By Donald Lyons
(AllHipHop Opinion) Hot damn what a Black History Month it’s been!!!
I personally think that “Black Panther” should have won Best Picture.
For those who think it was, “just a superhero movie”...you are dense and likely heartless, conditioned and uncultured. I’m kidding of course but I’ve encountered many folks in various discussions I’ve had over this past year since the film’s release who are inclined to be willfully obtuse and wholly dismissive of considering the context framing the argument for this film to be considered “Best Picture”. In my honest opinion, “Best Picture” should also consider if a film does something that’s never been done before and does it well. Consider this… Think of EVERY Black film that’s never been greenlit. Think of what those pitch meetings had to have sounded like. Think of the impossible benchmarks that had been set before the writers, producers and artists with a vision to make art that represented their demographic. Think also of them being told how impossible it would be to not only make that artistic vision but also that what they dreamed and passionately described just held no appeal or value. We certainly have an idea of what those encounters were like because there are generations of Black Directors, Black Actors/Actresses (aspiring and otherwise) that have chronicled the ongoing struggle of trying to get quality films made in their image. They have chronicled the myriad of obstacles presented in trying to find and create roles of dignity, substance, inclusion and diversity. These Black artists time and again have been dashed against the largely unmoved Academy. I remember the movie “Hollywood Shuffle” vividly and how it challenged many of the racist and stereotypical tropes that have been foisted on actors and actresses of color….Black or otherwise.
Somehow the Academy Awards manages to let down people of color year after year. Sadly, the ceremony is now old enough to say, “generation after generation”. The Academy of Arts and Sciences perpetuates and participates in what I can only describe as a stringent dedication to cultural callousness and wholesale propaganda. The film that took this year’s top prize; “The Green Book” is nothing more than another racist with a heart of gold feel good story. The grand selling point per the usual, tired Hollywood trope is that the events of the film take place yet again at a time where there was a stark, contentious racial and cultural divide where two souls from these different backgrounds grudgingly and awkwardly find a mutual and a generally implied transformative and lasting respect that transcends these social and racially charged lines of demarcation and defies the time they live in. What is disconcerting is that those times have largely gone nowhere and those old social mores are again rapidly descending upon these times. What is also ugly and further horrifying about that film is that we are discovering that it is a fabrication of events that serve to run roughshod over the family of the other principle character. Yes…another Black life summarily dismissed by fictive and unscrupulous men. What I need to know is how a supporting actor can upstage a film’s lead actor and the film still wins Best Picture? Given also what is coming to light concerning the conduct of the writers and producers of the Green Book I wonder how the Academy can afford to continue to support their decision to award that film top honors. That certainly is a different argument that needs addressing.
Why do I think “Black Panther” deserved to win Best Picture?
Well, given everything we’ve ever heard and every obstacle described by Artists of Color. There was just no way that a movie with a story like this would ever appeal to a mainstream audience. History, according to Hollywood, also dictates that a movie like this…that looks like this…sounds like this…with a cast like this has no chance of being made much less will attract moviegoers or make money. Ask yourself now what actually happened when this film got made? During the time it was reigning at the Box office it had made the most money for its assigned genre; maybe in history. If it didn’t it was damned sure close. The immediate takeaway is that a Black film with an All Black ensemble cast crossed the Billion dollar threshold. A critical thinker would think to him/herself, “…that’s a barrier broken… *THEY* said this couldn’t be done…”. That’s a case of art…previously marginalized by genre and by ethnic/racial composition, finding a way to the mainstream. A profit line that breaks the billion dollar mark just might mean the mainstream is seeking this content. The rejected stone is now the cornerstone… Paradigm shift.
Well…what about substance?
Some would argue that art inspires higher thinking, inspires interaction and dialogue, challenges conventions…etc... Black Panther made several social, political and cultural points that’s NEVER been made in this manner... That said, not many people are of the opinion that a superhero film can be substantive. Yeah…it’s a “superhero movie”, but imagine a superhero film positing the question, what would a free, uncolonized and unmolested Africa look like? How would its denizens behave? What are the perils of isolationism? The advantages? What about immigration? Ethical diplomacy? The sharing of ideals? The handling and disposition of scarce resources? In saying all of that, how many children saw,”Black Panther” and began to see themselves and their peers clearer? How many more children of color? How many began to ask their parents questions about the world and ethical behavior? Addressing my own vanity, I can’t tell you how happy it made me to see little boys and girls who look like I do BEAMING and so inspired to see themselves as heroes, warriors, scientists, futurists…royalty .
