The Politics of ‘Black Panther’ Are What Make It Great

Pop culture critic Evan Narcisse was recently recruited to write the Rise of the Black Panther comic for Marvel. Narcisse wrote his story without any inside knowledge of the Black Panther movie, the details of which were kept tightly under wraps. When he finally saw the film, he was blown away.

“I was surprised at how political the story was,” Narcisse says in Episode 302 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “How it embedded its meta-narrative of exploring one’s own blackness and black identity. That was basically the text of the movie.”

Jesse J. Holland, author of the novel Who Is the Black Panther?was also pleasantly surprised that the movie got so political. He notes that geopolitics is one thing that really sets Black Panther apart from other superheroes.

“T’Challa isn’t worrying about the rent, he’s worrying about whether Latveria is going to invade,” Holland says. “He’s talking to Namor and he’s talking to Victor Von Doom. You get to deal with these worldwide crises and issues that you’d have to force a Spider-Man into.”

Fantasy author Tananarive Due appreciates the way that Black Panther deals with issues like colonialism and black liberation, but felt that the inclusion of a heroic CIA agent was somewhat problematic, given the agency’s history. “There are some people who are highly, highly political—well-versed in history—who will get popped out of the bubble just on that basis,” she says. “So that’s the one thing I would change.”

Holland notes that there’s a tendency for comics to utilize black characters only to make statements about race and diversity, and he’d like to see more characters like Black Panther who have rich backstories and inner lives.

“The great thing about Panther is that his stories have been about more than just the race story that they want to tell at that moment,” he says. “You also get the stories of family, and royalty, and international politics.”

Listen to the complete interview with Evan Narcisse, Jesse J. Holland, and Tananarive Due in Episode 302 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Tananarive Due on erasure:

“Early science fiction films, obviously—made in the ’50s—pretty much excluded black characters, and if there were black characters, then you could sort of cringe at the kinds of roles that black actors would get in the ’40s and ’30s and whatnot, but in science fiction in particular, we just weren’t present—famously in the original Star Wars. Which has been remedied, but go back to 1977. There’s no malice intended in that, it’s just that was sort of the way things were done, and people have to go out of their way to find black talent, and it doesn’t occur to a lot of people—or it didn’t, until recently. So we’re not in the past—Westerns don’t show that the Old West was probably about 25 percent black—so we’re erased from the past in cinema, and we’re erased from the future, it doesn’t make you feel really good about your prospects.”

Jesse J. Holland on Wesley Snipes:

“I was actually having a conversation with someone earlier today about the desire for Wesley Snipes to do a Black Panther movie back in the ’80s, and we were talking about how cool it would have been to see the Panther back in the ’80s, but I mentioned that I was so happy they didn’t do it, because they wouldn’t have been able to put those same politics that we saw in this movie on screen in the ’80s. A Black Panther movie in the ’80s would have been completely different. … But when you have a director with the success of a Ryan Coogler, when you have a Chadwick Boseman and a Forest Whitaker in the same movie, they lend a gravitas where you can explore these issues in a way that you wouldn’t have been able to if you’d had a different director and a different cast in a different time.”

Evan Narcisse on comics writer Christopher Priest:

“He found himself essentially pigeonholed as a writer who would only get approached to write black characters. And he wasn’t interested in being pigeonholed, he wanted to step up and write the major characters—Captain America, Superman, Batman—and he has touched those characters, but he’s never been entrusted with a long run the same way that he was with Black Panther. So after a few years of butting his head against that horribly limiting preconception, he left writing comics for like 11 years, and only came back with a run on DC Comics’ Deathstroke, which he accepted in part because it’s not a black character. He gets to break out of that conceptual cage.”

Evan Narcisse on Killmonger:

“Wakanda doesn’t exist, but Killmonger manages to home in on a sense of rootlessness that is very resonant for people in the black diaspora all over the world. Even if you’re on the African continent, there’s no way you don’t know the way that interventionism has shaped your life, and that’s something that is almost universal, I think, for black people all over the world. It’s one of the ways that the movie works so well as a piece of superhero fiction, because superhero fiction operates on a larger-than-life scale, it’s aspirational, it shows you the best of humanity and the worst of humanity, the complexity of humanity. And the fact that Killmonger is a character that pulls you in these two polar opposite directions is a great way to execute what’s good about speculative fiction.”

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