Hollywood’s Guilt of Many Colours


Convivium, 25 January 2019

Father Raymond de Souza notes Tinseltown has nominated the mediocre Black Panther for Best Picture because it’s green with racial guilt.

Hollywood loves only one thing more than making money. Strike that. Hollywood loves nothing more than making money, but a close rival is congratulating itself for its admirable social conscience.

So 2018 was a very good year. Black Panther was one of the top grossing films, pulling in a cool $1.3 billion. It was the first superhero film to star a black character and the rare film that had a nearly all-black cast. Hollywood’s favourite colour is green, but the very black Marvel film made the industry very proud of itself.

Just in case anyone missed how progressive that all was, Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture this week. The Oscar nominations are part of the astonishingly successful marketing device called the “awards season.” Hollywood gathers to give awards to itself, a vanity exercise under the guise of recognizing artistic achievement. Occasionally a celebrity might recognize the whole affair as more than a little tacky and try to redeem it with a little apposite social commentary. And then everyone gets back to the red carpet, upon which strut various contenders for the empress who has no clothes.

Black Panther is not a very good film. It is not even a mediocre film; it is a banal film with dazzling special effects. In that, it is no different than the several superhero or dinosaur films released each year.

Black Panther got the nomination because Hollywood wishes to congratulate itself for being clever enough to do a little progressive preening while executing the prime directive of making money. But highlighting Black Panther is awkward for those who can see beyond the box office numbers. It is a completely unremarkable film with neither the complexity nor philosophical exploration of evil found, in say, The Dark Knight. (That Batman film did not, by the way, earn an Oscar nomination.)

Even worse, Black Panther itself traffics in racial stereotypes. But it did make a great deal of money, and in Hollywood making a lot of money excuses everything, including a touch of profitable prejudice here and there.

This first superhero film to feature a black star and black cast has two principal settings. A tough Oakland neighbourhood populated by hoodlums and a desperately poor sub-Saharan African country. No great marks for creativity here. And the villain of the piece is basically the American black urban gangster. The “progressive” part is that he is opposed by a black African king.

What makes Wakanda something other than what it seems, and gives the Black Panther his powers, is “vibranium,” a mineral which enables you to fly stealth space-age fighter jets, create energy force fields, and to armour the rhinoceros. Yes, in the climactic battle scene, filled with the most advanced technological weaponry, there appears the rhinoceros – armoured rhinoceros, mind you – because of course black Africans would fight with jungle animals. The only real racial advance which the Black Panther achieves is that black people are now the ones creating the dull stereotypes of black people.

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