Thursday, September 10, 2020

Chadwick Boseman and the Legacy of Black Panther

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Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther

On the morning of 29th August, the world woke up with shocking news, the death of Chadwick Boseman. He is globally remembered for his stellar role of T’Challa, aka ‘Black Panther’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  He died at a young age of 43 and the cause of his death was said to be colon cancer, which he had been silently battling for the past 4 years.

The tribute poured for him across the world from the common people to the renowned celebrities and sportspersons. Arsenal FC striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the signature ‘Wakanda Forever’ as a tribute to Chadwick’s MCU character after scoring his goal in the FA Community Shield, while Mercedes F1 team’s racer Lewis Hamilton dedicated his pole position in the Belgian Grand Prix to the actor.

Chadwick’s character ‘Black Panther’ was the first Black MCU character to get his own standalone movie. The movie was released in 2018 and became a blockbuster, grossing over $1.3 billion worldwide. It was the 9th-highest grossing movie of all time and 2nd-highest in 2018, only behind Avengers: Infinity War—a movie which also included Black Panther as an integral team member.

A still from film Black Panther

Black Panther was also highly critically-acclaimed, with praises for the setting, the visual effects, the soundtrack, and so on, but the best part of the film was the majorly Black cast of the movie. Barring Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, every other character of the movie was Black. It was also the first Marvel movie ever to get an Academy Award. The movie was nominated in 7 categories and won the Academy Award in 3 categories: Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Production Design.

Black Panther comic character closeup | Source: Marvel

The history of ‘Black Panther’ in comics is also interesting. In 1966, Marvel Comics creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced the character in ‘Fantastic Four’ #52. T’Challa in the comics was shown not only as a highly powerful but also extremely intelligent black character, something which was ground-breaking at that time, among all the stereotyping Black characters used to face in Pop Culture. Around the same time, social activists Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the ‘Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’.

It is often said that both events were related to each other, although that’s not true. Newton and Seale’s Party symbol and name came from the Clark College’s (now Clark Atlanta University) mascot, while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the character for their black readers. This character was also inspired by many personalities of the US Civil Rights Movement.

In order to avoid the similarities with the political outfit, Marvel renamed the character to ‘Black Leopard’ in the early 70s but soon reverted to the original one before creating a standalone comic ‘Black Panther’ in 1977. In the comics, the character delves into politics, fighting against the racist forces of the Ku Klux Klan. This showed how far ahead of the time Lee and Kirby were.

The commercial success of the ‘Black Panther’ movie contributed immensely to the rise of a black cultural revolution. The release of the film also coincided with the rise in hate crimes against Black community during US President Donald Trump's rule. The idea that a Black superhero can exist among all the existing racial divides made ‘Black Panther’ an inspiration for all such people to come forward. During the screening of the film, people used to come proudly dressed in their traditional African-American outfits to see the film.

The two contributing factors for this response were the setting of the film and Chadwick Boseman’s portrayal of the character. Set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which has beautiful settings like Thor’s Asgard and the many-many galaxies that the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ visited, Wakanda could’ve been easily inferior against those settings had it been done wrong. But it easily stood out against all of those with its own unique identity. The idea of an African country viewed by others as a ‘Third-world nation’ but in secret was a technological marvel, possessing the largest chunk of Vibranium, the strongest metal known to mankind (also the main component of the alloy in Captain America’s iconic shield) in an industry which normally portrayed Africa as backward, chaotic and savage, was truly marvelous. But Wakanda wasn’t just technologically advanced, it also paid tributes to the tribal and cultural diversity of Africa, with Wakanda having 5 tribes, the Merchant, Border, River, Mining and Jabari Tribes all respecting their traditions while also advancing technologically.

But all of that could have seriously gotten unnoticed had it not been for Chadwick’s brilliant portrayal of T’Challa. Debuting in 2016 in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as the Prince of Wakanda, T’Challa donned the iconic outfit to catch the culprit behind the bombing of the UN convention; which killed his father T’Chaka, also then King of Wakanda and former Black Panther; with Bucky Barnes aka Winter Soldier the prime suspect. His portrayal in the movie was immensely lauded, and it hyped his standalone movie so much that it was one of the most talked movies even before its release.

A sequel of the ‘Black Panther’ was announced in July 2019 after much anticipation. However following Chadwick’s death, many fans are now urging Marvel Studios to not recast the role in memory of the actor. This was the legacy Chadwick Boseman created with Black Panther.

