A new comic-book movie opened last weekend, and no doubt the overwhelming majority of its popcorn-munching, record-setting audience enjoyed the loud, opulent, CGI-soaked spectacle, since they knew going in, as comic-book movie fans have known from time immemorial, what to expect.
But there was a small crew of viewers, and non-viewers, who were up in arms over the thing even before it opened — not because of any of its characteristics as a movie, but because the movie is Black Panther, which meant for them it couldn’t be just another superhero time-waster, but had to be another opportunity to talk about their own personal obsessions.
I am, of course, talking about our traditional subjects, the rightbloggers and right-wing columnists, who began by complaining about how black people who looked forward to Black Panther were doing so just to piss off Whitey — and then, when the film turned out to be a success, proceeded to explain how it was really all about Donald Trump and the conservative values he embodies, or some other tedious political shit.
There has been a lot of hype over the film — which, you probably know by now, follows T’Challa, the new king of the African nation Wakanda, who’s conflicted about what to do with the supertechnology his nation has been hiding from the world, and his struggle with nemesis Killmonger, a deranged ex-soldier who wants to use Wakanda’s technology to kill white people and liberate oppressed black folk globally. If you’ve seen the movie — or ever seen an American blockbuster movie, or even lived in America for more than fifteen minutes — you will know that the kill-Whitey guy is unsuccessful and that T’Challa finds a less-homicidal way to help his fellow POCs.
Just as it was perhaps inevitable that conservatives would get spitting mad whenever the Star Wars franchise implied that toleration and multiculturalism are desirable attributes for a society, or threaten to force themselves on all-female showings of Wonder Woman in some sort of battle for men’s rights, it was probably pre-ordained that a big-budget superhero movie full of black people was going to blow their minds.
Well before the film opened, it was attacked by Ben Shapiro, the editor of Daily Wire and recent beneficiary of a particularly fulsome New York Times blowjob lauding him as the “cool kid’s philosopher.” In this case, Shapiro showed his cool philosophy chops by tweeting “Wakanda does not exist” — a meaningful criticism if Black Panther were a documentary, but a perplexing reaction to a movie about people who wear indestructible armor made out of “vibranium.”
Shapiro elaborated in an excruciating video, in which he graciously acknowledged that the Civil Rights movement had restored black Americans to “what always should have been full civil rights in the United States” but then suggested black people were unappreciative of this fact, and in their ignorance believed “none of that has mattered up ’til they made a Marvel movie about a superhero who is black in a country filled with black people. That’s the change, right? Blade is not enough. Catwoman with Halle Berry, no. Wakanda is where it is. This is the most important moment in black American history.…”
Shapiro also informed viewers that Black Panther was actually invented by “two Jewish guys,” a theme that got picked up by other wing nuts. It was almost as if Shapiro was trying to demonstrate that Black Panther had nothing to do with black people — expect for the parts he didn’t like.
Shapiro went on to say he found the kind of “identity politics” the film represented to him “incredibly stupid.… I grew up as an Orthodox Jewish kid where no American president has been Jewish. And yet I grew up…worshipping the Founding Fathers,” despite the fact that they kept Orthodox Jews as slaves. Or was that someone else? Shapiro also was angry that even though Obama got to be president, “all we hear now is that America is deeply racist.” Later Shapiro promised an “honest review” of the film even though “it’s been forbidden by the media, there’s actually a law that you’re not allowed to give your opinion on Black Panther.…”
That’s the first three minutes of a twelve-minute video. I drifted in and out after that — have you ever heard Shapiro’s voice? It’s like a mosquito with a deviated septum — but the upshot was that excitement over Black Panther was stupid and “tribal,” and “sorry to break it to folks, but Wakanda is not a real place.…” In short, fiction is fake, just like racism.
Several writers at RedState offered their own precog criticism: “Cinematic Trump Derangement: Less Than 100% Support For ‘Black Panther’ Is Racism,” wrote Brad Slager. See, some liberals were complaining that right-wing trolls were trying to pull down the film’s Rotten Tomatoes score — something that right-wing trolls actually bragged about doing to the last Star Wars film, which sabotage Rotten Tomatoes said it was actively trying to avoid with Black Panther — but Slager (like other conservatives) didn’t buy it: “Whenever things arrive which are less than optimum,” he wrote, “the blame is justifiably placed on Trump’s America.” Next you’ll be telling him Russians faked American Twitter accounts to get Trump elected!
RedState’s Brandon Morse did a Shapiro-esque turn about how “the social justice warrior crowd…have to complain about the lack of representation of one group or another in a film” and declared himself above all that: “I belong to a whole host of groups, such as white, libertarian, male, Christian, tall, bearded, gamer, etc., etc.,” he wrote, apparently proudly; “I didn’t watch Barbershop to make sure bearded libertarian guys were represented.… If I don’t see one white character, bearded male, libertarian, or Christian in [Black Panther], it won’t move the enjoyment needle.” It’s nice Morse is such a chill spokesman for the WBMLC community, but we have to ask: How would he react if society refused to let his people marry their sex robots?
