally, the idea that one should love what’s best for the most people in a country is revolutionary.



The Significance of Black Panther


Black Panther signifies many issues that need to be deconstructed and understood in order to move forward in a healthy manner.  We have had Wakanda moments.  Remember the Black is Beautiful era that flowed out of the Black Arts Movement—the cultural companion to Black Power?   Did the masses of Black people really believe, deep down inside, that we are beautiful and capable?  Or did we believe Blackness was something to be celebrated until it could be transcended?  Our mindset going forward will be pivotal.  What do you believe?


In 1996, Guerrero wrote: “Once many plantations grew cotton; today, some grow movies.  But the imperatives remain pretty much the same.  As evidence of the incessant need to control black folks’ dreams, commercial cinema in the United States, from its inception in Thomas Edison’s 1890 “peepshows” to the mega budget entertainment packages of present-day Hollywood, has pretty consistently devalued the image of African Americans and other racial minorities by confining their representations within an ideological web of myths, stereotypes, and caricatures.”  Ryan took the movies off the plantation, and we have to decide if we want to come off of it, too.




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