In the first blog about the movie Black Panther, I asked a few questions (10 to be exact 😂) that challenged the reading audience. The reading audience wasn’t challenged because the questions weren’t legit. The questions were pungent and straightforward, therefore, challenging the reading audience. Like eating a lemon or grapefruit, which are good, but take a little getting used to. The questions were candid and without wiggle room. I wanted the first blog to be thought-provoking to prepare the way for the second.
If you were to ask the average person if they thought entertainment was a neutral influence they would tell you yes. Most people do not actively think about the pervasive influence of entertainment. Most would rather think entertainment, “is just entertainment,” but let me pose a question: If entertainment was neutral in influence, would entertainment actually exist?
In order for something to be considered entertainment, “that something” must grab our attention. If it doesn’t grab our attention then it may be entertaining to someone else but not entertaining to us. There are tens of thousands of songs, movies, and television shows distributed across the world on a yearly basis, but only a handful of them actually grab your attention. Why is that? The answer is simple. It’s entertaining!
In order for something to be entertaining, it must first grab our attention. Meaning, it must have some form of cultural or experiential relevance. Maybe we’ve experienced it. Maybe the characters and the ideas are consistent with what we grew up seeing. Maybe it provokes inward desires, which we haven’t expressed outwardly. Whether it’s one, more, or all the above, the answer is still the same. If something is entertaining, that means there is something about that particular movie, song, or television show that influences us.
What was it about Black Panther that made it so entertaining, so influential? Was it simply the black characters? Was it the storyline? Was it the major budget? Was it the young, African-American director? It could be one, more, or all the above, but the result is Black Panther is influential, and then some.
As a form of entertainment, Black Panther could be summed up in three possible categories: a movie, a moment, or a movement. As a movie, it lived up to all the hype and expectations. Suspense, tension, loyalty, visual effects and great acting…just to name a few. As a movie it was a visual wonder. Everybody now wants to live in Wakanda! As a movie, it’s now in the annals of Hollywood history, garnering more than $400 million worldwide during it’s four-day opening weekend! Movies come and go, but something about Black Panther makes it more than a movie.
The second category where Black Panther could fall is a moment. A moment is a step beyond a movie. A moment is a movie that creates a conversation. A moment is a movie that parents take their children to see to talk about over dinner. A moment is a movie that garners tremendous social media buzz for several weeks. To some moviegoers, it was a little more than a movie, it was a moment. It was a moment for discussion, reflection, and even wonder. Was Black Panther a moment? Certainly.
The third and final category where Black Panther could fall is that of a movement. It is a movie, but much more. It is a moment, but much more. To be a movement, a particular form of media must grip the culture so exposed. It must grip the culture in such a way that returning to a prior standard is simply not an option. To be a movement a small percentage of people see the movie as the new standard, the new narrative, the new normal. These persons actively seek to shape culture by imitating the ideas and the ideals expressed in the movie. They talk about the movie. They adopt the language of the movie, and most importantly, the consciously or unconsciously act out the ideals of the movie.
A handful of movies told us how love, live and even how to die. They weren’t movies or moments. They were movements. Black people consciously or unconsciously acted out the ideals of such movies. Shaft, Do the Right Thing, Boyz in the Hood, Waiting to Exhale, School Daze, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, A Thin Line Between Love and Hate, Friday, and Love Jones are just a few of the movies that shaped black culture and black relevance. Black Panther should fall near, or at the top, in this category.
But the greatest question is, do we want this as the new norm? Do we want the ideas, ideals and perspective conveyed in Black Panther as the new normal for the African in America. No, I’m not necessarily talking about wearing traditional African garb, using cool handshakes or creating a social revolt. I’m talking about a new way of seeing the African. I’m talking about a way of seeing the African as a gem, a highly valued, highly intellectual, highly attractive constituent in society.
No culture is immune from the influence of entertainment. Whether it’s Nashville, Hollywood, Louisiana, Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta, the various media distributed from these cities affect every cultural group in America. The language, the dress, the rhythm and most importantly the ideals, are all expressions that have their root in entertainment, but have their fruit in culture. Entertainment is never neutral.
Culture is as the lump of clay we were given in kindergarten to make into a shape. Entertainment, in many ways, is as the hand that shapes the clay. Black Panther could possibly move from a movie, to a moment, and ultimately becoming a movement that shapes black culture in a way that esteems African value and rejects images of dysfunction.