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The cultural phenomenon that this paper will be focused on is how different black movements have helped media and its ability to freely influence black movies and shows, along with black actors, actresses, directors, and producers. How different black movements, particularly the Black Panther Party, has helped to create a better society for black people in the media and entertainment industries. These previous and current movements that work to better black culture in general, and in the media and entertainment industry (Hollywood).
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The Black Panther Party was a political organization founded by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton in Oakland, California. The party was active in 1966 until 1982. The Black Panther Party’s core practice was to patrol and monitor the behaviour of Oakland Police Department Officers, and challenge the acts of police brutality in the city, while their purpose was to patrol the African American neighbourhoods and protect the residents from police brutality. The Black Panther Party later collapsed from internal tensions, deadly shootouts, and FBI counterintelligence activities that were aimed to weaken the Party in 1982.
The Black Panther Party entered national spotlight in May 1967 when Seale and a small support group marched, armed, to the California State Legislature in Sacramento, California. The Panthers marched as a protest against the Mulford Act. The group viewed the legislation as a political maneuver to overthrow the party’s effort to stop police brutality in Oakland communities. The Black Panther Party grew from an Oakland organization to an international organization with forty-eight states in North America with a Black Panther chapter. The Black Panther Party has impacted many people throughout their journey. The Party launched thirty-five survival programs and provided community help, such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program that has spread to major cities in America with a Black Panther chapter. The FBI called the group a communist party and an enemy of the United States. During the mid 1970s to 1980, Black Panther Party activities halted, and the termination of the party’s leadership led to the downfall of the organization.
Along with the impact the Black Panther Party has made through its journey, it has also left behind a legacy. The Black Panther Party’s influence assumed a transnational character going beyond the creation of the party’s support groups. In 1990, a former Black Panther Party member formed the Black Panther Militia in response to the neglection of his community by local business leaders/politicians. This inspired other chapters and the group became the New Black Panther Party, which was under the leadership of Aaron Michaels, a community activist. In 1998, Khallid Abdul Muhammad took the role as leader when he led a group of New Black Panther Party members to Jasper, Texas. Muhammad led them after the murder of James Byrd, a forty-nine-year-old African American. The Southern Poverty Law Center stressed the differences between the original Black Panther Party and the New Black Panther Party and labelled the New Black Panther Party a “racist and anti-sematic hate group”.
The Black Lives Matter movement started when George Zimmerman killed an unarmed African American teenager, Trayvon Martin in 2013. The Black Lives Matter movement is founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. It is a movement against police brutality, similar to the Black Panther Party in 1966. Black Lives Matter uses methods like strikes and protests to defend their own people, and speak out about police brutality, specifically to African Americans. Their goals are to bring justice against police brutality, and to end police brutality. They also move to end systematic racism toward African Americans, and to stop racial inequality in the United States Criminal Justice System. #BlackLivesMatter has been trending on Twitter since the acquittal of Zimmerman in 2013, and has been used about thirty-million times, with an average of 17,003 times daily.
Campaign Zero is a Black Lives Matter campaign that expresses the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Campaign Zero website includes the proposals to limit the police’s use of force, specifically in the shootings against African Americans. This campaign has one goal – to reduce police violence in the United States to zero. The Campaign Zero policies are broken down into ten categories.
- End broken window policing: This is a style of policing that focuses on minor crimes, and that letting minor crimes go unaddressed can lead to worse crimes. This problem has impacted American minority groups. Campaign Zero proposes ending this style of policing by decriminalizing or deprioritizing alcohol consumption in public, marijuana possession, disorderly conduct, and other minor crimes. Campaign Zero also proposes ending racial profiling and starting a mental health team better equipped than police.
- Community oversight: Campaign Zero suggests adding more community oversight over police. This would make it easier for citizens to file complaints, initiate civilian-run commissions, and make suggestions regarding complaint discipline.
- Limit use of force: Changing the policies and authorizing deadly force only when absolutely necessary; when there is an imminent danger to a person’s life.
- Independently investigate and prosecute: Campaign Zero wants to establish independent prosecutors at state level when police seriously injure/kill someone and will require an investigation. The campaign suggests reducing proof standards for federal civil rights investigations for officers.
- Community representation: Racial demographics differ from community representation. Ferguson is two-thirds black but only three out of fifty-three commissioned officers were black during the time period of the Brown shooting. Campaign Zero suggests police departments should develop and release plans to the public about achieving representative proportions of women and coloured people.
- Body cameras and filming the police: Campaign Zero recommends equipping officers with body cameras and banning officers from taking civilians’ cellphones without consent or a warrant.
- Training: The campaign proposes requiring police officers to train on a quarterly basis rather than an annual basis, with greater focus on subconscious racial biases and other prejudices officers may have.
- End for-profit policing: According to the Justice Department report on Ferguson, the police department and courts issued fines/fees to fill local budget gaps. Campaign Zero wants to eliminate these incentives by ending police quotas for tickets and arrests, and to stop police from taking money or property from innocents, which they currently do through the “civil forfeiture” laws.
