Black Panther is our Lord of the Rings (SPOILERS AHOY)

Right. Right. I saw Black Panther on Friday, and I’ve been pretty much tongue-tied over it because OMIGOSH IT WAS AWESOME. Now that I I’ve had some time to process it, I want to talk about it. So SPOILERS!!!


















So there was a scene where the Jabari tribe joins Black Panther as he fights to get his throne back from Killmonger. This is after M’Baku, the leader, tells T’Challa that he’s on his own and that the Jabari will not ally themselves with him. Yeah, I knew immediately that he would be joining anway, because climatic action, yada yada yada…still awesome though.

Anyhoo, in that fight, we see W’kabi leap onto a war rhinoceros and charge towards Shuri…or T’Challa…I can’t really remember. Someone was in danger..and W’kabi’s lover, Okoye, sees this, leaps to put herself right in the rhino’s charging path…

…and the rhino not only grinds to a halt, but then gives Okoye a loving lick. Because no way is it not going to gore its favorite human…

And at that moment, I thought…

This is our Lord of the Rings.


Remember when the Lord of the Rings came out? Specifically, the Return of the King? Remember the Haradrim? They were the robed figures done up in a Arabic style riding humongous war elephants…or oiliphants, as Samwise Gangee calls them. In the books, they’re described as ‘swarthy’ and brown-skinned’. In the books as well as the movie, they are a threat, and a fighting force wielding spears and scimitars. They fight, they get their butts kicked, and that’s about it. Unless you read the Simillarion, you don’t know much about them, and even what’s in that is pretty limited. 

I never really saw the Haradrim as African–more Arabic–but still, the Haradrim was the closest to brown people with my description in fantasy literature. Add that up with portrayals of blacks by Lovecraft (blatantly racist), or C.S. Lewis (non-existent), and it felt that blacks can only be portrayed in fantasy as either savages, or an lone exceptional example, or simply non-existent. Implied. Invisible. 

Until Black Panther.

This is what we’ve been waiting for. Yes, I know it’s a superhero movie, but there is so much fantasy in this movie. From the herb where Black Panther gets his power, to the Ancestral Plain, to the fight scenes (omigosh did you see when Okoye threw her wig in a guy’s face as a diversion tactic? DID YOU SEE THAT?! AND HER FIGHTING IN THAT RED DRESS OOOOOHHHHH) to M’baku’s kingdom in the snowy mountains…M’Baku, who was called Man-Ape in the comics, but in this movie was turned from a caricature into a living, breathing leader with the freedom to make his own choices.

And that was the whole. dang. movie.

We weren’t given cookie cutter enemies. These enemies could think and feel and love and cry. Tolkien had characters that could only be seen in black and white, good and evil. Probably the only sympathetic baddie was Gollum. But you’d never see an orc struggle with doing the right thing, because it had been raised to be nothing but evil. And that became prescribed for whoever helped Sauron out.

Black Panther, however, showed people, actual *black* people with different wants and needs on different sides, each doing things they thought were best. Even Killmonger to some extent. He did horrible things. He killed many people. He was awful, awful, AWFUL to women. (Where was his mother, anyway? What happened to her?). And yet, that scene when he goes to his own ancestral place, and confronts his father…dang….that was a *powerful* scene.

But this is getting away from me. All these brown skinned people, in a story of an own, but not as fodder, but as *real people*. That scene when the Jabari came to help Black Panther get his throne back, that was some Lord of the Rings shit right there. And it allowed all the warriors to fight for what they believe in, and in some cases, even choose not to fight. Because they had that right. Even the war rhino, instead of being some mindless creature, made the conscious choice not to kill, but to give its target a loving lick on the cheek. It was a beautiful, badass moment, and it made me tear up in happiness.

This is what I had wanted Lord of the Rings to be for those nameless Haradrim.

