Mar 2, 2018

Hey Indians, Where Is Our Black Panther?

Hey Indians, Where Is Our Black Panther?
Travis Hedge Coke

Short answer: We won’t get one.

If you’re Native, just like if you’re anything and anyone, Black Panther is your Black Panther. That shit is important. Don’t devalue it.

We, as Indigenous peoples and cultures, can have something as cool, as strong, as likely to inspire Nerf assault gloves for little girls who want cats on their hands they can punch evil with.

Our fight is different, because it’s implicit in the presence of Natives alone, in entertainment, that this is a land of genocide. Hollywood could barely handle this one movie with more than two black faces that isn’t about how dysfunctional their family are, or about slaves being sad while white people drink from sweating glasses, and it takes place almost entirely outside of America. It’s a lot harder to do a movie with a bunch of Native actors, directed by an Indian, etc, that takes place not in the Western Hemisphere. Where would we be? The secret Choctaw neighborhood in Cardiff? Those famous Ugandan Apache?

Then there, is the meat and potables: Don’t get so hungry you sell out. Don’t sell yourself, don’t sell us.

Black Panther hit screens and did big, and the Native American response, to a sad degree, was to paper social media with announcements of Marvel publishing a Red Wolf series. Announcements that were three years old. Announcements of a comic with no Native participation except the covers. Announcements of a comic written by a white man who participated in a racist, homophobic right wing think tank, and has so many abuse allegations trailing him, they could be a dress train.

You cannot let hunger do that to you.

I got flack from more than one Native teacher, correcting them online, in regards to that comic, because I was “ruining it” for their students. No. You being so desperately hungry, you want to champion a racist white author because he’ll give you a shirtless NDN with a dead animal on his head? You’re ruining it. A comic that, again, came out three years ago and has long been canceled.

Yes, Black Panther was created by two Jews in the mid-60s. It took until his first solo stories to have a black artist, and until about fifteen years ago, to have a black writer on an ongoing storyline. I’m not trying to cut any ethnicity out of the picture. I won’t deny Jack Kirby or Don McGregor’s contributions to Panther. And, lest we forget, Black Panther is amazing. The character, his initial intro in comics, and his movie are all great stuff.

But, Don McGregor didn’t work for any racist, homophobic right wing think tanks.

America is being canceled, because, well, nobody bought it. The title superhero is Latinx, amazing, and her book was handled by an all-Latinx crew. She’s learning about her roots while fighting supervillains, having met her grandmother, studying in a school where their Indigenous Studies Dept is particularly highlighted in the comic. From Marvel, the company that publishes all Panther comics there are and produced that movie we’ve all seen at least once, by now, if not more. Y’all didn’t support that comic. Y’all didn’t even post up about it.

But, a white racist writes about a guy with a dead animal on his head, and you’re on it… three years too late.

Elizabeth LaPensée just put together a beautiful anthology, Deer Woman, published by Native Realities. Natives making comics about Natives, for… and y’all don’t have it on your shelf or in your hands right now. Most of you.

Because you don’t support Native comics. You don’t even support Native superheroes.

You just got jealous that black people had something nice. And, you were willing to sell out to white racists to try to claim a piece.

The nation from whence Black Panther hails, Wakanda, is an Osage word. It is likely that Jack Kirby lifted the word, consciously or subconsciously, as he had introduced a Native supporting character a few issues earlier, and had been doing some generalized research on Native Americans during that time, for his own entertainment. The heart-shaped herb seems awfully like kalo.

The movie (still in theaters, go see it again! Disney needs your cash) stepped up appropriation and reworking games, drawing from cultures around the world, in terms of costume design, their written language, their spoken language, even the gods that are revered. There’s some Native American stuff in there, along with Indian from India, Filipino, and, y’know, they go to South Korea and the States in the movie. You can argue the right or wrong, the levels of adaptation, but wherever you fall in those terms, the intent is still the same: We’re all in this.

Black Panther is the Black Panther for Native Americans.

And, if we step up our collective game, we can have our comics, our movies, our superheroes at that level, too. Despite anyone or anything blocking the way.

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