“Please don’t ruin ‘Black Panther’ for me,” pleaded their colleague Susan Wright; she wasn’t talking about spoilers but about “an activist group…using screenings of the movie for a voter registration drive.” Mind you, “I honestly don’t have a problem with organizations working in their communities,” claimed Wright, but “what I fear is that they’ll take what should be a fun, positive thing — such as this latest Marvel installment — and turn it hyper-partisan, and intensely political.” Call me insensitive, but I don’t see how the registration drive could actually affect Wright’s enjoyment of the film unless they followed her into the theater and obstructed her view with sample ballots.
Perhaps the best example of this preemptive Panther yak came from TownHall’s Derek Hunter, who, in the midst of a standard-issue these-kids-today-with-their-safe-spaces rant, wrote, “And then there are the liberals excited about the Black Panther movie. I love the Marvel movies, each has been very entertaining. But some people are too excited, stupid-excited.” This happens to be the same Derek Hunter who wrote back in December, “If I love a movie there is no limit to the number of times I can watch it. I’ve spent more time with Carrie Fisher than just about anyone not in a Star Wars movie…” That’s right — a Star Wars nerd was telling Black Panther fans they were getting too carried away.
The movie came out, got good reviews, and made tons of money, and while some conservatives responded by spreading fake stories about black people beating up white women at showings of the film, many of them decided they liked it — because, it turned out, Black Panther was conservative.
At Breitbart, John Nolte wrote “The Movie’s Hero Is Trump, the Villain Is Black Lives Matter… If T’Challa is Trump, Killmonger is Black Lives Matter. Did I just write that? Yes. I. Did.” One imagines Nolte leaping up from the keyboard, crying, “Boo-ya!” and high-fiving his Richard Spencer doll.
When people made fun of him, Nolte returned to triumphantly declare, “Hollywood Elite Triggered by Breitbart’s Positive ‘Black Panther’ Review.” “In fact,” insisted Nolte, “my review picked up on some of the nuances others were not crediting the film with,” and then offered this deep analysis:
By the end of the movie, T’Challa is even more like Trump inasmuch as he sees that his country of Wakanda cannot completely isolate itself from the world because he has a moral responsibility to help others.
Wait — “moral responsibility to help others”? Like Trump? Is this Bizarro World?* Nolte explained:
In this same way, to help others, Trump is also big on exporting America’s most helpful resources — oil, military might, and missile defense.
“Exporting…military might” presumably means “bombing Yemen.” There was a lot more like that — e.g., “If T’Challa were a left-wing Democrat — a Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton — he would oppose bringing people together” — but life is short. Let’s move on to some of the other Zhdanovites:
“I expect this point to be lost on many of its fans,” huffed Kyle Smith of National Review with the wounded integrity of Lisa Loopner declaring The Way We Were is a film, not a movie, “but Black Panther takes the side of sober, wise elites patiently enacting incremental change rather than of charismatic mob leaders fanning the flames of rage and revolution.” If black people don’t burn the motherfucker down, give this comic-book movie some credit.
There were some complaints. “ ‘Black Panther’ Is Boring as Heck Until the Villain Shows Up,” complained Aaron Gleason at the Federalist, who seems never to have considered what Batman would be like without the Joker. (Other highlights: “Killmonger has drunk deeply of Obama’s anti-colonial well and decided it’s time for vengeance upon the white world” and “I predict [Black Panther] will underperform by a shocking margin. Racism and alt-right activism will be blamed for this….”)
Some of the right-wing precogs returned to re-evaluate the film in light of the new realities. RedState’s Morse was pleased that, while “like any Hollywood movie, it’s the racist that’s the bad guy…astoundingly, the racist bad guy is black.” High-five! Morse was nonetheless disappointed that “sadly the movie never flat out denies that white people are bad.…” Never the rose without the thorn! Maybe they can tack on a clip of Ben Shapiro lecturing for distribution to the Deep South.
Speaking of Shapiro, he too returned to tell us which messages in the film were good and which were doubleplusungood. Among the good: “Race Isn’t an Obstacle to Success.” (“This is both true and a worthwhile message.”) Among the DPU: “The United States…is an awful place for black people” and “The U.S. Military Is Terrible.” When one of the Oakland kids in the last scene (guess I’m supposed to say “spoiler” here) talks about stripping T’Challa’s spaceship for parts, audiences laugh, but Shapiro raged: “It’s that attitude that has cursed Oakland in real life, not simple material privation. That’s why Democrats can throw trillions at the War on Poverty and end up achieving nearly nothing.”
Try to imagine going to a dopey superhero movie and, instead of having a good time, furiously scribbling this in your mental notepad. If these people weren’t destroying the country, I’d feel sorry for them.
* Nerds, please do not, even I know that’s a DC Comics thing.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 20, 2018