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 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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