Sumptuous scenes and luscious garments quietly screaming African strength and pride in every seam and fold worn by stoic warriors with powerful speeches is the Marvel Studios-Walt Disney production of “Black Panther.”
“With all the excitement around the ‘Black Panther’ film, we’d like to acknowledge the real Black Panthers,” said veteran Black Panther activist Sadiki Bro. Shep Olugbala, noting names such as Mumia Abu Jamal, Mutulu Shakur (Tupac’s father) and Jalil Muntaqim.
Dequi kioni-sadiki explained, “Hollywood already knows it will make tons of money from the marketing of the iconic-named ‘Black Panther’ movie. What isn’t as equally known is that 13 members of the real-life Black Panthers are serving indeterminately long prison sentences and repeated parole denials in federal and state prisons across this country as U.S.-held political prisoners from the 1960s and ’70s war on Black liberation.”
Kioni-sadiki, the chair of The Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, continued, “These real-life Black Panthers, like their fictionalized movie namesake, are committed to and struggled for Black self-determination against imperialism, colonialism and capitalism. These real-life Black Panthers also have pride in the glories of African history, identity and culture, serving and defending the Black nation with a legacy of free breakfast programs, health clinics, drug abuse treatment, food pantries, clothing drives, challenging of police terror and murder of unarmed Black people and other survival programs since co-opted by the government. Sadly, many of them have paid for protecting Black people with their lives, freedom and multiple generations of family separation. For these real-life Black Panthers, the struggle for Black/New African independence and self-determination is anything but a ‘feel-good’ moment of Hollywood fiction. Perhaps, we ought to be asking our real-life Black Panthers their thoughts on this movie, and the irony of a much-maligned, demonized, distorted and threatening to the status quo name and idea like the Black Panthers now being so very mainstream.”
There is most definitely a burgeoning excitement surrounding this already pre-ticket sale record-breaking movie featuring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Angela Bassett and Michael B. Jordan in the fictional African nation of Wakanda.
Reports state that there were at least 100 #BlackPantherChallenge campaigns to bring African-American youth to see the movie cost-free. Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018, Sen. Jesse Hamilton and his The Campus initiative partnered with Reel Works to take students from Brownsville’s PS 284 to a pre-screening at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Some of those students have already stated that they felt inspired seeing an all-Black cast and a fiercesome Black superhero. This accompanied by a palpable Black pride flowing throughout this city and beyond makes for fervent conversations on social media and vibrant dialogue in the real world and digital and print media. All hail journalists such as WPIX 11’s Ojinka Obiekwe, who wore beautiful Topefnr African print and velvet headties several times this week. While interviewing the cast on the red carpet at Tuesday’s Manhattan premiere, she asked, “Did I mention that it is Black Panther week? All week.”
There is a new energy vibrating. Observers are asking will all this trending pride with African warrior symbolism translate into action—education curriculum, political and cultural exchanges?
Sekou Odinga describes himself as a former political prisoner of war. He explained, “Although fictional, the new film ‘Black Panther’ is a reminder that there was in our recent history some real live heroes known as Black Panthers. Black men and women who were members of the Black Panther Party. Who took it upon themselves to feed our Black children before they went to school, who created free health clinics, who protected our elderly from those who would rob or mistreat them. Soldiers who fought to protect our Black community from abusive and murdering police across this nation. Many of those heroes now are political prisoners still being held captive after 25, 30, 40 and more years for fighting back. We Black and justice-loving people owe it to our political prisoners and to ourselves to work to free them and to make sure they are never forgotten. Free all our political prisoners and prisoners of war!”
“As people go to see this fictional movie on the big screen, we hope they will be inspired to learn about the real Black Panthers, many of whom are our political prisoners, who have been incarcerated for 40 years,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Charles Barron, who often describes himself as an elected revolutionary and still a Black Panther. He continued, “I hope they are inspired to join our struggle to fight for our liberation. As they enjoy the film, they can be encouraged to learn about Imam Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, Assata Shakur and Sundiata Acoli—and so many of our other political prisoners and prisoners of war behind the wall in America. They fought for us. For that some of them have been in prison for 40 years. We want them home.”
