“IN THE BEST of times, our days are numbered anyway,” famed British journalist Alistair Cooke once said. “So it would be a crime against nature for any generation to take the world crisis so solemnly that it put off enjoying those things for which we were designed in the first place: the opportunity to do good work, to enjoy friends, to fall in love, to hit a ball, and to bounce a baby.”
And, to see “Black Panther.”
For months, February has meant one thing and, no, I’m not talking about Black History Month. I’m talking about “Black Panther,” easily the most anticipated film of this still-nascent year. In theaters Feb. 16, the film is based on a Marvel comic book, and while that’s hardly rare these days, “Black Panther” arrives with a significant distinction: It is a movie made by, with, and about black people.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, who made “Fruitvale Station” and “Creed,” the film stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, a warrior who returns to the fictional African nation of Wakanda as the rightful heir to the throne after his father’s death. Other A-list stars include Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Forest Whitaker, and Sterling K. Brown.
Early rave reviews are already rolling in. According to Fandango’s online ticket service, advance sales for “Black Panther” are outpacing all other superhero movies. Over the Presidents’ Day weekend, the film is expected to garner between $100 million and $140 million.
Black filmgoers are ecstatic. So of course that’s not sitting right with some convinced that we’re getting too carried away with this glossy Hollywood confection.
Robin Givhan, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning fashion writer, wrote that “Black Panther” fans were “hyperventilating” and exhibiting “a significant amount of irrational exuberance over the soon-to-be-released” film.
From those who portray themselves as the wokest of the woke on social media, there are comments like this: “With the money Black People [are] about to spend to see Black Panther we could have really built Wakanda.” This assertion, the Twitter poster claimed, is meant as “a conversation starter.”
Fine. Let’s have that conversation.
No one need remind us of the challenges we face in this country, especially with an openly racist president who is a champion to white supremacists. For generations, we have spent our lives fighting for rights other Americans take for granted. That fight goes on, as it did every single day for our grandparents and their grandparents.
As they battled Jim Crow, they also created jazz and rock ’n’ roll. As they demanded laws to halt an epidemic of lynching, they also flocked to the movies of pioneering African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. #BlackLivesMatter coexisted with #OscarsSoWhite, just as the inspiring #WakandaForever comes from the same spirit of defiance as #TakeAKnee.
In fact, black people have always understood how to survive a rigged system hell-bent on crippling their existence. Black lives are never just sorrows and conflict. There’s also laughing and singing, creating and consuming culture and art, and enjoying ourselves — just like everyone else.
Or as the forever-timely James Baldwin said, “He who finds no way to rest cannot long survive the battle.”
So let us rest for a few hours. In these difficult times, we don’t just want to see “Black Panther.” We need to see it. Yes, it’s fantasy, but it’s also a celebration of black creativity, beauty, and excellence. And it’s about possibilities. That’s why Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer announced plans to buy out a “Black Panther” screening in a still-unnamed Mississippi community. She’s doing so, she said, “to ensure that all our brown children can see themselves as a superhero.”
Real or imagined, we all need superheroes whether they’re fashioning a new Black Renaissance, zipping onscreen like a comet to defeat a snarling villain, or thrusting a placard in the air to call this damaging administration exactly what it is.
All the naysayers can take a seat — preferably at a screening of “Black Panther.” With all this nation has stolen from black people, we won’t let anyone steal this joy.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham