My Thoughts On Black Panther

My spoiler free reflection on the most important Superhero movie ever.

After seeing Black Panther for the first (but certainly not the last) time last night I was struck by how appropriate this film is for this moment in time. The black power fantasy of an African nation untouched by European colonization and therefore able to thrive as the most technologically advanced nation on our Earth is revolutionary based on its premise alone. But that is the story we comic book nerds have been reading for decades. It’s a powerful story in print but to see it played out on the big screen is like nothing I could have imagined.

In many ways Black Panther shares so much DNA with other Marvel Studios films. This is definitely the same world created in Iron Man and The Avengers. But in so many other ways this is something I have never witnessed before. Black people almost exclusively dominate every single minute of the screen and yet it’s a superhero story for everyone. People who love movies whether they are Black, Latino, Asian or other will have to concede that you can’t expect to go all year long without seeing one movie that is almost exclusively about white men saving the world. Black Panther foretells the day when people who love movies concede that you won’t be able to go a year, or 6 months, or one month without one movie dominated by a cast of color in any or all genres.

The movie itself hits the right beats for an action movie but it also grapples with the moral conundrum of responsibility for a nation versus responsibility to all of the world’s oppressed people. This is the first Marvel movie where I kind of agree with the bad guy. This movie raises complex questions about black revolution, isolationism, racism and human suffering but doesn’t ram any lessons down your throat. Overall the film knows where its responsibility lies so for those seeking deeper analyzation of what the implications of a place like Wakanda would mean in the real world the film starts the conversation but makes no attempt to finish it.

Without getting into spoilers I will say that Black Panther supersedes the hype train. Performances from Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyongo and especially Michael B. Jordan encapsulate a who’s who’s of the next generation of Black Hollywood. (Seriously the only people missing are Donald Glover, Tessa Thomposn and John Boyega). The director manages to convey the scope of the world of Wakanda and inch the Marvel Universe one step closer towards its next climax this summer. As one reviewer put it the movie manages to do what these superhero movies are supposed to do while also managing the burden of showcasing black excellence.  In some ways that’s the perfect metaphor for the black experience not just in America but globally.

If you stick around for the first post credit scene you’ll hear a message written loud and clear to confront the times we live in. Some may view this as a Disneyfied dumbing down of the Resistance. But in Trump’s America we have to take these messages and sow them into the imaginations of children. There is a vacuum at the top of the moral universe if only there was really a T’Challa to fill it.


Book Of The Month: Black Panther

What I notice immediately near the beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ iteration of Black Panther was that this wasn’t a hard reboot of the character. While this may be counterintuitive for non-comic book readers nowadays when Marvel starts with a number 1 issue we start with a story that’s pretty much already in progress. I had not read a Black Panther comic in about 10 years so I was pretty unfamiliar with where the character was in the context of the current Marvel Universe timeline.

Coates does a great job getting you up to speed. T’Challa is currently the King of Wakanda (there have been times in the continuum where he has abdicated the throne or otherwise been usurped either by a family member, friend, or foe) and his sister (who has ruled as Queen at some point) is currently in the spirit world. The head of his royal guard (an all-female elite fighting force known as the Dora Milaje) has gone rogue to free her lover who was about to be executed for treason. If you read any online critiques of comic books you’ll know that Marvel’s books have had more success with diversity than its Cinematic Universe. But the film universe’s introduction of Black Panther is probably the main reason this book exists right now. That the editors at Marvel had the idea to get respected Atlantic columnist Ta-Nehisi Coates to try his hand at the complicated mythology of Wakanda is a gift for the significant overlap in their two fan-bases. This is not to say that everyone who reads Coates grew up as a Black Panther fan. But if you are the type of person that follows a writer like Coates and a comic book fan there is a chance that you fall in that sector on the Venn Diagram.

Coates background as a poet serves him well in this endeavor. While expectations may be unreasonably high, Marvel fans are typically used to the interweaving story arcs in comic books. Coates here is threading the needle with three separate character arcs. We follow the rebel Dora Milaje lovers ( whose very existence is making a statement denouncing homophobia) as they free women and children from modern slavery, there is also the Panther’s sister Shuri as she continues her journey through and eventually out of the spirit world and of course there is the main event T’Challa himself as he stamps out the last seeds of rebellion and attempts to make amends to a citizenry that is understandably skeptical because of recent government sanctioned atrocities.

Over the first year and a half of Coates run we’ve seen the Black Panther universe expand to three books and then contract back to one. If you are looking for consistency stick with the main story told by Coates. In it he grapples with the concept of a benign monarchy and the unifying power of an external threat. He doesn’t have to go out of his way to weave political statements into the narrative as Black Panther’s very existence is a political statement. Hopefully the spotlight shined on T’Challa by this Friday’s major film release will see this book get the props it deserves.

Kevin Hart Probably Shouldn’t Be Married..But Neither Should Most Of You

Marriage is for you if you know that no matter what happens you’ll be the person your spouse needs you to be forever.

Kevin Hart is just the latest in a long string of celebrities that have been caught in compromised positions or otherwise had their extramarital dalliances exposed for the world to see. It seems the higher profile the celebrity the bigger and more salacious the story. There’s the messiness of T.I. and Tiny (They’re having another kid). The career re-defining incident between Beyonce and Jay-Z (which between Jay-Z, Beyonce, and Solange produced three albums) and most recently we have Kevin Hart.

Overall I’m not that invested in the gossipy aspects of this story but here it is just so you know what I’m talking about: Kevin Hart got married to his first wife Torrei before he blew up. He cheated on Torrei and got divorced. He then married Eniko whom he cheated on his first wife with. Eniko is currently pregnant. Now there is a sex tape with a Vegas stripper named Montia and someone tried to extort him for the ludicrous amount of 10 million dollars. The potential extorter obviously knows nothing about marriage as I don’t think there’s a wife in America who would be more upset about you cheating than they would be about losing 10 million dollars.

