The policy I’m going to explore is affirmative action in the context of The Black Panther franchise. I haven’t tracked the through-line of this theme in the comic book series as I am not an avid reader, but I have done a little bit of research.
Ironically, the emergence of the character coincided with the Black Power Movement in the 1960s, originating in the guise of The Black Leopard. Some say this was to avoid negative associations with the Black Panthers—an (at the time) seemingly radicalized civil rights organization. They were demonized in the media as subversive and associated with acts of violence.
The Black Panther, reemerging in Hollywood with the 2018 release of the movie by the same name, was intended to flip the cart at all levels—story line, casting, production crew (including a black director) and intended audience.
To quote Jamil Smith in his Time Magazine cover story, “Black Panther isn’t just a movie. It’s an event, a milestone, a movement about what it means to be black in both America and Africa—and, more broadly, in the world.”
A reactionary quote from Rotten Tomatoes is telling, “Affirmative Action: The Movie,” said one. “No thanks. I have no interest in PC Politics,” according to another.
I think it is positive to be inclusive and perhaps have the storyline written larger, if only to promote acceptance. Depictions of blacks as heroic figures—operating at the very least on the same plane in majority (white) American society is transformative. It is, at some level, the comic book/movie equivalent of Obama’s “audacity of hope” narrative.
There is some irony in the final scene of the movie where T’Challa (The Black Panther’s Clark Kent persona) is met with skepticism when he offers to help leaders of the American military hierarchy from his base of operations in Sub-Saharan Africa. He and his emissaries maintain their guard, short of winking at each other—for the Wakandans are actually a technologically superior civilization that has preserved the peace by maintaining a cloaking field over their city-state. It’s a nod to racial bias.
There is a place for heroic archetypes representing minority populations. Geoffrey Canada might have been for “Waiting for Superman” in his generation. Now he has The Black Panther. I think there is a pattern where a lone superhero representing an oppressed group is introduced, demonstrates his or her chops, and thereby gains an invite to join the Avengers or Justice League.
There was fear that the movie would appeal only to black audiences, like the Madea movies. Instead, it resonated with the mainstream mass market, was a commercial and artistic success and won three Oscars.
Affirmative action is a major step on the road to acceptance. The only veil of ignorance that applies here is colorblindness.