I’ve always liked the idea of the character Black Panther in Marvel comics. It wasn’t until Christopher Priest (writer) and Mark Texiera (illustrator) got a hold of him that I really started liking the character. That team did more to create the big-screen version of T’Challa than anyone before them. I thought the movie was phenomenal. I’ve seen it twice, once with my wife and again with my wife and my daughters. I’ll see it again, as soon as I can. But rather than try to explain why the film’s so good or what it means, I’ll rather provide an anecdote.
My mother used to read comics to me when I was a kid. I remember “Fantastic Four” and “Thor” being the first. I was hooked from then on, reading both Marvel and DC, consuming newspaper strips and editorial cartoons nonstop. There was a shop called “Sunny’s Cigar Store” a little over a mile away in Boston’s Mattapan Square neighborhood. (This was a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly black, nearly 100%.) They kept a spinning rack of comics and whenever I could manage to be there with my parents, I’d get some books. As soon as I was old enough, I started walking there on my own, trying to figure out when new comics were available. I enjoyed Marvel more than DC, but both of them treated their non-white and non-male characters as either second-rate or marginalized. As much as I wanted to see The Falcon or Black Panther or Power Man be as significant as Captain America, Spider-Man, the Hulk or even Wonder Man, it wasn’t happening.
Eventually, I started creating my own characters. Oddly enough, I was never all that interested in drawing or writing with the existing ones. I created dozens and cobbled together storylines before I hit the age of twelve. It was about that time that I realized every character I’d created was white. And male. Every one. Dozens. How was this possible? It was possible because every media property from books to television to movies was dominated by white faces and the white male gaze. Anything could be appropriated, but only white people could create it, fund it, star in it. And that media landscape infected my brain, subtly convinced me that only white people were heroes—men, specifically—everyone else was there to support them or be saved by them.
And here we are.