For a few hours starting next weekend, black America will exhale, something it has not done since the Republican Party chose as its presidential nominee a man who rose to national political prominence on open bigotry and 58% of white voters made him President.
For a few hours, it will be a veritable black American holiday, a kind of revival in the middle of Black History Month and the second year of the Donald Trump era.
For a few hours, all shades of black people, African and African-American, will be able to see themselves become the center of the most influential image-making industry on the planet. Slavery and racism will be neither soft-pedaled nor portrayed as the totality of the black experience.
“Black Panther,” scheduled for wide release next Friday, could therefore not have been better timed. Had Marvel decided to launch this superhero franchise during the Obama era, it would have still resonated, but not like this.
The cast is full of all stars. The title character is played by Chadwick Boseman, who has portrayed the likes of Jackie Robinson, James Brown and Thurgood Marshall. Michael B. Jordan of “The Wire,” “Creed” and “Fantastic Four” stars as the movies primary antagonist. Academy Award winners Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o, Academy Award nominees Angela Bassett and Daniel Kaluuya, and the Emmy award-winning star of NBC’s critically-acclaimed “This is Us”, Sterling K. Brown, are prominently featured in “Black Panther.”
The title character has had an interesting evolution. He’s already a cultural crossover success. He was introduced in 2016 in Marvel’s well-received “Avengers: Civil War” in 2016, where he appeared alongside other superheroes, such as “Iron Man,” “Spiderman” and “Captain America.” But Black Twitter, and beyond, had been champing at the bit for him to not only leave the comic book pages and reach the silver screen, but to become the central focus of a film. And it’s happening at the perfect time.
When Barack Obama was in office, black America, as proud as it was to see black excellence in the White House, was still processing just what it meant to have the first black president show up during our lifetimes — and we are in some ways still processing.
It was hard to balance the pride of his accomplishments — helping steer the country away from a potential depression; securing health reform (something no president before him could accomplish) getting Osama bin Laden; and saving the domestic auto industry — with bleaker realities that included a stubborn inequality, a controversial drone war that may have caused as much harm as it prevented, and racial imbalances that barely budged.
Barack Obama is rightly praised and scrutinized. He’s human and was charged with making the best of the bad choices every president is faced with. He represented the best of us on the biggest stage and succeeded against enormous odds and did it with honor and class. To have him replaced by Donald Trump, a man who spent five years arguing that the nation’s first black president wasn’t fully American, was nearly as deflating as Obama’s election was inspiring.