10 Black AF things to watch/read/listen to before ‘Black Panther’ drops
You’ll soon hear much about Black comics, Black fantasy and afrofuturism, so you might as well get into these things now!
*A note from our Deputy Editor: The themes at Black Youth Project during the month of February are Black Joy and Black Love. It is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics, the connections thereof, and the things surrounding them*
By Law Ware
Marvel’s Black Panther is the unofficial, official movie of Black History Month, 2018.
Your Dashikis have been purchased and are at the tailor. Kenti cloths have been ordered and are in the mail. But have you done enough to prepare your mind for the film?
As a professor of philosophy and co-director of the center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University, few things irritate me like people showing up to class having not adequately prepared for the discussion. With a cultural event this big, you should also take time to ready yourself for the film intellectually.
You’ll soon hear much about Black comics, Black fantasy and afrofuturism (art, film, and other cultural products that contemplate the radical idea that Black people will be around in the future), so you might as well read, listen and watch these things now so that when the film comes out you’ll be ready to engage the conversations that will be happening about and around the film.
Don’t know where to start? No worries. I got you. Below are 10 things you should read, watch and listen to in order to sufficiently prepare for Marvel’s Black Panther.
- Octavia Butler
So much has already been said recently about afrofuturist author Octavia “tha Gawd” Butler that I will merely add: you need to read her work if you have not already. If you want short stories, “Blood Child” is a great place to start. If you want a novel, go with Parable of the Sower or Kindred. Either way, beg, borrow, or steal one of her books and get reading. (The author takes no responsibility for thefts of Butler books that occur as a result of reading the last sentence.)
- Truth: Red, White and Black
This little known Marvel limited series tells the story of Isaiah Bradley, the Black man on whom the US Government tested the Super Soldier Serum before they gave it to Steve Rogers and turned him into Captain America. Using the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” as inspiration, this series uses the medium of comics to wrestle with the vicious legacy of America’s racialized medical malpractice detailed in Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.
Funkadelic is arguably (it’s not really arguable—I’m just saying this to keep white folks from sending me death threats) the greatest American rock band of all time. One need only listen to the political resonance of the lyrics, the virtuosic musicianship and the sonic experimentation of albums like Maggot Brain and One Nation Under A Groove to understand why this is true. Further, the way they embraced an afrofuturistic sonic and visual aesthetic inspired generations of artists, the most recent being Childish Gambino with his Awaken, My Love. I’d start with Maggot Brain, but, really, there isn’t a bad place to start with this band.
- NK Jemisin
Jemisin is an exciting new voice in literature that brings a post-colonial, Black feminist approach to age-old fantasy tropes. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a good place to start, but her book The Fifth Season is my favorite to date. It won the Hugo Award in 2016 for Best Novel (she was the first Black writer to win in that category) and the sequel The Obelisk Gate won in the same category in 2017. She is required reading for anyone interested in fantastic afrofuturism.
This is an awe-inspiring comic, but I’ll let Son Of Baldwin tell you why it is important:
“The mainstream comic book industry is a white cisgender heterosexual non-disabled man’s game (and a game for those who share his politics and perspectives). Enter Catalyst Prime, an imprint of Lion Forge.They have comic books starring black people, women, queer people, and disabled people, written and drawn by people from those demographics, and the comic book that stands out most to me for its utter excellence is Noble.
“This book tells the story of astronaut David Powell, a black man who gains telekinetic powers after what we think is an accident, and Astrid Allen-Powell, a black woman who is a well-trained, highly-proficient, unbelievably skilled spy, assassin, martial artist and weapons handler (and married to David), trying to get to the bottom of how this Illuminati-like cabal messed with their lives. What makes Noble better than just about every other comic book on the stands is not just its dedication to authentic, three-dimensional portrayals of the lead characters, but the phenomenal work being put in by its creative team. Writer Brandon Thomas, artist Roger Robinson, colorist Juan Fernandez, and letterer Saida Temofonte work together with such visible, palpable synergy that every page is a work of absolute genius. Noble is an incredible tribute to black complexity, black dimension, black heroism, and black love. If you’re not buying it, you’re not dreaming; you’re just sleeping.”
- Sam Wilson’s run as Captain America
In 2015, Marvel did something I thought would never happen: they made Captain America a Black man and centered the story in questions of police brutality, Black authenticity and the complexity of being Black in America. Sam Wilson, Captain America’s best friend and the character Falcon in the current Marvel Cinematic Universe, took the reigns from Steve Rogers when Rogers grew too old to carry the mantle, and thus began a three year run of a Black man embodying what it means to be an American. The run recently ended, and the comic Falcon is the result, but for three years we had a Black Captain America in a relationship with an unapologetically Black Misty Knight, and it was glorious.
I love this movie, and I’m not alone. The Brooklyn Academy of Music selected this as a film to show during its February “Fight the Power: Black Superheroes on Film” series leading up to the release of Black Panther. Sleight takes seriously the question of what would happen if a superhero were to come out of a South Central, CA milieu. This was one of the most original superhero films of 2017, and I look forward to great things from writer/director J.D. Dillard.
Few things in Hip Hop embody afrofuturism like this simultaneously under appreciated and deeply beloved album from the men who put Atlanta Hip Hop on the map. From their comic style art to their bold embrace of an otherworldly sonic landscape for the tracks, this album solidified ‘Kast’s place in my heart, and remains my favorite album of theirs to date.
- Black Panther Comics
Of course, you should read as many Black Panther comics as possible. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ run as the comic writer has thrust the book into the national spotlight and wonderfully set the stage for the film, but if you’re new to the comic and looking for a point of entry, I would start with Vol. 1 of Christopher Knight’s tenure as the writer. It will introduce you to many of the important characters in the film and does outstanding job of world-building so that you don’t walk into the film cold.
- The Negro National Anthem
“Since time immemorial, Black America has been in the process of inscribing itself in the Book of Wakanda, and the Black National Anthem, ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing’ is a call for us to see ourselves as an empowered nation,” says Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical physicist and the Editor In Chief of The Offing.
“I see this film as following in the footsteps of ancestors who wanted us to imagine ourselves as worthy and whole. I also see Wakanda as an afrofuturist nod to the very real Haiti, the first true Republic in the western hemisphere. I highly recommend everyone grab a copy of The Black Jacobins, which I think will make you feel hype not just for Wakanda but also for the possibilities of our own version of the universe.”
The brilliant Imani Perry examines the history of this song in May We Forever Stand: A History of the Black National Anthem, and since it will probably be played before the film begins, you might as well learn that third verse now.
Law Ware. is a philosopher of race at his day job and a curator of dopeness when time allows. Bylines in The New York Times, Slate, Fusion, Dissent, The Root and others. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org