Like millions of other comics fans, I am eagerly anticipating the release of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, starring Chadwick Boseman and a truly all-star cast. In fact, I’ve just been catching up by reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s three-volume Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, the first volume of which contains a map of Wakanda, an interview with illustrator Brian Stelfreeze, a Black Panther chronology, and other background information. These comics are page-turners for sure, with lots of the usual superhero battles and conflicts but also with lots of meditations on questions of the best kind of governance and the responsibility that those who govern owe to those governed. As someone who has studied collaboration throughout my career, I was especially struck by how the leader(s) and people collaborate to choose the best solution for Wakanda and to make sure that the solution “cannot be written in blood and fire.”
Until the film reaches our little movie theater here on the remote northern California coast, I’m enjoying reading about students’ experiences seeing it. You’ve probably heard of the Black Panther Challenge, launched by New Yorker Frederick Joseph to raise money to take kids from Harlem to see the film. That challenge has spread across the country, and just today a retired teacher friend of mine who mentors young women of color in a high school in Tampa wrote to say that one of her mentees had gone with a group of 30 other students to see Black Panther; she is being joined by thousands of other students having a similar experience and returning to their schools to talk about what the film means and HOW it means.
Which leads me to think about what a very fine teachable moment we have here, all across the U.S. The opportunities for students to do some serious research on the origins of the Black Panther Marvel series as well as on the Black Panther Movement, which began several months after the first Black Panther comic in 1966, are many indeed (and the irony that the series was created by two white men gives further food for thought). Broadening the scope a bit, students can also do research on other Black superheroes (like Icon) and on the history of such heroes, as well as on the evolution of the series, on the evolution of the role women play in the series, and so much more. I can easily imagine an entire first-year course developed around these ideas and texts, one that would challenge students to think deeply not only about the adventures, trials, and tribulations of the hero but also, and more importantly, about the message(s) that he sends to us today.
Ordinarily, I am happy to be retired. But today, I would love nothing better than to design a new version of the research and writing-based comics course I taught for so many years. And I know right where I would begin!
Credit: Pixabay Image 1393153 by emiliefarrisphotos, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License