Talking About Race in a Post- “Black Panther” Era

Dr. Frederick Gooding Jr. examines 9 “lies” about black heroes in Hollywood

Illustrator: Stevie Lacher

In the wake of “Black Panther’s” immense success, the U’s Office of Multicultural Student Engagement invited professor Dr. Frederick Gooding, Jr. to talk about a topic most avoid addressing—race. Dr. Gooding presented us with nine common myths about black people represented in Hollywood and evaluated whether “Black Panther” disproved them.

Coming from Arizona, Dr. Gooding indicated the feline pun in his title might have resulted from heatstroke. I decided to forgive it because the rest of his presentation was relevant. I personally was expecting something more serious until Dr. Gooding pulled out a lab coat and a pair of goggles and introduced himself as “The Race Doctor.”

Dr. Gooding said that upon scrutinizing movies and TV shows, he began noticing patterns, formulas Hollywood uses to write plots and characters that they know will keep us hooked. For example, the “Fast and Furious” saga has eight (eight!) movies in its sequence that are all basically the same thing. Hollywood doesn’t think we have high standards, so they’ve gotten lazy about their writing. An unfortunate result is that characters who are minorities end up having little depth or relatability, and fall into easy stereotypes.

“Black Panther” has recently destroyed stereotypes perpetuated by the media about people of color in protagonist roles. So, what exactly are the lies we’ve heard from Hollywood?

 

1: Black movies don’t make money.

This was easily shot down. “Black Panther” has made more money than “The Avengers,” and King T’challa can now claim the title of highest-grossing superhero ever. On the flipside, Dr. Gooding pointed out that the actors still don’t make nearly as much as their white counterparts despite being in other successful movies and performing exceptionally well.

 

2: Black heroes aren’t marketable.

This is also false. Lexus used the iconic car chase scene in a commercial to pander to their audience, and their audience is not exactly the average middle-class American.

 

3: Black movies can’t handle big budgets.

This one was disproved by “Black Panther” as well. As stated by our Race Doctor, the movie “Evan Almighty,” which cost about the same as “Black Panther” (and was as terrible as BP was good), flopped. The black movie did a better job handling its budget and delivering a movie audiences enjoyed, while challenging the average westerner’s notion that African nations are behind the rest of the world.

 

4: Black women can’t be strong.

How can anyone still believe this when Okoye’s character exists? Myth. Busted.

 

5: Black people can’t be villains, only thugs.

Dr. Gooding asked the audience to list characteristics that distinguish villains from thugs. We came up with a checklist: a tragic backstory, an evil plan, etc., and concluded that Killmonger is a certified villain.

 

6: Black heroes aren’t for everyone.

Sadly, this one isn’t a myth. An article published in Forbes called the movie’s success “terrifying.” When a magazine with such heavy influence puts out content disregarding the meaning behind the success of “Black Panther,” it’s clear that not everybody is seeing the big picture.

 

7: Blacks don’t have power over whites.

After decades of only seeing white characters in positions of power in movies, it was refreshing to see at least one scene in “Black Panther” where the roles were reversed. However, Dr. Gooding points out that no superhero movies have had a main black hero and white villain, and maybe we can’t call this one a lie until this happens.

 

8: We’re in a post-Panther utopian society.

It would’ve been nice if this movie had just solved institutionalized racism. Unfortunately, we still hear a story every week about another innocent black person being killed by the police, and we shouldn’t ignore that as we’re basking in the glory of “Black Panther.” While the movie’s success is a great step for representation, this country is still far from utopian.

 

9: Vibranium is fake.

Nope, “Black Panther” totally proved it’s real.

 

The takeaway of Dr. Gooding’s talk was that everyone should think critically about what they are watching and not be afraid to address race. We need to accept that Hollywood doesn’t treat people of color fairly on screen despite treating us the same at the ticket counter. What has been lacking in representation and equality over the past century definitely hasn’t been made up in a month by “Black Panther’s” success.