When trying to deconstruct Hart’s predicament we have to examine the institution of marriage and what it means to most of us. Marriage for people of a certain age is largely an aspiration. But most people don’t see it for what it truly is. Strip any pretext of romance from the idea and marriage is a financial agreement. (And of course I’m speaking of legitimate government recognized marriage not when two hipsters get tattoos on their ring finger and move into a studio apartment together.) You sign paperwork and your fates are tied together in a way that will bond your fortunes in this world for eternity. That’s the practical aspect.

Now for the emotional aspects. First and foremost we have this concept of romantic love. That became intertwined with marriage somehow, someway and now it’s supposedly the most important thing. If you don’t love someone then you probably won’t marry them. Built on top of that romantic love there is the familiarity. The establishing of a sort of order between you and your partner. What roles do you fulfill for each other? To paraphrase Jerry Maguire how does that person “complete you” and vice versa. This is the most complicated part of marriage. Because broadly speaking men and women do different things for each other. We have different instincts and different expectations. Everyone is unique of course and there are situations that require divergence with gender norms. What do women want from a man that they can’t get for themselves? They want someone to think of them for a change because they’ve been socialized to think of others sometimes to their detriment.

Most men start out aloof and not proactive when thinking of their partners. We will not inquire about your health, wealth and career prospects when we are just dating for instance (that usually comes later if at all). I’m speaking very generically here and I know you reading this will probably have a 1000 examples of where this is not true but when it comes to relationships one thing women do better than men is care. I’m not quantifying it. I’m not saying they care “more”. I’m qualifying it, I’m saying they care “better”. A man meets a woman and sees her for what she is and doesn’t consciously participate in making her better. Unless it’s for selfish reasons. A man will encourage you to do the things that make him happy and then afterwards will look at that and see “growth”. That is not to say that men don’t validate women’s emotional needs because we definitely do but that’s mostly up to the women if they tolerate anything less, then we’ll give less.

What do women get out of this arrangement? Well besides the obvious I would say they are hoping to get back a small fraction of the effort they put into it. A man’s ability to restrain his indulgences and modify his behavior in some way is usually part of the deal. If you like to drink a lot, she wants you to drink less. If you like to smoke a lot, she probably wants you to smoke less. If you spend money frivolously, she probably wants you to spend less. Think about the fact that at the point of marriage the man chose this woman to commit to (forever!!) so on some level he knows he needs to do these things and she believes that he can do it. Another thing women want from men is some semblance of ambition. And above all women want to be secure in the knowledge that they have a partner. If exclusivity is a condition of that partnership they want a man who will honor that.

When it comes to fidelity again this is where the situation is as simple or complicated as the people in the relationship. If both parties have agreed tacitly that the nature of their commitment is to be in exclusive monogamy usually that has been established well before the point of marriage. In that case a partner would have to refrain from any outside sexual relations or otherwise conceal them for the relationship to progress. (Although there is a sad “all men cheat” acceptance of infidelity that some women subscribe to in order to extend a privilege to men that no man would ever extend to a woman). When you get married you stand up in some sort of official ceremony whether it be just the two of you at City Hall or in a lavish ceremony surrounded by extended family and friends (or any sized group in between) and you promise to commit to the standards you have set for each other forever, no matter what. You promise that no matter what happens you will remain committed to each other and honor the conditions of your marriage for the rest of your lives….NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. But who knows what’s going to happen? All you know for certain is that some things will happen. Because even if you just sit there on the couch life continues to happen.

Celebrities are a different breed of course. They live in some of the most extreme conditions that human beings endeavor on. With both fame and wealth the preponderance of willing and able sexual partners increases. Yes they are still human beings and they still have the same basic needs of love and security that the rest of us have. But when the volume of temptations increases so does the opportunity to act on them. Whenever one of these famous men gets caught out here cheating I hear two different types of criticism. The first is the base moral judgement. Cheating is wrong, famous man A cheated therefore he’s wrong his wife should leave him and take a gazillion dollars a month in alimony. The second type of criticism is “damn you dumb how you get caught”. The people with the least to say about it though tend to be married people because we know two things. A younger version of yourself promised to do the right thing forever no matter what happens and also things that you can’t possibly account for happen.

Maybe Kevin Hart (or Jay-Z or T.I.) didn’t realize that traditional marital concepts such as fidelity weren’t necessarily compatible with their vision of success. But that’s highly unlikely. The way our culture treats women has to be reconciled for anyone on a career track that will make them wealthy. Women are objectified and treated as accoutrements to success. You get more money you get a bigger house, you get a nicer car, and you get “women”. In Kevin Hart’s case his success is the manifestation of everything he worked for. He feels entitled to these benefits. It is for this reason why his apology rings false. What Kevin Hart is sorry about is the public embarrassment. The cheating in and of itself isn’t the problem to him. He has female fans though. The majority of his films are solid date movies. Could he withstand the scorn of his female fanbase? I don’t know if enough of them subscribe to the “all men cheat” philosophy. I don’t know how many care that a comedian/actor treats his wife like trash.

When judging Kevin Hart though maybe we should check ourselves first. If you are unmarried try to imagine making the most intense commitment you’ll ever make with nothing to stop you from violating it but your own principles. If you are married try to imagine a world where beautiful women are aware that you’re rich and part of your job is being out in the world alone without your wife for weeks and sometimes months at a time. Marriage is for you if you know that no matter what happens you’ll be the person your spouse needs you to be forever.