There are world renowned and respected scholars today that can’t get this level of traction with this wide of an audience over many of the social, ethical, and sociopolitical issues we face still in society at large. Perhaps this piece of art can be conducive to bridging that gap. Art has been described as a portal to scholarship, fellowship and understanding. In this respect, I say art is a mirror. What if all the role models you could ever know or learn from were restricted to words and/or images? We tell stories not only to entertain but to edify and inspire. Where would we be without, “The Iliad”, “Aesop’s Fables”, “The Brothers Grimm”, “Uncle Remus”… Hercules, Athena, Perseus, Anansi, Hiawatha… Superman, Wonder Woman… Why not T’Challa, Shuri, or Okoye? Many of our greatest modern inventions were dreams before they became reality. Why would we not dream of freedom, higher consciousness and ethics as they still evolve. One of the themes engaged in Black Panther is that technology should not trump ethical behavior or justice. Substance.
I can hear the counter arguments beginning to already form a line right here:
“...Money is usually NEVER the basis for a movie to win the Academy’s top prize…” Consider that a film like this was almost unheard of just outside of a decade ago. It’s an even longer shot when you insert the employ of a majority Black ensemble cast for a film of this magnitude and scope. Look what happens when our art and expression gets funded.
“…What about all the awards it did win? Isn’t it a milestone for Marvel?” I did consider all the other awards it won. I think those awards are well deserved but Hollywood ain’t slick. Hollywood wants folks to pipe down about the perceived Black Panther snub with that ready-made, primary pre-loaded retort. Well... So What???!? Should that disqualify it as “Best Picture”? It appears they and many other folks rushing to defend Hollywood’s honor justify their opinions with Black Panther winning more Oscars than any other superhero film in history...and that justification is flawed. How did this film make over a BILLION dollars? It can’t have just because of what it looked and sounded like. The history of the decision makers tells us that these players, this Black cast can’t get to be successful dressing in non-traditional garb while a driving, unconventional soundtrack invokes the heartbeat of both Africa and the frenetic stress of Black America.
If there was no substance at all it would not have inspired the apparent global resonance that it did. This movie was more than a mixtape married to a fashion show. This movie was defiant of the old guard’s conventions and flaunted them. This movie was a statement that we can no longer be ignored. Dollars are votes too. Those votes guarantee we’ll see this template expand…..and IT IS a template. Something new and unheard of. So Hollywood; are the clear majority of moviegoers stupid? The clear majority of moviegoers that saw the film let the world know that not only was Wakanda Forever but Wakanda is EVERYWHERE. Apparently, moviegoers liked it enough to send it over the billion-dollar mark. Maybe this was the real feel good story. Nah....The Academy just said the movie is pretty…the music is avant garde but it ain’t (expletive deleted). Essentially...Hollywood just called it an empty movie given all the awards it won and not Best Picture. This is why the Oscars got it wrong... They cannot embrace this *record breaking paradigm shift*....this *worldwide cultural phenomenon* of a film... The worldwide box office has spoken about a film that has transcended category and generations of misrepresentation. We celebrate this film because we too often have been asked to embrace our images depicted in the worst ways and as the lowliest of the hopeless and disgusting things. This film proves that representation matters and that art can assist in forging a vehicle of acceptance.
I’m inclined to partially amend my initial assertion. Somehow the Academy Awards manages to let down *all* the movie goers year after year…generation after generation. Of course, the “White Savior/white redemption” picture won! Maybe the more relevant question is why are we still watching? Why should we participate where we’re neglected? One thing has become more apparent to me over the course of writing this. We don’t need the Academy’s validation. The Academy represents nothing but Hollywood lying to themselves and to those of us who continue to watch. We no longer need to ask ourselves what choice Hollywood would make if faced with choosing between tired stereotypical tropes or new art and perspective forged in our image. They are not sold on the viability of a film that depicts strong, Black, self-sufficient characters.
They are not sold on Black characters philosophically challenging indoctrination and pursuing true justice. If given a choice Hollywood would rather take pride in a false, semi biographical, fantastical, and “feel good’ racist dreck The Academy of Arts and Sciences is indecent and I hope in some small way this writing is yet another reason for folks to begin to seriously consider withdrawing their support of this institution and tradition.
Take a minute and really consider this…the concept of a fictional Wakanda and a Black ensemble cast made more money and did much to move the needle of mainstream culture toward a balanced perception of the oft marginalized in a two hour span than some published scholarship by some of the best minds engaging the multitude of subjects addressed in the film.it may be a bold and somewhat hyperbolic statement but Black Panther challenges artistic stereotypes and bigotry simply by existing. Besides, we’ve seen movies like Green Book before. I saw the Academy’s brittle ass stiff arm coming...and I’m so surprised so many folks who look like me are dismissive of what the document actually means... You can’t claim our history and endless contributions as trendsetting, genre defining, life changing, etc....if your view is narrow and tuned to the status quo...