- Demilitarization: Ferguson protests captured nationwide attention after police deployed militarized equipment against peaceful demonstrators. Campaign Zero proposes putting an end to the 1033 program which provides militarized equipment to police, and to limit local and state departments’ purchases of militarized equipment.
- Fair police contracts: This policy aims to eliminate hurdles/barriers while requiring police departments to keep officers’ disciplinary histories available to the public.
According to Washington Post’s database, police have shot and killed six-hundred-twenty-four people in 2015. 22% did not have a deadly weapon, 10% were unarmed completely, and over 26% showed signs of mental illnesses. Black teens were twenty-one times as likely as whites to be shot and killed between 2010 and 2012, according to the ProPublic analysis of FBI data. Studies have shown that officers are quicker to shoot black suspects in video game simulations. Campaign Zero’s policy proposals aim to address these problems, but can they work? These proposals could reduce police’s use of force but it’s unlikely that they can completely eliminate police violence. On an international level, America will have more police killed than other developed countries. According to U.N. data, the United States had eighty-eight-point-eight guns per one-hundred people in 2007, which is double the amount of the second-closest country Yemen, which had fifty-four-point-eight guns per one-hundred people.
The Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter Movement are similar in their purposes and goals, and even the ways both groups used to express their voice. Both movements wanted to stop police brutality and stop unreasonable and unjustified black murders. The Black Panther Party was formed in reaction to the police killing of an unarmed sixteen-year-old black teenager Matthew Johnson in 1966, while the Black Lives Matter movement began after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin, a seventeen-year-old unarmed black teenager. Both parties work to help the black community and to protect their people. The Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter used media to reach a broad constituency and encourage action to be taken. The Black Panther Party constructed its visual presence with uniforms for members that created icons which represented strength, purpose, and discipline. The Black Lives Matter movement uses visual tactics to convey the worldwide threat of violence and death. Both of these movements understood the power of media and visual imaging.
Along with their similarities, the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter movement have their differences. With the Black Lives Matter being a current movement from 2013 and The Black Panther Party being from the 1960s, this marks the first difference between them. The Black Panther Party used self-defence as a part of stopping police brutality, and members carried around guns and patrolled black neighbourhoods. When the Black Panther Party saw an African American get arrested, they observed what the police were doing while staying at a legal distance to avoid being arrested themselves. The Black Lives Matter movement uses technology to record and capture instances of police brutality. They use cellphone footage and commentary through social media, and The Black Panther Party has its own newspaper that used photographic evidence of police brutality, along with editorial drawings and cartoons to show black people fighting back. Both groups consulted amendments – Black Panther Party used the first and second amendment and Black Lives Matter only focused on the first amendment.
What started in 2015 is still happening today. April Reign created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite after watching the 2015 Oscar nominations being announced, none of which were coloured. #OscarsSoWhite is a 2015 social media campaign that forced Hollywood to revisit an old issue of representation of diversity in the nominees and in film. It has trended throughout social media with many people speaking out about this issue. Recently, the lack of race representation has led Oscar-nominated directors, actresses, and actors to threaten to boycott the award ceremony. From 2014 to 2016, there were no African Americans nominated for any ‘top’ awards, something that has not happened since 1980. The Oscar Academy Awards has had a lack of diversity for years.
#OscarsSoWhite has launched a debate about the industry’s fidelity to represent and value non-white contributions. Filmmakers have taken positions as visionaries who are pushing invisible boundaries of black representation on film. Black Panther has joined these ‘projects’ as a “popcorn” movie that uses the most mainstream film genre to project the complexity of black identity, politics, and creativity. The Black Panther’s movie release has come after a long history of white representation in nominees and winners of the Oscars. In 2017, 13.6% of characters in major films were African American, while 70.8% were white characters. African American directors stood at 5.6% of the director ‘population’ in the Oscars in 2017.
The Twitter reaction to the Oscars nominations was summed up by the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, with audiences and industry insiders lamenting the lack of diversity in the selection of filmmakers and actors of 2015. Black actors should not only be cast in movies about slavery. Women should not only be cast to play wives and mothers to the leading man. The ‘human woman’ is a strange ‘creature’ that the media is still a little uneasy about, particularly as they develop strong personalities, and express thoughts and opinions over time. #OscarsSoWhite refers to all marginalized communities. It’s about operating outside the same networks used for years and giving opportunities to talented people from minority groups not usually included. The Academy Awards failed to nominate people of colour for the second year in a row. Most nominees are white, and about 94% of voters in the Oscars are Caucasian. This explains why only thirty-five Oscars have been awarded to black talent in eighty-seven years. Out of the fifteen categories, six were given to coloured people or accurately-portrayed coloured people in shows. Another problem is that in 2015, white men, who make up 31% of the population, directed 82% of movies. Streaming services have become more popular; original shows that debuted in 2016 have pushed these streaming sites into the spotlight for being diverse but realistic. Colourful casts and inspirations in ethnically diverse shows appeal to a bigger and wider audience.