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October 18, 2020 6:46 PM

Bhagat Singh: The Man, The Life, And The Beliefs

Bhagat Singh is one of the ‘big names’ immortalised in the history of India’s freedom struggle and eternally cherished even after almost ninety years of his martyrdom. What makes him stand out is his popularity among the masses being almost on par with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, despite his beliefs and actions being diametrically opposite to theirs.

Of the freedom fighters who remain mainstream in today’s India— a crowd predominantly made up of politicians with center or right of centre leanings, Bhagat Singh occupies a relatively lonely spot as a young, staunchly left-wing revolutionary who outrightly rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, and preferred direct action over politics.

Newspaper headline after Central Legislative Assembly non-lethal bombing

Bhagat Singh is most commonly and widely remembered in association with an incident where he, along with his friend and comrade B.K. Dutt dropped non-lethal smoke bombs into the Central Legislative Assembly from its balcony in 1929. They also scattered leaflets by the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association (HSRA), which he was a major part of and was aided by in orchestrating the bombings. He is said to have been inspired by French anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who had bombed the Chamber of Deputies in Paris in 1893.

The bombing gathered widespread negative reaction due to the use of violence, especially from those who supported the Gandhian method. While Bhagat Singh and the HSRA wanted to protest exploitative legislatures such as the Public Safety Act and the Trades Disputes Bill, it is also widely accepted that they additionally intended to use the drama and public attention of the ensuing trial to garner attention to socialist and communist causes. Bhagat Singh and Dutt did not escape under the cover of panic and smoke despite the former carrying a pistol, and waited for the police to find and arrest them. During the trial Bhagat Singh frequently chanted a variety of slogans, such as ‘Inquilab Zindabad,’ which is even today often raised in protests across India.  

March 25th Newspaper carrying the news about execution of Bhagat Singh | Source: Tribune India

However, this was not the trial that ended in Bhagat Singh receiving his execution sentence. Before the Assembly bombings, Bhagat Singh had been involved in the shooting of police officer John Saunders, in connection to the death of freedom fighter Lala Lajpat Rai. At that time he and his associates had escaped, but after Bhagat Singh was awarded a life sentence for the Assembly bombing, a series of investigations led to his rearrest as part of the Saunders murder case. It was this trial— generally regarded as unjust— that led to his much protested execution sentence.

Bhagat Singh was hanged to death on the eve of March 23rd, 1931 and he was just twenty-three years old.

Despite the criticism he received for his actions, his execution sentence was widely opposed and many attempts were made to challenge it. In fact, his execution came on the eve of the Congress party’s annual convention, as protests against it worsened. He was memorialised nationwide as a martyr, and is often addressed with the honorific Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh.

Apart from being a socialist, Bhagat Singh was attracted to communist and anarchist causes as well. In ‘To Young Political Workers,’ his last testament before his death, he called for a “socialist order” and a reconstruction of society on a “new, i.e, Marxist basis.” He considered the government “a weapon in the hand of the ruling class”, which is reflected in his belief that Gandhian philosophy only meant the “replacement of one set of exploiters for another.” Additionally, he wrote a series of articles on anarchism, wanting to fight against mainstream miscontrusions of the word and explain his interest in anarchist ideology.

Bipin Chandra, who wrote the introduction to Why I am an Atheist by Bhagat Singh | Source: Wikimedia

While writing the introduction to Bhagat Singh’s remarkable essay Why I am an Atheist in 1979, Late Bipan Chandra described the Marxist leaning of Bhagat Singh and his associates in the following way;

Bhagat Singh was not only one of India’s greatest freedom fighters and revolutionary socialists, but also one of its early Marxist thinkers and ideologues. Unfortunately, this last aspect is relatively unknown with the result that all sorts of reactionaries, obscurantists and communalists have been wrongly and dishonestly trying to utilise for their own politics and ideologies the name and fame of Bhagat Singh and his comrades such as Chandra Shekhar Azad.”

Bhagat Singh is often admired and celebrated for his dedication to the cause of liberation. However his socialist, communist and anarchist beliefs were suppressed by the successive governments in Independent India. This in a way is the suppression of a revolutionary who has the potential to inspire, unite and motivate the growing population of a spectrum of activists all over India, in direct response to the fast-spreading divisiveness and intolerance in the country, often patronised by the groups and organizations professing the right-wing fascist ideology.

Bhagat Singh’s dreams of a new social order live on, not just in his writings, but also reflected in the hearts of every activist, protester, and dissenting citizen. The fight for freedom, revolution, Inquilab, may have changed in meaning, but it is far from over.

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