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Four days ago on the website of the SyFy Channel, film critic, screenwriter, and comic book author Marc Bernardin wrote about the 2018 slate of pictures to be released.
If 2017 was the tip of the representational spear, then 2018 will be the long shaft that follows. This year will deliver Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Ocean’s 8, and Crazy Rich Asians — studio movies catering to historically underserved audiences, many of which are written and directed by members of those same audiences.
In other words, 2018 is the year that white dudes will be confronted with inescapable media that isn’t about them.
In Hollywood’s Golden Age, before the FCC lifted restrictions on construction of television stations, it’s not hard to make the case that the major studios ignored black America. There were only six all-black movies that were produced and distributed by the major studios during that era, and not all of them were without controversy. One of the first, Warner Brother’s The Green Pastures (1936) was slammed for its racial stereotyping. Still, this was the era of the truly mass market film. The studio heads were risk adverse and programming to 10 percent of the population was something they weren’t particularly interested in.
But this is not where I take issue with Mr. Bernandin. What I take issue with is this:
Black Panther might be the biggest, blackest movie ever made. And white nerds are going to have to go see it, because it’s a Marvel movie. They are going to have to learn to identify with someone who doesn’t look like them, who doesn’t live where they live, who doesn’t talk or act they way they do. They are going to have to learn cinematic empathy.
“Learning to identify with someone who doesn’t look like them.” Has this man ever attended a professional sporting event? When I go to Cincinnati Reds home games in the summers I see old white guys in Joe Morgan jerseys, middle-aged white guys in Eric Davis jerseys, and younger white fans in Brandon Phillips gear. Although none of them are on the roster today, these pigmentally-challenged individuals still identify with their favorite black athletes.
They just didn’t want to cheer these men. They wanted to be these men. It is something that’s repeated all over this country — from MLB parks to NFL stadiums and NBA arenas — and it’s been going on for 71 years, ever since that April day when Jackie Robinson first walked across that white line at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.
The identification level of sports fans is certainly stronger than most comic book aficionados. While there may be an occasional completely out-of-touch nerd who desperately wants to be a guy who dresses up like a bat with a leather fetish, one only has to watch a grown man meet the sports hero of his youth to see real cross-race empathy and admiration.