Four years into #OscarsSoWhite, there have been changes to Hollywood. These changes began under Cheryl Boone Isaacs who has vowed to double the number of women and coloured people into the Academy Awards by 2020. The Awards changed its voting structure to allow people who have not been active in the film community in decades to vote for nominees. These changes have started impacting Oscar nominations in 2018. Rachel Morrison, the first female director of photography, was nominated in the cinematography category; Dee Rees was the first black woman to be nominated in the adapted screenplay category. Rees is only the second black woman to be nominated for writing. Greta Gerwig is the fifth woman to be nominated in the directing category, along with director Jordan Peele, who is the fifth black director to be nominated.
Marvel’s Black Panther is the first mainstream black superhero movie with success of an African story, made by an African American with an almost all African American cast. Black Panther made a grossed estimate of $700 million globally in the first twelve days in theatre; it was the highest-grossing film made by an African American. The movie’s storyline dives into topics of race, addressing the cultural diversity among African descents, and highlights the strengths of African American women. Black Panther deconstructs typical stereotypes of coloured men, families, communities – deviating from depiction in mainstream media. Black Panther/T’Challa who is played by Chadwick Boseman has become a symbol of hope for black people like Obama had for his eight-year term. The movie offers an imagined reality that does not have the constraints and horrors blacks have faced because of white supremacy. Black Panther has shown symbolic representation for African Americans; it has helped reimagine what was historically possible and what could now counter current administration’s racially divisive public policies. Marvel’s film demonstrated strong economic power of diversity and inclusion on screen and has restarted conversations on the potential of black power. This 2018 film will be recognized as one of ‘the firsts’ that deserve a place of achievement during black history.
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Many historical events of African global community were touched on in the movie; the Trans Atlantic slave trade, colonization of African countries, Black Lives Matter movement, and the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping in Nigeria. The Black Panther film also included the disconnection between the two ‘types’ of Africans, the Africans in Africa (represented by T’Challa) and the ones in Diaspora (represented by Killmonger). The ones who are native to their country and the people who away from their native homeland. The movie empowers African women through the Dora Milaje, who are based off the Dohomey Amazons. The Dohomey Amazons are the only documented all female frontline combat arm military unit in modern history. Marvel’s Black Panther has detail pertaining to the representation of all of Africa; traditions, rituals, languages, and outfits represented different parts of Africa. The language of Xhosa spoken in the movie is a pre-dominate language in Southern Africa; the different outfits T’Challa wore were inspired from different African regions. This mainstream superhero film shattered the idea of movies starring black actors, made by black filmmakers, telling black stories, are projects incapable of achieving mainstream success worldwide. The fictional country of Wakanda is what a world like that could have looked like for Africa.
Black Panther has encouraged educators to use the movie to help teach the histories of African culture, politics, and history. The film opens dialogues and personal reflections about African American identity in America and around the world with the help of #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe, a hashtag trend created by the curator of “Black Girl Nerds” podcast Kayla Marie Sutton. Marvel’s Black Panther is significant because of African American’s relationship with Hollywood, as it has historically been presented as a “narrow slice” of African American narrative. Historically, stories about African American Hollywood experiences were mostly stories intertwined with white people experiences somehow. T’Challa and Killmonger each had their own type of ‘goals’ or visions for black viewers and the black community. One vision where African Americans are not hindered by systematic oppression and control their own destiny, and one where African Americans can motivate a community with resources and political might to address and maybe reverse the effects of that systematic oppression. Black Panther might just be an antidote for Black American experience in 2018.
Kayla Marie Sutton, curator of the “Black Girl Nerds” podcast, started the hashtag trend #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe on Twitter. Sutton tweeted this tag after asking her son what T’Challa, the Wakanda Prince, meant to him, as a young child with autism. “Sharing this experience with my son, who jumps and shakes with excitement every time he sees his favourite comic character’s trailer on tv. He gets the representation and its about damn time. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe”
#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe quickly trended on Twitter, with people listing their reasons why they felt represented in the movie; from the positive portrayal of an African nation to the important role of black scientists in Wakanda. This hashtag has helped to give black people the recognition and representation they deserve. Here are a few examples of #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe tweets from men and women this film represents:
“Seeing centered Black women in key roles and appearing in merchandise as action figures makes my spirit flip. This film means so much to me as a Black girl nerd. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe” – Jamie Broadnax
“#WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe It means that Black directors can tell our stories on the highest level with actors that looks like me as the heroes.” – Matthew A. Cherry
“Also, as an actor, seeing roles that aren’t just “the black sidekick”, “the maid”, “the sassy black friend”, give me hope for my career. And as a nerd, I finally feel validated as a nerd of color. This is every childhood trauma finally being vindicated. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe” – Mica Burton
“Finally seeing Africa depicted in a powerful and positive light, free from the effects of colonialism, with characters that look like me having motivations beyond the portrayal of “black pain” on screen. #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe” – Andrien @ E3
The many black movements, specifically the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter, has helped evolve black culture and identity. Focusing on how different black movements have helped media and its ability to freely influence black movies and shows, along with black actors, actresses, directors, and producers throughout entertainment like the Oscars, trending hashtags like #WhatBlackPantherMeansToMe and #OscarsSoWhite, and how Marvel’s Black Panther influenced black culture, the media, and Hollywood. This paper also looks at the similarities and differences between the Black Panther Party and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
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