In my Uncanny Magazine essay, “Learning to Turn Your Lips Sideways“, I wrote, “Black authors are learning how to turn their lips sideways. We are coming out of the woodwork and getting black blackity black all up in our stories and our fairy tales and our science fiction and our fantasy. We’re writing works that tell stories that have always been told, to show that Black Lives truly do Matter, that we are more than one-notes with just a single story. That we are deep and complex and diverse.”

Black Panther is the epitome of that. And the best thing about it is that it appeals to SO MANY PEOPLE, not just black folk. Look at those box office records being smashed. This is unprecedented, and pretty much what we’ve been saying what would happen. Give people a great story, and they will watch it.

So yeah. This is a game changer. It’s unprecedented. And yeah, I know. At some point I’ll start criticizing it proper (did I mention how Killmonger really was awful to women?) but still YOOOO THIS IS OUR LORD OF THE RINGS WAKANDA FOREVAHHHHHH

(And I’m not just saying that because the only two white guys in it were also in Lord of the Rings. They were the Tolkein white guys. Get it? Get it? Aughhhh memes ruin everything….)


Review: The Help

(Note: here there be spoilers for the movie. Once I read the book, no doubt there’ll be spoilers for that as well.)

I’m really late on this.

When I first started seeing the movie posters, I thought, oh great, another civil rights era showing blacks in menial jobs. When I heard its main character was white, I already knew the plot: white girl sees black maids, white girl uses her resources to single-handedly help them, there’ll be some mayhem, and in the end, the white girl walks off feeling good. See, it’s a feel-good movie. Just like the Blind Side.

But then an interesting thing happened. In my facebook stream, I started to see two polarizing opinions. The first was from mostly feminists who said pretty much what I wrote above–which included this statement from the Association of Black Women Historians. The other side was praise from Christians, mostly women, who saw the movie as uplifting and inspiring. What’s more, it was coming from black Christian women. That didn’t happen with the Blind Side.

I put the book in my to-read pile. I still had reservations about seeing the movie. My co-workers invited me to see with them, but I felt somewhat funny being the only black person in the group. My black writer friends were scattered over the country, but they ragged on the movie. So I figured I’d have to wait until it came out on Netflix, until Christmas, when my aunt pulled out the movie on blu-ray and asked, "Hey, look what I got." My grandma looked at it and said, "Well, nothing else is on. Put it in."

So I watched the Help with the womanfolk of my family (all the men, of course, vanished, because hey, chick flick). That really enhanced the movie, because, as I hoped, they did not keep quiet during the movie. My mom, my aunts, and especially my grandma, had a whole lot to say during the movie. And that helped enhance it as a whole.

My grandmother wasn’t a maid, but she did clean people’s houses during that era before she was able to become a nurse. She verified the rules that the black maids had to remember in how they interacted with white people. She also shared some interesting insights that the movie glossed over–for instance when Abilene gets kicked off the bus because a black guy got killed, and she goes home to learn that Medgar Evars was killed.  Grandma told us that not many people know about him, but he was instrumental in getting the civil rights movement off the ground. "You don’t hear much about him," she said, "but he did a lot of good work–him and Martin Luther King, Jr. Folks got angry when he got killed."

She also said that the black women loving the white children they raised was pretty much spot on. "Children are innocent. They don’t know any better." Afterwards Grandma and I talked black and white relations in general after the movie. "Wasn’t no big deal," she said. "You had the whole gamut of black folk who didn’t care a thing about the people they worked for, and then there were others who were treated like part of the family. You need to understand, down in the south, it was pretty much expected that way. Blacks and white lived side by side, kids played with each other–it was the norm. But it was also expected that the blacks got all the menial jobs, that they couldn’t rise up higher than their level. As long as they knew their place, they were fine."

Then she said:

In the south, you can live next to them; you just can’t be better than them.
In the north, you can be better than them; you just can’t live next to them.

