This is what happened when the Church of the Brethren talked about the Black Panther
Last week over 25 people gathered to talk about our experiences of watching Black Panther – the ways it was inspiring, troubling, entertaining and thought-provoking. There was a lot of diversity on the call: We called in from across the country and represented many different communities in our denomination. We were college students and District Executives. Some of us are life-long fans of superheroes and for others this was the first time they were watching a Marvel movie. It was a multiracial call –even more diverse if you counted the racial diversity of the families we represent.
I want to thank everyone who participated for the open, thoughtful, and respectful conversation. The reflections and questions were profound and often surprising. The conversation returned frequently to the portrayal of violence – the amount of it, the graphic nature of it, who were the perpetrators, how it worked as an allegory, and how it reflects the reality of violence. In many ways, I was reminded that I was having a conversation within a community that self identifies as pacifist. (Though when asked to list our favorite movies, most of them could also be described as violent.) The call ended with reflections on the ways we work to create multiracial communities.
Based on the survey before the call, we are twice as likely to watch a Will Smith action movie than one that reflects on race. Below are additional reflections based on the survey.
Question 1: How Often Do You Watch Movies? (please include home viewing)
Question 2: Which of the following movies have you seen?
The original survey listed over 40 titles. They were generally grouped by era (i.e., Slavery, Civil Rights, Jim Crow, Contemporary, etc.) and genre (documentaries, inspired by true stories, romance, comedy, etc). In the end, looking at the data, I noticed a few trends:
- We Watch About History:
- 237 responses identified watching historical set movies (Civil Rights Movement or earlier) to current (defined as 1980s to now).
- The top four categories coming in at over 40 each were related to Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, Classic Novels, and Women biographies.
- When we watch Current Events – We want to be entertained
- The 5th most common response was action movies starring Will Smith at 31 responses
- Contemporary Romances came in next with 29 responses
- Comedy, Horror, Blaxploitation brought a combined: 51
- At total 111 responses – this is still less than half of the times we identified watching historically inspired and/or set movies
- We do NOT watch commentary. Maybe not many are made or maybe not many have nationwide release. Maybe we mean to watch, but put it off because we are afraid of how it will make us feel. Or maybe the way I listed the questions created bias…BUT…
- 17 Responses for documentaries based on social commentary
- 14 for movies with a satirical take on race
- 13 for documentaries about current events
- And ONLY 7 responses for PBS based series focused on the African American experience in history
Question 3: Which African American historical figure, book, story, and/or character would you like to see made as a movie? See word cloud above. The larger the text, the more people listed it as a movie they would be interested in seeing made.
Question 4: Out of ALL (not just the ones above) the movies you have ever seen, which 2-5 are your favorites? In the interest of space, I would like to say these movies were many and more diverse than I expected. A number of people referenced: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings. Princess Bride and Selma tied at 5 mentions each. The Butler got 4. Most unexpected to me was Gone with the Wind –three times. Eight people identified Black Panther!
Question 5: Please describe your race/ethnicity.
Note: Based on self-identification, it was necessary that some counted more than once.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Based on the information from the survey, I would recommend we stretch ourselves by watching movies that challenge us to listen to how race impacts the experience of brothers and sisters:
- I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
- Black Like Me (1964)
- Dear White People (2014)
- White Man’s Burden (1995)
- Black Americans Since MLK: Still I Rise
Intercultural Ministries will host a conversation about the National Geographic Issue about Race (April 2018)
–Thursday, April 26 at 1:00pm EST–
Access this video conference: https://redbooth.com/vc/01f9f83893e4f7e1
By phone: Dial +1 415 762 9988. Meeting ID is 180230133 (no participant ID)
DISCLAIMER: This is intended to spark conversation and encourage you to think about the movies you have watched, and not watched, in new ways. Special thanks to the 66 people who took this survey! This survey has absolutely no scientific rigor or standards and there may be errors in calculations I had to make by hand. If you have passion and skill for constructing surveys, crunching data, and want to help with this and/or future surveys, please let me know! Check out my high-tech survey equipment! –→
Gimbiya Kettering, Director, Intercultural Ministries
Church of the Brethren