News // March 12, 2018

Reflecting on Black Panther, Identity, Representation, and Futurism in Art


Ysa Johnson
Marketing and Communications Intern and JXTA alumn

On February 16th 2018, a significant event in black arts was embraced by Juxtaposition Arts with the help of First Avenue and Rhymesayers. Juxtaposition Arts’ Visual Art Literacy Training (VALT) students, youth apprentices, and staff were invited to see an early screening of the film Black Panther at St. Louis Park’s ShowPlace ICON Theaters.

Black Panther is important not only as a significant cultural moment, but also as another step in a history of steps black and marginalized communities have taken to create their own futures; giving youth images of an unapologetically black film celebrating black culture creates the creative heroes of tomorrow.

While other superhero movies featuring a black protagonist and cast, like the Blade trilogy, existed prior to Black Panther, none were at the same level of production. A black superhero film of this size has been a long time coming. The Blade trilogy predates the Marvel Cinematic universe and brought Marvel narratives to public recognition. Black Panther brings the company’s theatrical releases full circle. It had been in the works for years before production began, with Marvel producers, like Nate Moor, pushing for explicitly black storylines in the superhero canon.

Directed and co-written by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther includes a majority-black cast and the kind of detail paid to production, design, script, and editing that only a black-led team could accomplish. Both overt and subtle, images and messages of black liberation and self-determination are two of the major themes, and the world clearly wants it; the staggering box office success dispels the myth that black-centered stories and art are undesirable to worldwide audiences. This movie is so powerful to JXTA, not only because of the representation, but of the successful execution of a big budget, impactful project that can inspire young people to dream big and take on whatever they believe is possible.

I was getting tired of seeing the same story over and over again, glossing over real issues that affect real people. No matter your background, a world responding to the histories of colonization, slavery, and oppression affects all of us. We see this reflected in the global, national, local, and interpersonal spheres, and it is time we create narratives that reflect reality. While viewingBlack Panther, I was overjoyed to see such beautiful, unique black characters given the same complexity and interiority that is offered by default to white characters and white stories. This film is a difficult conversation, AND a celebration, pushing the culture around black representation and black stories as they are presented to a worldwide audience. To be able to engage on such levels was a gift, and I know it’s just the beginning.

DeAnna Cummings
CEO and founder of Juxtaposition Arts

“We were trying to draw a future. To leave something that inspires. We arrived to this big epic story. But it is also a big responsibility when telling an epic tale because you have to tell it – epically.” — Namir Fearce, artist, and JXTA alumni

Stories shape us. They shape communities, institutions, and behavior. They do not have to be true to be passed on and believed. But what we believe has a powerful impact on the world. A few weeks ago I had the good fortune to see Black Panther with the entire team at JXTA. Director Ryan Coogler and the nearly entirely black cast gave us an epic story that is black affirmative, unapologetically black-centered, and joyfully executed.

The film resonated with our team. The big picture of our work at JXTA is about illuminating stories about Black and POCI people and marginalized communities. Our goal is to shift mainstream narratives that are narrow and largely negative toward collective stories that focus on our assets, skills, creativity, accomplishments, and ideas. We train and employ young artists and designers in our North Minneapolis neighborhood so that they can practice powerfully living into their roles as leaders and creators and so that people inside and outside of our community get used to seeing our youth in this light.

This is what I think Black Panther does on a grand scale. I left the theater feeling proud of my people, and my team, and with a bounce in my step because we are individually and collectively LIT! Black Panther is the latest cultural milestone that is proof that people who have been historically and systematically oppressed are hungry to see authentic representations of ourselves and will support projects and institutions where we can produce and tell our own stories. I hope we can make a commitment to support the artists, story makers, and young futurists whose voices haven’t been heard enough, who tell the tales we need to imagine so that we can believe, and act on the possibilities of something new.

Wakanda Forever!