Dear Fellow White People: Go See “Black Panther”

Here are six reasons. Do it this weekend. Seriously, just go.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Marvel has finally picked up on the rumblings-turned-shouts-in-the-streets for better representation in their tentpole movies, and releases Black Panther this weekend.

Were you not entertained? OMG YES CHADWICK I WAS

I saw it. And fellow white people… you gotta see it too. Us, especially.

I’m addressing my fellow pasty brethren because already, some of us are shaming our damn ancestors (or, let’s be honest, making them proud) by posting racist, and eye-rollingly easy to debunk, crap on Twitter about showings of Panther. One subset of white folks wants to be “woke”; the other subset is whining about one movie that’s not about us. We can split into liberals and conservatives, or Republicans and Democrats, capitalists and social justice warriors. Whatever. I’m talking to all of us.

— It’s really, really entertaining.
And isn’t that, like, what a movie is supposed to be? Justice League wasn’t, and it made $226m gross. Suicide Squad was a huge snooze that made $325m. Panther is resonant, engrossing and gorgeous. It has War Rhinos, you guys. That alone is reason enough to drop twelve bucks.

— It exposes white people to the discomfort of not being at the center of a story, and we need that.
This reason goes out to all of us, both camps (but fellow liberals, I’m talking especially to you because we like to think we’re “beyond” this. We are not.). Here’s the thing: white identity is thought of by white folks as the norm, as “non-raced” (see Richard Dyer’s “The Matter of Whiteness”). We are the center of the wheel, and every other race is judged against whiteness. We don’t think about this element of whiteness; it’s part of American culture.

But of course, we do have a race. Whiteness has been carefully curated and preserved throughout American history. White identity has its own characteristics, its own values, and thinking of ourselves as aracial is, paradoxically, the essence of white identity.

When we are de-centered — when white women don’t get to speak for all feminists, for example, or when white folks are not allowed to derail conversations about racism on Twitter — we get super-butthurt. We freak out. We get defensive. We stop talking and start yelling.

IT’S ALL ABOUT MEEEEEEEE

This is because we haven’t examined our attachments to the idea that our worth as white people comes from our centeredness. When something doesn’t revolve around us, we feel it as a threat to our identity. Because whiteness = centeredness, decentralization = persecution. And obviously, that’s a false equivalency.

All of which is to say…

Go see Black Panther, because it’s a great way to get used to the discomfort of something not being about you, and being fine with that. There are white people in the movie, but the film isn’t about them. Now, it would be a different experience if every single movie shunted white folks off to the side, the way that literally all of moviedom has done since the dawn of time to everyone but white people. But that’s a different conversation.

Note: There have been plenty of movies, especially in the last ten years, which feature multiple black actors (The Help, Straight Outta Compton, Selma, Hidden Figures etc). But they all feature black folks who are fighting white oppression-- they’re black folks living in a white world. The world of Panther, however, is unapologetically, gloriously black. Wakandans don’t give a crap about what white folks are doing, and that’s what bothers some of us.

— It reminds us that black people are people, not a race.
I know white folks don’t like to admit this to ourselves, but we often, even without realizing it, seek to understand “other” races by looking at members of that race as representative of the whole.

So, in our quest to define other races against whiteness, we tend to see one black person as representing all black people. Or, more insidiously, we insist that all members of a race must be perfect in order for any member of that race to deserve compassion, attention or help.

For example, I’ve heard the argument more times than I can count that #BlackLivesMatter is nonsense because there’s black-on-black violence in Chicago. So…. some black people are killing each other, so all black people deserve to be killed by the police. K. Some black rappers talk about distrusting cops, so rampant racism among law enforcement is justified. Whatever.

[Interestingly, white men regularly kill students, church- and concertgoers with automatic and semiautomatic weaponry, but for SOME reason, no one ever proposes that all white people should be denied access to schools, churches, movie theaters or concerts, much less that none of us deserve safety, compassion or care. Or even maybe that we shouldn’t have access to military-grade guns. Huh.]

Black Panther, because all of the main characters are black, shows actual people who happen to be black, not A Black Person Representing Black People, as is almost always the case in films in which a person of color appears. Wakandans have flaws. Some of them are average-looking (sorry, Forest). Some of them are jaw-droppingly hot.

Ay gurl. Lemme lean atcha.

Each character is an individual, not a representative. This is not something white people are used to seeing — not because we consciously hate black people (most of us), but because white folks are taught to see people by their race first.

— Holy hell, the women.
Listen, friends. White people suck at letting strong white women be strong without being objectified, especially in film. This is because of the connection between beauty, commodification, and white supremacy that I would talk about right now but I’m getting tired.

The female characters in Panther are beautiful — stunningly so — but their looks are icing on the cakes of their accomplishments, power and intelligence. There isn’t a single woman in the entire movie who is just decorative, and in almost every movie I have ever seen, there’s at least one decorative white woman. Do you know how much fun it is, what a fucking relief it is, not to have to see that, once? Wonder Woman is strong, but there’s a BFD made about how beautiful she is too. OK OK WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE PRETTY. GOT IT. SHEESH. Panther has beautiful women, but none of them draw their worth from their beauty.

Are we here to look good, or kick ass? How bout you just stand there, and we’ll show you.

— Parkland.
Not gonna comment on gun control. Not gonna write about toxic masculinity, because I’m sick of talking about it.

But what I will say is this: whatsisname (not gonna give him Google hits) is an avowed white supremacist. That means this country is still struggling with racism (DUH). If you want to help heal the culture, vote in the language American society understands: money. Go spend your white money on a film featuring black people. Don’t sit around and cry with other white people about how you “just don’t understand.”

Yes, it’s awful, but paralysis isn’t going to help. We need to call our Congresspeople. We need to demonstrate. We need to talk to our racist uncles around the Thanksgiving table when they spout their nonsense.

But we also need to help move the cultural needle, and telling Hollywood that movies that aren’t about white people will not fail, because white people are no longer so fragile that we need everything to be about us, is a good, small step to take if your heart is hurting.

If you’re not ready to talk to your uncle or call your Congressperson, that’s fine. Instead, go see an awesome movie where women talk and fight and men struggle and cry. Don’t go see yet another story about yet another white guy “fixing” whatever he thinks is unjust in his world through the use of violence. Go see some black folks who are folks, not just black. Go see a movie that isn’t about you, but that is about you.

Because Black Panther isn’t just about black folks, of course. It’s about all of us: how we choose to relate to the world, how we understand power, what we do with our attachments. It’s about an interconnected world that’s getting more connected every day, whether white guys with guns like it or not.

— But the biggest reason to see Black Panther as a white person is:

It will make you feel things you have never felt before.

I promise. Go see it. You won’t be sorry.

Post Script: I’ve disabled responses to this story because they’re almost all from angry white people and it’s LITERALLY nothing original. If you’re white and mad at me and people like me, write your own article, do your own research, and see what people say to you, if it’s that important. Make a thing, instead of telling other people not to make things.

Or, go see a movie. I have a great suggestion for you….

Comedian, Minister of Urban Outreach at Urban Sanctuary, San Jose. Author of The Beauty Suit (Beacon Press, 2018) www.laurenjshields.com