Black Panther, White Denial
The parking lot was mostly empty for the 10:15am screening of the “Black Panther” Saturday morning as my son and I pulled into the theater in Pleasant Grove, Utah. We got in line at the concession stand because, yes, even at 10:15am I’m eating popcorn at a movie. The only black person in the entire building paid for his food, turned, and looked at me. There was the brief pause as we made eye contact. I gave a slight nod and he moved on to his seat. I was wearing my Black Lives Matter t-shirt.
I guess I learned it from my mother but I like to wear t-shirts that make people think. If I’m going to wear something why not take the opportunity to “advertise” what I believe in. I knew wearing my Black Lives Matter t-shirt to “Black Panther” was going to be one of those opportunities. My wife said to me as my son and I left for the theater, “Don’t go starting a riot.” I wasn’t too worried about that. At this point I’m use to the looks I get from most white folks when I wear my shirt. I take it as a point of pride because it means they had to look at it and, even for the briefest of moments, think.
“Black Panther” was, in a word, amazing but I couldn’t help think as I was watching it that there were going to be a lot of white people who were going to lose their minds over it. There was so much that made you think: the history that was layered into, the daft way our inherent biases were played with in the opening sequence in L.A. (even some of my black friends told me later that they too said to themselves, “Please don’t be drug dealers.”), the unforced monologues about white oppression, colonization and freedom, and the homage to the real Black Panthers at the end (I don’t want to give away any spoilers and so if you missed it then do your homework).
The credits ended (make sure to stay to the VERY end if you’re one of those, like me, who is sucked into the Marvel Universe) and the lights came on. As my son and I walked out a large white guy took a look at my Black Lives Matter t-shirt and stared me down as I passed him. Clearly the lesson from “Black Panthers” went right through him or he simply brushed them off as what you’d expect from a “black” movie and was something he simply had to tolerate.
We headed back to our car and I said to my son, “It’s a shame. Some of the very people who will watch ‘Black Panther’ would look at ‘The Uncomfortable Truth’ and say it is a bunch of lies.” I dropped my son off at home and drove 40 minutes to attend a three-hour workshop titled, “Racism and the Priesthood in the LDS Church”.