She then told me about her aunt who lived in Arkansas (and taught my grandma to love books–which she passed down to me) who had a farm right across from a white couple. They were friendly to each other. Every so often, the white couple would send for my great aunt to come over and do something like kill a chicken, because that was what black folk did. And my great aunt did it because that was the norm. Didn’t matter what her mood was like, or if she did it out of charity or bitterness. It didn’t matter. No one questioned it, because it never entered into their heads to do so.

That wasn’t too long ago, either.

My grandma and mom and aunts loved the movie (which is interesting because my mom is the only professing Christian in the lot). As for me, I liked it, but probably not for the same reasons.

The beginning starts off just the way I figured it would–with Skeeter as the main character and the story being centered around her. We’re also introduced to Abilene, who could be considered the secondary main character. Minnie is definitely an antagonist of sorts, though it could have been the other white woman, but Minnie stands out far more to me.

As the movie went on, a very interesting thing happened. Although Skeeter was more the protagonist, there were less and less scenes of her and more of Abilene and Minnie. In fact, many of the strongest scenes had either Abilene or Minnie or both in them, but no Skeeter. (Case in point–the movie sets up this whole dating thing with Skeeter and that dude–can’t remember his name. But that gets gets glossed over with Minnie’s storyline with the pie (which my family found a hoot). You don’t even know Skeeter was dating him until he breaks up with her after the book comes out. You could cut that entire storyline out and it would’ve made no impact to the plot.)

That ending when Abilene enters the church to a standing ovation, and she gets the book with everyone names in it–dang if that didn’t make me tear up. And what does Skeeter get? Umm…an opportunity to go to New York, which she plans to turn down, but hey, the long-suffering maids urge her to go, because it’s not like nothing is keeping her there (and moreover, it’s not like her life will be in danger if she stays, not like the maids…sorry. I so hated that scene.) Luckily, Skeeter is written out goes to New York, and we get to the true ending, where Abilene confronts her employer.  It was as if the movie itself knew that the actual strength of the story came from the black characters, but it made Skeeter the main character because…well…it’s the norm.

It could have been bold. Make Abilene the main protagonist and ditch all the weak, stereotypical, "let’s show how white southern women go around acting like high faluting members of "Mama’s Family",  and put the focus on Abilene, Minnie, and Skeeter in that order, and this would’ve been such a powerful film, right up there with The Color Purple. But it didn’t. It went with the safe white protagonist. And that just made the movie good. Not great…but light and good. Shame.

As for all the naysayers about it, well, I can certainly see why you don’t want to see it. And that’s a shame as well, because this wasn’t a story about a white privileged female who wanted to become a journalist, so she writes a story about black maids. This was a story about a black woman who wanted to become a writer, so she uses a white journalist to get her story out to the country. You can see it as a privileged person taking advantage of her status to get ahead in life, or you can see it as black women taking a risk to empower themselves.

I asked my mom what she thought about the movie. "In those days, it was all about people taking risks, even though they knew it could kill them. It was those risks that got the civil rights movement rolling."

This gets the rating of 3 chocolate pies out of 5. I would rate it more, but I don’t know…after this movie, I’m going to look at chocolate pies with more suspicion than normal.

Mini-review of "The Women" up at the Agony Booth.

Got another review up at the Agony Booth! It’s a mini-review of "The Women", and it’s picturerific! Go check it out!

"Southland Tales" MegaRecap up at the Agony Booth!

I know I’m breaking my self-imposed hiatus, but I did promise to give you a goody for Christmas. Back in August, I worked with some other folks on a massive review of the movie Southland Tales, and it’s finally up at the Agony Booth! Head on over to to read it–it’s best to read it from beginning to end, but if you want to know, my section is on Page 8.

Southland Tales, directed by Richard Kelly, tells the story of the Apocalypse through…ugh, why am I even bothering? I’ll let the recap speak for itself. Keep in mind, this is the Agony Booth–in other words, lots of whimpering, swearing, cussing, weeping, violence, rants, insane babble, and the very foul use of Moby and SUVs. So keep the kids away from this one. Enjoy!