By Barney Blakeney
I grew up in the 1960s reading comic books. My younger brother and I bought hundreds of them using the nickels and dimes we earned doing household chores.
My lil brother became quite the collector. I was drawn to the fantasy of superheroes. Despite that, all the superheroes I read about were white, I later realized I’d learned some profound concepts about good and evil/right and wrong from comic book heroes.
So when the Black Panther movie came out earlier this year, I was thrilled. The Black Panther was my first Black superhero. Cats are among my favorite animals anyway and here was this African guy who without the superhuman characteristics of most of the white superheroes, could do it all.
I’ve followed the film adaptations of most of the Marvel superhero characters – I’m a fan, not a fanatic. I’m mostly interested in the comparisons between the comic book characters and their film counterparts. Turned out the movie production of The Black Panther was much more than the film adaptation of another comic book hero. It became a cultural phenomenon. The movie became one of the highest grossing films of all time. Black folks flocked to the theaters in droves! That was a good thing, I thought at first. And then like many others, I started to scrutinize. That scrutiny has brought focus to many aspects of the Black Panther phenomenon.
Just after the film’s release I heard some enlightening conversation about it on the D.L Hugely radio program. I check out Hugely sometimes for the commentary. Same thing with Tom Joyner in the morning – news from a Black perspective.
This one afternoon Hugely made the comment that although the Black Panther movie offered a lot of positive images for Black people who so often were fed images of Africans who live in jungle huts and go around clothed in loincloths spearing lions at Tarzan’s behest, there was some irony in the fact that African Americans so desperately needed positive images, we so wholly embraced the fantasy of The Black Panther.
Today I was talking to a friend, a college professor, who offered another view of the Black Panther experience. He calls it ‘The Wakanda Season’, so named after the fantasy African country where the Black Panther is king. I think the movie is unmatched in its technical, cultural and philosophical glory, but the brother made a profound point in noting that the $1.3 billion Black folks spent seeing the movie could have gone a long way towards creating a real life ‘Wakanda’ for Black Americans.
That’s money which could have been invested in institutions that train Black people to sustain themselves and their communities, he said.
It’s a myth that Black people in America have no money, the brother continued. A Nielsen report, Black Dollars Matter: The Sales Impact of Black Consumers stated Black consumers are expected to spend over $1 trillion this year. The Nielsen report indicated Black consumers accounted for about 50 percent of the total $940 billion Americans paid for grains and vegetables.
Despite being the only university in South Carolina and the only HBCU in the nation that offers a Bachelor Degree in Nuclear Engineering, during a recent conference I heard one former South Carolina State University official say SCSU continues to struggle to fill new dormitories built only a few years ago when enrollment peaked.
College tuition is increasing as financial assistance to students is decreasing. With a focus on youth, we can’t go backwards, we only can go forwards, my friend said.
As so much hatred and violence seem to dominate the American psyche, can Black folks afford investments in fantasy? Some 100 years ago Marcus Garvey tried to engage Black folks in financial ventures that facilitated our economic well-being.
We spent $1.3 billion on a movie and $50 billion for cereal. But don’t send our kids to college. What does that tell us going forward?