Black Panther Movie: Another Black Face in a High Place

“There are colored people on screen!”

The desire to see a black face in a high place is a legacy of slavery and the century of Jim Crow segregation that followed. The psychological impact of America’s apartheid is enduring, and unlikely to end without true revolutionary change.

Black people are loath to do anything that might dim the luster that emanates when one of the group becomes rich, famous or successful in some realm that was hitherto off limits. Celebrities, athletes, CEOs and presidents are exempt from question or critique and are protected by millions of people who feel affirmation through their presence.

Anyone who grew up in the 1950s or 1960s can recall when the sight of a black person on television was cause for celebration. The words “There’s a colored person on television,” were like magic. It isn’t difficult to understand why this would be the case. Black people were either absent from mass media altogether or were demeaned and demonized on the rare occasions when their existence was acknowledged.

In light of this sad history it is not surprising that the recently released Black Panther film has been such a huge commercial success and emotional touchstone. But the story line is problematic for politically conscious people. Among other things, a CIA agent is depicted as being an ally to an African nation. That plot point alone is questionable.

But any attempt to dissect the plot, discuss its political implications or do anything other than sit in rapt awe is met with contempt and even anger. The Black Agenda Report team is accustomed to the epithet “hater” being applied to any analysis of the black and successful. This time a movie, not even a person, stands in for millions of people and their desire for validation.

The release of this film was anticipated for months. Audiences immediately raced to theaters to ensure they missed nothing before plot spoilers ruined their experience. Some dressed up like characters or wore Afrocentric clothing. The cry went out, “There are colored people on screen!”

This columnist experienced personal blowback from a group who had not even seen the film. After informing them that there was some controversy about it I was immediately met with anger. I was reminded that the black actors and designers and producers and directors and make-up artists were all experiencing great success. I was also informed that advanced African societies did exist. I had not said otherwise but now the fictional land of Wakanda represents Egypt and Zimbabwe and Meroe and Ethiopia and any questions surrounding the fictional nation are now said to reflect on the real ones.

At least one Black Agenda Report reader felt compelled to warn against “picking each other apart.” Others point out it is just a movie and ask why we are opposed to entertainment. Questioners are “hoteps” who are too woke to have fun.

There are even some who decry purchasing bootleg copies of the movie. Millions of people who purchase counterfeit movies now refuse to do so lest the Disney corporation lose a few dollars and stop putting black people on screen. No one should care about their bottom line but millions of people do now because there is a new black face on high.

There are always serious issues surrounding imagery in media. If nothing else, Black Panther exposes the truth of Hollywood’s product. This movie is just one of 18 that are based on Marvel comics characters. Black Panther defenders rightly point out that they have already paid to see characters like Iron Man, a defense contractor, or Captain America, a creation of the military industrial complex, or Thor, a deity who is white and blonde. Do the politically conscious eschew these movies altogether or are they only problematic when black people are included in the dubious politics of fantasy action movies?

The reaction to the Black Panther movie is understandable given the overall production quality of the film, and the attractiveness of the setting and the characters. But the lack of political education amongst ourselves is the bigger issue here. Without that the desire for justice and inclusion can be reduced to seeing people who look like us. We may ignore a problematic political message in a film or even worse support a president who destroyed the advanced African nation of Libya. That real life villain was a black face in a high place too.



  1. Wonderful post! The hype over this film has gone through the roof. It had some gorgeous scenery and the cast was top notch. And the actors brought their A game. But people were mesmerized by the lovely cinematography. If they were to really pay attention they would see the message of the film was pro- oppression and anti-freedom. But apparently acknowledging these facts is too much work. I have been attacked by some friends for calling out this film. I’ve been called a “fake Hotep”. Well I rather be that than a brain dead zombie in a dashiki. This film was clearly psychological warfare. God help us.

  2. This film was clearly psychological warfare.

    Indeed. Like MLK supplanted by a monument that looks nothing like him. The image above is meant to supplant the iconic image of the real black panther.

    1. esp in the minds of black folk. it is, as i say, cognitive subversion.