New Black Panther Party Youth Minister Divine Allah said, “As another display of the ‘carrot-on-a-stick’ or ‘worm-on-a-hook’ trick is presented to the [Black] masses, many who have a real-life connectedness to the backstory of fighting to defend and fighting to liberate, our people are left scratching their heads. I can recall a scene from the classic martial arts film, ‘Enter The Dragon,’ when a Black actor, yet real life martial artist, was confronted by another character and main villain in the film, who ironically fought with a clawed hand. In the onset of a fight scene between the two, the Black actor Jim Kelly fires off a verbal display of coolness before they engage in battle. With his self-styled sharpness he utters the words, ‘Man you come right out of a comic book!’ Although his character in the film would lose against this fight with his enemy Mr. Han, Jim Kelly went on to become one of the baddest Black martial artists in the world. Due to the inner workings of Hollywood and its treatment of Blacks, to a degree his legend is/was overshadowed by the likes of Bruce Lee and David Carradine. These individuals are imprinted upon the minds of a lot of people…Here we are in 2018 faced with a sprinkle of the same magic dust that leaves us only connected to the screened character and not the real-life thing. Yes, we had Wesley Snipes, but we also had Robert Townsend. Throughout their careers, both of these actors gave us a glimpse of how working in and around the industry could be utilized for Black empowerment. One was a comical sketch of the shuffling—Hollywood shuffle—that goes on in the industry, and another was a real-life walk, the great and mighty walk, with one of our ancestors, Dr. John Henrik Clarke. In my assessment, their goal was to present imagery and a true-to-life narrative for viewers to connect with, making it clear that in real life/real time we have the opportunity to connect with living examples of greatness.”
Saying that people have become “event junkies devoid of analysis,” Allah said, “The images have always been here. All one has to do is read, research and study beyond the want for an industry-backed and driven symbolic view of our collective greatness, our collective power, our collective strength and heroism. As we flock to the cinema over the next few days, hopefully we go in and come out looking to connect with real life Black Panthers. Hopefully we go beyond the screening of ‘greatness’ and work to embody and inspire greatness in our communities.”
Olugbala remarked, “As an advent reader of Marvel during my youth I can distinctly remember great feelings of Black pride when the Black Panther comic-book character debuted in a Fantastic Four issue during the summer of 1966. In the autumn of the same year while using the Lownes County Black Panther logo as the symbol for SNCC, Kwame Tore aka Stokley Carmichael gave his famous Black Power speech at U.C. Berkeley, which was then followed that October in Oakland when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale named their movement the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Then, as with today’s Marvel ‘Black Panther’ movie, there was and is a need for more positive and intelligent Black images, which cannot only help bring pride of self to our Black youth but which hopefully will inspire them to do as I did at the age of 19, when I joined the Black Liberation movement as a member of the Black Panther Party. Hopefully this film will also answer the call for its producers to give back a substantial amount of the profits to the Black community and to remind this nation that there are still real-life Black Panthers being held captive as U.S. political prisoners.”
Olugbala also said that fellow “veteran members of the original New York State Chapter of the Black Panther Party will be present along with comrades, friends, family and other concerned community activists at the ‘Black Panther Movie Red Carpet & Special Fans Opening Night’ at the AMC Empire Theater in Times Square…and at other selected NYCwide theaters throughout this upcoming holiday weekend to provide information on the real-life Black Panther exiles and U.S.-held Panther political prisoners who still, after over 50 years, collectively and unjustly remain behind bars long after the Black Panther comic book character was introduced by Marvel in 1966, which was the very same year that the Black Panther Party was born.”
As New Yorkers celebrate the 50th anniversary of the New York State Black Panther Party, Olugbala concluded, “We are also in complete unity with the petition and efforts which are demanding that Marvel Studio and Walt Disney righteously give back at least 25 percent of its well anticipated ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ in ‘Black Panther’ movie profits to help support the many needs of our Black and oppressed communities.”