Black Panther: the Movie and the Movement

Gil Scott Heron provides the connection, between a block buster and black rights.

It’s almost here, the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast. The UK release of Black Panther is on February 12th.

The official trailer – released in October 2017 – attracted over 89 million views within the first 24 hours, but I wonder if most of them were aware of the significance of the song hidden within it. Because concealed inside the remix of Vince Staples’ BagBak are traces of  the original Gil Scott-Heron 1971 classic, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

This interesting fact is well explored by Kofi Outlaw in an article for the one site Comicbook.

The song’s title was originally a slogan of the 1970s Black Panther movement which fought for the rights of American black communities between 1966 and 1982.

The poem itself calls for an awakening of social consciousness and, writes Outlaw, “a turning away from the mind-numbing elements of popular-culture such as TV.”

Outlaw points out that the choice of song and its reference are ironic, given that in 1972 Marvel Comics “shied away” from the “Black Panther” superhero name so as to avoid confusion with the political movement. However since then Outlaw points out that Black Panther has gone on to struggle against racial injustice, for example in the Panther vs. the Klan storyline of the mid-’70s and, writes Outlaw, “in the modern comic series by acclaimed African-American author Ta-Nehisi Coates.”

Elsewhere online I found out that Scott-Heron was very much influenced by the Black Arts Movement through which he was encouraged to write a novel called The Vulture and the Nigger Factory, published by The World Publishing Company in the 1970s.  It was attending a Black Arts Movement event in Lincoln at which there was a performance by The Last Poets that first sparked Scott Heron’s interest in mixing poetry with music.
Scott-Heron became very successful and is now thought of by many as the Godfather of Rap. Given the political consciousness that lies at the heart of his work, it makes sense to me that he now be associated with this new Marvel film, and its undertones of black power.