Many have debated the claim that Black Panther is making any waves for its black audience, whether politically or socially. The argument is that a single film with a crew 90 percent black won’t change any conditions or necessarily mobilize a people. Many say the representation is still limited, which is true. Nevertheless, we would be remiss to dismiss the power behind strong and dignified black imagery.
Take Brazil for instance, where a myriad of protests have risen, proving that the movie is no ground for complacency. It lends, instead, to a global resurgence of black unity. The film is not an embodiment of general change, but of change we can start with.
After the release of the reasonably decorated film, black Brazilians have assembled, traveling hours outside of favelas or working-class neighborhoods to protest their exclusion from “elite” venues and defy their cloak of invisibility through participation in the rolezinho pretoi or “black stroll.”
On Monday (Feb. 19), the Coletivo Preto (Black Collective) and Grupo Emú began occupying predominately white spaces – such as malls where the upper-class visit – to continue their escape from the segregation and rampant impoverishment that surrounds them, though never stated overtly.
The group started at Shopping Leblon, one of Rio de Janeiro’s most luxurious malls. They simply came together and decided to see the movie — all black, all together. As a people, their presence posed a threat to the “safety” of shoppers and fellow movie-goers. The group dressed in traditional African garb, accompanied by accessories such as kofias, headwraps and the oft-threatening afro.
In addition to presence, the protests call for representation in media. A national cinema agency, Ancine found that only seven percent of professionals in the field of entertainment are black when the majority of Brazilians have African ancestry, The Intercept reports.
The protest is much larger than a response to Black Panther’s representation. It also stands as a response to the attempts to stop young black boys and men from visiting beaches in wealthy neighborhoods back in 2015, with earlier protests turned violent as motivators, too. The fear of the “invasion” has caused white elites and their businesses to close malls and call on law enforcement agents, who have resorted to breaking up the groups with tear gas and rubber bullets, according to The Intercept.
Organizers, however, will continue to work for their people, as no motion for civil rights has ever been easy. They’re pushing for blackness in film and elsewhere in media to become the norm.