  3. Afrofem · · Reply

    nomad, thanks for sharing this. M. Kimberly is one of the few Black writers that fully describes the “elephant in the room”.

    Black people don’t need imaginary utopias, especially ones that are autocratic.

    Sometimes people forget that messages in all forms of media goes through careful thought and filters before they are released to the public. In other words, all of the words, sounds and images in media are intentional. They are designed to provoke a specific set of responses.

    Judging from the gushing responses to Black Panther from many in the Black community, this film hit the bullseye.

    1. good points
      **Sometimes people forget that messages in all forms of media goes through careful thought and filters before they are released to the public. In other words, all of the words, sounds and images in media are intentional. They are designed to provoke a specific set of responses.*
      very good indeed.
      The Black Panther. The superhero genre, along with Thor, Ironman, Spiderman. With this one there was the added element of race, specifically black identity. Why? Im a fan of the superhero genre, but skin color is not necessarily going to play a role in my identification with the superhero or my fandom. Of all the heroes from my comic book days black panther is the lease memorable. I vaguely remember him. He didnt impress me then and Im not really interested in seeing a movie about what would essentially be my least favorite comic book hero? Although I do enjoy movies about my second least favorite, Captain America. I probably wouldnt go to the theater to see ANY movie. But if Hollywood was going to make a major film about a black superhero that I would want to see, they should have done Spawn. But I guess they would not be able to gin up all the African hype.

  4. A couple of things this film wanted us to know.
    1. The CIA is your friend.
    2. Don’t try to unite with others in the African diaspora.
    3. Just accept your oppression as reality. Don’t resist unrighteousness.
    4. Work with other European nations and share your resources.
    5. Other blacks are your real enemy( tribal fighting scene)
    Nothing wrong with having pride in your people and culture. And I understand everyone wants to see a representation of themselves. This is why so many white woman loved Wonder Woman. I get it. But we as black adults should not let a racist corporation like Disney brainwashing our children like this. And I can’t believe I’ve even seen so-called “conscious” black people saying this is a great film. It’s great as far as the acting and the scenery. But I think our people are blinded by the fact they’re seeing so many black people in the film. It’s white ideology wrapped in African clothing. It’s like Adolf Hitler wearing a dashiki. So I definitely hear where you’re coming from MM. I understand your frustration. Nothing wrong with decoding a film. It’s what you do AFTER you decode it. We have to let other people understand the deception in these films. The images enter the subconscious mind and doesn’t know the difference between the real and unreal. The subconscious mind believes anything it sees whether it’s logical or not. That’s why they are NOT just films. It’s another form of mind control. And since many people don’t read books anymore ..films are their education. Which is a very scary thought! People like you and me can watch Black Panther,leave the theater and go to sleep. Other people were asleep when they watched the film and just went into a deeper coma. We have to do everything we can to change that.

    1. Yes. It goes back to that bit of cognitive subversion of the black identity identity thrust upon us in the 80s, renaming us “African American”. elevating the value of our african heritage over that of our history in America. the one half of our African American identity valued at the expense of the other. white society has always found Africans more socially acceptable than black Americans. it is no accident that the black American is the villain in this movie and the hero is African. In the psyche of the white American power structure, that concocted this movie, the black American is the villain. Lo and behold! Killmonger! Literally a super predator. These are the kind of monsters that haunt the nightmares of white folk.

      1. Exactly! Pure propaganda! And people just swallowed it all up! Such a sad sight to witness.

  5. Afrofem · · Reply

    @ Kushite Prince

    “A couple of things this film wanted us to know.

    The CIA is your friend.
    Don’t try to unite with others in the African diaspora.
    Just accept your oppression as reality. Don’t resist unrighteousness.
    Work with other European nations and share your resources.
    Other blacks are your real enemy( tribal fighting scene)”

    I like that list.

    As propaganda, number one alone is pretty terrifying. Especially considering the number of bloody coups they have orchestrated in Africa.

    Number three is pretty pervasive. The Powers That Be use that propaganda filter a lot. You ever notice how the future is depicted as a horrible place and time. The only recent film that depicts a hopeful, positive future (at the end) where people endured hardship and came out fighting to regain their rights is the Hunger Games.

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