I can make this announcement with great certainty and confidence because I saw it with my own eyes: Black Panther brought Americans together this weekend. When America really needed a super-hero to step in and save us from ourselves – and Vladimir Putin -the Black Panther was there. And he kicked ass. Normally this sentiment would seem trite and the statement would seem hyperbolic. But these are not normal times and what I saw in the theater on Friday night when I went to see the latest super-hero cinematic explosion from Marvel Studios was Americans at their best during a week when America has been at its worst in a long time. And it felt great. There had just been another horrible school shooting but nobody was afraid to come out. There had been a flood of fake stories about violence at movie theaters showing Black Panther but nobody was deterred. The positive wave of energy just drowned the persistent negativity and that is exactly what the nation needed right now- and that was only the beginning.
Black Panther is a HUGE hit at the box office and you don’t get to be a HUGE hit unless a lot of white folks turn out at the theaters to see you. And since the cast of Black Panther is made up almost entirely of black actors that means that a LOT of white folks were down for supporting the project on its merits. Opening night audiences are the most enthusiastic so these people did not just casually drop in to see this movie. It’s been sold out for over a month so they REALLY wanted to see it. And the audience was by far the most diverse that I had ever seen at a movie theater in my life- and I’ve been a cinefile for 4 decades strong and watched movies in 4 different parts of the country.
The cool part is that I live in the deep red state of Georgia, in a district that is about as red as you can get. Sure its in “metro-Atlanta” but the Georgia 6th is the district that gave America Newt Gingrich and Tom Price and hasn’t had a Democrat representative in almost 40 years. So there is no big cultural movement for “diversity” or “inclusion” around these parts. I’ve never seen a cross burning but in the decade that I’ve lived out here there have been a few reminders that I am still the ultimate outsider.
But I never gave a damn about that- until Friday night. When I saw all of those white folks – from primary school age to senior citizens – filing into the theater with excited expressions on their faces to see this movie I quietly smiled to myself. It was undeniable evidence that although the differences between people are real, they are grossly exaggerated and cynically manipulated by those seeking to benefit from converting those differences into divisions. Like, for example Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. On the very same day that this fantastic movie brought a bunch of Americans together to watch the newest big-screen super-hero triumph over tyranny, the United States Justice Department announced to the world that 13 Russian nationals with close ties to Vladimir Putin molested our election in 2016. They did so by waging a campaign of chaos and deception designed to exploit our differences and existing divisions to make Americans hate each other enough to destabilize our election. And they succeeded. And they are still at it for 2018. And now we all know it. Only the executive branch has gone on record as being against punishing them for their treachery or preventing them from continuing.
No conscientious American would argue the point that we are living in the most politically perilous times in the last half-century. Our polarization has left us politically paralyzed and in a cultural death spiral that has amplified differences between Americans to cartoonish proportions. Now we know that people who traditionally vote Republican have been artificially ginned up to see their political adversaries as anti-American terrorists and homo-sexual perverts. And now we know that people who traditionally vote Democrat have been ginned up to see their political adversaries as closet KKK members and snake-handling church freaks. While all caricatures are not created equal, in this case they serve as proof that we have all been duped to one level or another.
Lucky for us, the Black Panther has saved the day by delivering a silver lining and a ray of hope. I’d bet you my check that none of those white folks who shared that movie theater with me and my family in this GOP stronghold district are closet KKK members and judging from the shared energy and enthusiasm in the room I think its safe to conclude that they didn’t think I was an anti-American terrorist. We were all just Americans that shared an appreciation for a great super-hero story. We thoroughly enjoyed the movie together as an audience and departed in peace- and in one piece. So, just like in the comics and in the movies, the super hero showed up in a nick of time.
Black Panther did his part- now the rest of us have to tune in to facts, tone down the rhetoric, focus on the real enemy and save the day for ourselves – starting this November.