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Image: Marvel Studios

… that’s certainly the hopeful message we’re left with at the end of the epochal film Black Panther. But I think it’s worth some deeper thought.

I finally watched, and thankfully loved, Black Panther this week. I was willfully swept up in all the magic and hype of the film. Was it perfect? No. Did it need to be perfect for me to enjoy it? No. As Trevor Noah put it, it was a great film — period — it was just extra special for much of the Black audience.

There is much to unpack in the film, and frankly, many people far more eloquent and informed than I are doing just that. But what I couldn’t resist, was the opportunity to think out loud about the possibilities for Black liberation both imagined and missed through the film.

As a person of Ethiopian descent, born and raised in North America, I was touched and inspired by the way that the film connected the histories and struggles of Black people both on the Continent and throughout the world. Equally important is the way that we can see the complexities and cleavages within these communities, which is most poignantly explored through the storyline of Erik Kilmonger (everyone’s favourite anti-villain).

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Image: Marvel Studios

Through Erik, the film explores how colonization, slavery, migration, and geopolitical forces differentiate, and often alienate, global Black populations from each other. This was an important balance to the pan-Africanist themes, because a Pollyanna-esque ‘we’re all the same people’ would have been far less interesting and intellectually useful in my opinion. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Dawoud Bey, Stuart Hall, 1998

Stuart Hall was my mentor. He just never knew it, because I never had the privilege of meeting him. However, I don’t think its hyperbole to suggest that I am on my particular career path because I encountered his ideas. I remember my first time reading one of Hall’s essays – a wide-eyed undergraduate student frantically highlighting what must have been every other sentence. Hall had a way of plucking all of my strings at once. He was witty, honest, edgy, and compassionate. He was brilliant. Now, my opinion on the matter means very little, countless people far more accomplished and relevant than I have made this same observation. But today, after hearing of Stuart Hall’s passing, I feel compelled to join others in paying tribute to one of the greatest thinkers of our time.

I have tried on several occasions to ‘serendipitously’ be in the same room as Hall. When I was a Master’s student in Toronto, I sent a fruitless email to a professor who knew him, asking if he would introduce me to Hall over email. After moving to the UK for school, I got in the habit of Google-ing his name every few months to see if there was some seminar or event that he was attending where I might casually swing by. I’m not sure what I would have said had I been successful in meeting him. Probably just, ‘thank you’. Hall’s contributions and accomplishments were many (see his obituary here). He essentially founded and incubated the field of Cultural Studies, brilliantly deconstructed British conservative ideology, and pushed the boundaries of contemporary conceptualization of Blackness. I think Professor Jeremy Gilbert put it best in his recent tribute: “Hall seemed to talk literally the least shit of anyone I had ever come across in any medium.”

On a personal level, Hall convinced me that I had ideas worth sharing to the academic community. He taught me that my musings on culture and identity were more than ‘fluff’. He demonstrated how to draw serious social and political conclusions from the experiences of people others couldn’t be bothered to think about, let alone theorize. Read the rest of this entry »

On June 2nd, Christopher Husbands (23) opened fire in the food court of the Toronto Eaton Centre, tragically killing Ahmed Hassan (24), and injuring a number of others including a 13-year-old boy. Being a sunny Saturday afternoon, I knew that several of my friends and family would be at or around the Eaton Centre, but was relieved to learn everyone was safe. However, I stayed glued to my computer in the UK as the incident unfolded in Toronto, constantly refreshing my browser… tense, as I waited to learn more. Toggling between Google and Facebook, I saw a friend’s status, which read: “Please don’t be black, please don’t be black, please don’t be black …” Reading this, I realized that this was the unsaid concern that was keeping me awake into the wee hours of the morning, thousands of miles away from an incident that had not affected anyone I knew. But that’s just it. I’ve witnessed the politicization of youth violence in Toronto unfold enough times to know that if the shooter was black, this incident would affect far too many people that I know. Read the rest of this entry »

I had never read a Hunger Games book when I went to watch the movie a few weeks ago. I enjoyed the movie, as I do most. There weren’t many black characters, but I found myself really impressed with the ones that were there. They were not playing stereotypical roles, they were complex, and on the whole, the most sympathetic characters in the film. As it turns out, that was a problem. Tweens took twitter by storm outraged that the fan favourite, Rue, was played by a black actress. The tweets fell along the spectrum of expressing surprise to KKK-esque. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum was this young man who tweeted: “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself”. Read the rest of this entry »