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Build Bridges, Not Barriers: Black Panther and the Enduring Chasm between Africans and African Americans

By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture Contributing Editor

“The wise build bridges, the foolish build barriers,” King T’Challa tells the United Nations at the end of Black Panther. This sentiment resonated with me throughout the film. I was not thinking of the different world powers coming together on an equal footing to help each other and share resources. This is improbable and untenable in a hierarchical world where we still consider some countries third world and some first world. In this light, T’Challa’s statement is simplistic and cheesy. But as I thought about the relevance of this statement for the chasm between Africans and African Americans, it grew in profundity. 

Hollywood Won’t Save Us: Instead, Let’s Build a Revitalized Radical Feminism

By Barbara Ransby | Truthout

With the rise of the #MeToo moment and the #TimesUp campaign, Hollywood has discovered activism, and with it, a new lexicon and fledgling new identity. This is potentially a blessing and a curse for those of us who have been fighting feminist and anti-racist battles long before “intersectionality” was uttered from the stage at the Oscars, long before activists formed a phalanx of silent sentinels to serve as props for celebrity performances. This scene was politically counterbalanced, by the way, with a celebratory tribute to war and militarism. But this is the world we live in. And like with every industry and institution, there are a handful of genuine change-seekers in Hollywood — people who have risked their careers and livelihoods to wage uphill battles for greater justice in the arts and media. And we have to give them the opportunity to be better allies going forward, in the spirit of Eslanda and Paul Robeson and others. How do we do this work, and dance this dance, with greater attention to the principles that ground us?

Black Panther and Unforgivable Radicalism

By Christian Rozier

Without an image of tomorrow, one is trapped by blind history, economics, and politics beyond our control…Only by having clear and vital images of the many alternatives, good and bad, of where one can go, will we have any control over the way we may actually get there in a reality tomorrow will bring all too quickly.”—Samuel R. Delany

Bubbling up from the primordial soup of the Mississippi Delta mud, warbling and otherworldly notes of transcendence emerged from the dusky throats of sharecroppers and the guitar strings of convicts to transport the spirits of their communities to some dimension of eternity in which they were momentarily and ecstatically free from the daily humiliations and hardships of daily life.Delta blues musicians including Geeshie Wiley and Charlie Patton used their haunting voices to construct rocket ships to a new promised land. Earlier, enslaved Africans in 18th century New Orleans gathered each Sunday in Congo Square and with drums, bells, and bodies, conjured chariots for their spirits to escape the temporal and touch the eternal plane. From Alice Coltrane to Octavia Butler, George Clinton to Janelle Monae, the Black Imagination is the principal scaffolding of liberation. As Clinton and Eddie Hazel remind us, first you gotta free your mind, and your ass will follow.

Black Panther: A Spoiler-free Blerd (Black Nerd) Review

By Marquise Griffin

For the next three weeks, Praxis Center will publish three different takes on the highly anticipated film Black Panther. In a Good Morning America interview, Chadwick Boseman was asked what he hoped people would take away from the film. His response was both simple and profound: you’ll get from the film what you take into it. In other words, each person will have a perspective that is unique to their background and position. In this spirit, we will be sharing three different perspectives—from a comic book geek, a filmmaker geek, and a black identity geek. All three writers are black and have particular ways of viewing and thinking about this film. We will start with Marquise Griffin, a self-described “blerd” (black nerd) and former student of mine, who entered the film with great apprehension as an enthusiastic comic book geek. Next week we’ll share a review from Christian Rozier, a filmmaker and film studies professor. After that, I will wrap up this Black Panther mini-series with thoughts on what the film offers to us on the issue of Pan-African black identity. —Stephanie Shonekan, Contributing Editor, Music, Art and Pop Culture

Black Panther Film Movie Companion for Middle Grades

This curriculum is designed for students who are seeing Black Panther, as a means to having them engage more critically and thoughtfully with the film. The curriculum assumes that students, like mine, have previous experience of studying the African continent, its diversity and colonialism. Tess Raser Grades: 5th-8th (works for high school too) View Syllabus

What Unfresh Hell Is This? Detroit, A Post-Mortem

By Mary F. Corey

Detroit, the latest film by Kathryn Bigelow and her screenwriting partner Mark Boal, is not really about Detroit or the 1967 uprising in that city. The film dramatizes an event that took place during the uprising when police stormed the Algiers Motel, responding to a false report of sniper fire from the hotel. The police rounded up the guests — a group of unarmed Black men and two underage white girls who were, as one critic said, “partying like it’s 1966.”

Love and Theft: Why Get Out Matters

By Mary F. Corey

A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND ASTONISHMENTS” —Kendrick Lamar, The Heart Part 4

In 1962, James Baldwin hurled a smart bomb into the liberal white community when the New Yorker published his incendiary “Letter from a Region in My Mind.” In this essay, he let white people know some hard truths about Black rage and white oppression. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a smart bomb of a different sort hurled into the theaters of America to deliver some troubling news.

Since 1619 when the first slave ship touched land in Virginia, the relationship of white people to Black folks has been a complex amalgam of what the scholar Eric Lott has called love and theft. Sometimes it is the body itself that is stolen; sometimes the gift of song and story. From slavery to Blackface performance all the way up to Mackelmore, this sometimes violent, sometimes reverent form of appropriation continues to be played out in American culture. Get Out, a kick-ass genre film that begins with love and ends in theft (and mayhem), is a smart, dark exploration of just how inseparable love and theft really are.

Lioness of Lisabi: A Black Girl Power Story

by Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music, and Pop Culture, Contributing Editor

Reverberations of the assertion that Black Lives Matter have been heard and felt across the nation, on our street corners and in our communities, on college campuses, and in media coverage of global tragedies. What has become clear in much of the backlash against this groundswell is that the idea of a human hierarchy is a well-loved and fiercely preserved mentality that is sometimes couched in religion, capitalism, patriotism and imperialism.

Black on Black Pride: In Celebration of Olivia, Annalise, and Cookie

By Stephanie Shonekan, Art, Music and Pop Culture Contributing Editor

I never watch the Emmy Awards. Never! But last night I settled down in front of the television because several incredible black actresses were nominated. To be perfectly honest, I subjected myself to what felt like ten hours of bad jokes and annoying ads because of these gifted black actresses, and it was completely worth it.  As a black woman, I was excited and proud to see them all gain recognition from the mainstream media machine, and when Regina King, Uzo Aduba, and Viola Davis were announced as winners, I was ecstatic.  That moment when presenter Taraji P. Henson gave Regina King an extra-long sistah-hug on stage, in front of millions of viewers, captured the essence of black pride I felt last night.

There has never been a time when there have been this many primetime mainstream lead roles for black women, among them, Viola Davis as Annalise Keating on How to Get Away with Murder (HTGAWM), Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon on Empire, and Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope on Scandal. It is significant that these shows are not on BET or TVOne (or the defunct UPN network) where major black audiences have easy access to them. Instead, these shows have inserted themselves and their stories into the consciousness of mainstream America. As I tell my students every year, you cannot underestimate the power of pop culture.  When friends and acquaintances of varying ethnicities talk excitedly about these characters, I feel myself nodding as if these women are my sisters. And, I will freely admit, there is something that happens deep in my spirit when I watch my daughters and son watch these shows. I feel a sense of pride that they are able to see these beautiful complex characters played by strong black women who lead their respective shows with such talent and brilliance.

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