Can the Black Panther save Durham? – Paul Scott

Paul Scott
Paul Scott contributed by Paul Scott

“Everybody’s looking for a hero / People need someone to look up to.”

– “Greatest Love of All”

While on his daily mission to bring evil doers to justice, the Black Panther decided to cruise over the Bull City. But when a stray bullet grazed the right wing of his Lear jet he decided to make a quick U turn and head back to Wakanda …

Don’t get it twisted. Like many of y’all, I plan to be one of the first ones standing in line to see Marvel’s new blockbuster, “The Black Panther,” with my matinee money in hand. (No Firestick nor cheap bootleg for this one, Buddy.) Might even throw in a couple more bucks to rent some of those 3D glasses so I can get up close and personal. This movie has been hyped for months and has many people, especially black folk, hitting up Fandango before the opening weekend tickets are sold out.

As an African-American, I get it. A black superhero taking the main stage is not something you see every day.

T'Challa, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king.

Growing up in the ’70s to say that there was a serious lack of black superheroes on TV is an understatement. I remember many of my homies and I making Tonto and Kato honorary brothers.

Now, there were a few black comic book sidekicks like the Black Falcon who shined Captain America’s shield and Black Vulcan, the token black guy the Super Friends hired to babysit the Wonder Twins while the rest of the Justice League were out stomping a mud hole in the Legion of Doom.

The only petite and some would say petty problem I have with the overenthusiastic moviegoers would be those who confuse the mythical world of Marvel with what is happening on the streets of Durham and other cities in the real world.

Every February, the African-American community usually gets one good film that sets the tone for Black History Month water-cooler conversations. This year, it’s “The Black Panther.” Last year it was “Hidden Figures,” the story of three unsung African-American women who contributed to NASA’s space program. I am sure that that were many black children in the Durham public school system who were inspired to pay a little extra attention in algebra class after seeing that movie.

But the Black Panther movie is supposed to inspire us to do what, exactly? Don a pair of black tights and go gallivanting through East Durham yelling, “Citizen’s arrest! Citizen’s arrest!”?

Don’t misunderstand, the movie is a good look. As a survivor of the “hood flix” of the early ’90s, any image of a black male on the big screen that isn’t taken straight outta “Boyz n the Hood” is a plus for me. I mean King T’Challa even has his name on his own money!

The hope of some is that the movie might inspire a few Durhamites to join the fight for political change which is, ironically, contrary to the original Black Panther comic which Marvel, reportedly, took great pains in separating from the Black Power politics of the late ’60s.

But the problem is that we have had real black heroes and heroines in the past who garnered considerably less pub than King T’Challa. Sadly, even their ability to inspire the average Joe to step away from his X-Box long enough to attend a City Council meeting is debatable.

Both Robert Williams of the Deacons of Defense and Assata Shakur, mostly known by the millennials as “Tupac’s Godmother” have North Carolina roots.

In Durham we could name Howard Fuller and Ann Atwater as examples of those who dared yell “Black Lives Matter” before Black Lives Matter was cool.

Even in 2018, we have a few everyday heroes who go into McDougald Terrace and other areas of Durham to be positive role models for the youth. Unfortunately, these types of people are few and far between.

Most people are just satisfied to plop down 10 bucks on a box-office counter and live, vicariously, through some movie character only to leave the theater to face the same reality that they left two hours prior.

This ain’t Wakanda, this is Durham N.C. The place where families are being displaced by gentrification, the out-of-school suspension rate is sky high and 5-year-old little girls get shot in drivebys while most able-bodied people are looking up above CCB Plaza for some Bat Signal to assure them that help is on the way.

Hate to break it too you, Sparky, but ain’t nobody coming to save us but us. Not the Black Panther, not Wonder Woman nor any other caped crusader.

We should adopt as our mantra

“Stop waiting for a savior and be one.”

Paul Scott is a Durham activist and author of the blog NoWarningShotsFired.com