A Girl’s Perspective
Eric: How will Black Panther empower the idea of Black Girl Magic?
Kyra: Black Panther, and Superheroes in general, are all about magic and the supernatural. Superhero graphic novels are set in fantasy worlds where anything is possible, where anyone no matter what obstacles, can be a HERO and use their powers to fight for JUSTICE. However, as black people, and particularly as black women, we don't get to see ourselves imagined in these POWERFUL roles. We are still told the color of our skin is a limitation, even in a fictional world. The idea behind #BlackGirlMagic is that our skin color and our gender isn't a limitation rather, something that makes us powerful and BEAUTIFUL. Black women and girls have accomplished incredible things despite gender based violence and institutional racism. We are at the forefront of every movement, fighting for our rights and the rights of others. Our strength is physical, mental and EMOTIONAL. Seeing the black women in Black Panther use that same STRENGTH that real black women use every day to defend the country of Wakanda feels close to home. We've always been Superheroes, and now we finally get to see ourselves as such on screen.
Eric: Why is it important to see black women play superheroes on the big screen? Why is it important to tell stories depicting strong black women in general?
Kyra: I know so many black women who grew up reading comic books. Some of my best friends are comic book nerds who say all the time they only saw a handful of black women Superheroes. There are way more in the graphic novels, but they are almost never deemed important or popular enough to be made into movies. The only two I can think of off the top of my head are Storm from X-Men and Catwoman, who is a spinoff character from Batman. Black Panther and the women of Wakanda have their own universe. This is a first.
I think it’s necessary to see diversity in all the media we consume. It tells us and the rest of the world that we matter and that we can be more than just maids and "baby mamas". Not that maids or single black mothers aren't also strong black women whose stories deserve to be told, (maybe not by white people or black men anymore, though). We serve other roles in our lives and in the world that should be represented. I also think we need to be shown as more than strong. I think that most of the black women we see on screen are strong but, almost to the point that they are inhuman. We don't always get to be three dimensional on-screen. We don't usually get to be the BEAUTIFUL, romantic leading lady and we can be funny without always being the butt of the joke. Strength is important but, so Vulnerability and playfulness.
Eric: Could you tell me about a time where the prospect of Black Panther coming out in theaters, or another movie starring strong black women inspired your everyday life?
Kyra: I'm so excited about Black Panther! I think especially since personally, I don't look like most black women you see on TV and in film. I hate these words, but some people would say I have a more "alternative" or "quirky" look. I have a short blonde fade, a lot of piercings, and if I'm taking care of myself, I have very buff arms. So it’s really dope to see a movie full of black women who fit a similar vibe as me.
I can think of two other movies with leading black women that had me as excited. The first one was when I was four years old and the Brandy version of Cinderella came out. I had never seen a BLACK PRINCESS before and I was shook. I remember one day at preschool, I was playing with a friend and we wanted to play Princesses, she told me I couldn't be Cinderella because I was black. Four year old me knew that was crap, so I brought my VHS copy of that black Cinderella and made my whole class watch it! The other time, I was 17 and The Princess and the Frog came out (on my birthday, no less!), I guess I have a thing for magic!
Eric: How does proper representation in the media correlate to inspiring black women?
Kyra: There are scientific studies that prove regularly seeing role models who look like you directly correlates with achievement. For example, women who regularly see women succeeding in STEM careers or who learn about important women in SCIENCE and MATH are more likely to pursue STEM careers themselves. If you are told your whole life you can't do something or be something because of your identity, you start to believe it. We can't let black girls feel like their options are limited. We can do anything. So the more we see the diversity of what black women have accomplished or can accomplish, the more black girls will believe in themselves and try new things.
A Guy’s Perspective
Kyra: How did it feel growing up as a comic book fan and rarely seeing characters who looked like you?
Eric: Growing up as a comic book fan, and not seeing characters that looked like me was saddening, as well toxic. Batman is my favorite superhero, and always has been growing up. I looked up to him, I wanted to do what he did. Instead of believing those things to be inherent in me, I spent a lot of time growing up attributing courage, discipline and the potential of an individual to change the world. All the things I attributed to Batman.were associated with being white. Deep down we, the fans of comics, more often than not want to be those heroes themselves or recognize ourselves in them. When I would tell someone I wanted to be Batman, they would say “But he is WHITE.” Or “the Wayne’s are a powerful WHITE family, how would it makes sense that you’re a Wayne?” As if color, or the lack of MY COLOR, were a prerequisite to considering myself a person capable of impacting my environment.
Kyra: As an actor, what kind of doors do you think Black Panther will open as far as roles for black artists?
Eric: For so long white saviors have dominated the entertainment industry. Because of this, black artist are often seen in the role of antagonist, or the American stereotype; the thug, or the crackhead, or the baby momma/daddy. Rarely the hero. The complicated human being. Rarely the love interest without being fetishized for their skin color. 'Black Panther', 'Get out' and 'Hidden Figures', are all great examples of stories that show Black people are non-monolithic. Which gives us black artist the chance to be more than the thug being chased by police, or someone’s bitter black woman. But to be lawyers, doctors, politicians, dreamers, lovers, etc.
Kyra: Often in the past, when characters from comic books and fantasy novel have been cast with black actors on the big screen, there has been racist backlash online from white fans of the books. Why do you think that is and what would you do to combat those responses?
Eric: I think that comic fans get upset at black actors being cast in fantasy worlds, because usually white fans build these worlds in their head without black folk in mind. The artists who creates these worlds do it as well. So fantasy content is brought to “life” without black lives in mind. So when beloved characters are black, mostly white men whine. 'Lord of The Rings' is a great example of this fantasy world exclusion. There were six major motion picture movies made in this, NONE included BLACK PEOPLE, Or any other POC (person of color). Because these are made up worlds with fictional creatures, dwarves, gollum’s, imps, elves, and wizards! The directors, casting agents, or Production Company did not as a whole care about diversity or representation. The content reflects the desire of the creators and mass consumers.
My response to this, would be a call to challenge these, mostly white men, to get over themselves. Compassionately allow someone else to be inspired. You’ve got a plethora of content already made to peruse, if you really want to see some all-white magical stories. This world is changing whether they like it or not, and the art that is being made will reflect that. If people can’t make room in their heart for someone else to have an opportunity to have their magic manifested then, have a seat please.
Kyra: If you could play any superhero (real or one you made up yourself), who would it be and why?
Eric: STATIC SHOCK! I would play Static Shock. I grew up watching the cartoon, but like most culturally representative content, they cut it. I’ve always loved the idea of shooting lighting, and the intricacy of electromagnetic powers excites me...and flying on that diskette too!
*Kyra Jones is classically trained theatre actress based in Chicago, Iliinois.
*Eric Gerard classically trained theatre actor based in Chicago, Illinois.
Marvel’s Black Panther hits Theaters February 16, 2018. Get your tickets now!