Why ‘Black Panther’ Signals Need for Inclusivity in Hollywood

Black Panther Thought Piece

Letitia Wright plays Shuri in “Black Panther” (2018), directed by Ryan Coogler.

Hollywood has a long way to go with representation, but “Black Panther” is an active move to bring more people of color onto the big screen. Even when black artists star as the leads in movies, those films usually don’t become popular in a mainstream way. Because of the systemic underrepresentation of black actors and characters, “black cinema” tends to get pigeonholed as its own subgenre, as opposed to attracting a wider audience’s attention. This also stems from a lack of black writers in the industry, according to an IndieWire study conducted last November. Most of the recognition black actors receive in Hollywood comes in the form of movies about black struggle, which limits the scope of black stories. At the same time, year after year, superhero movies become large blockbuster successes, with most of them centered around white male leads. “Black Panther” proves that Afrocentric narratives can be both cinematically meritorious and attract mainstream popularity, changing the landscape for black representation in cinema in a particularly influential way—which has been particularly influential—especially for black children.

Of course, “Black Panther” isn’t the only black superhero film, but it is the top grossing blockbuster film with a black cast. The film features not only a black lead, but also a mostly black cast, which sets a new standard for superhero films, in which black characters have been historically sidelined for white narratives. The actors’ cultural identities represent a wide range of African nations and its diaspora, from Guyana (Letitia Wright) to Kenya (Lupita Nyong’o), broadening the scope of representation to more than just black Americans.

Another important feature of the black cast is the inclusion of dark-skinned black women, who are typically left out in Hollywood due to colorism and European beauty standards. Black women superheroes are so rare in the superhero film world—the most famous of whom is Storm, an X-Men character whose ability to control the weather stems from her heritage as an African witch-priestess. Storm is typically played by lighter-skinned black women, like Halle Berry, despite being portrayed as dark-skinned in most of her comics. “Black Panther” producer Nate Moore called Shuri (Letitia Wright), T’Challa’s younger sister, the “smartest person” in the Marvel Comics Universe. The image of a black female teenager usurping Tony Stark in intelligence widens the scope of what a black character can be, empowering the representation of black women.

Not only is the cast black, but the writing team is black too. Generally speaking, even when characters in movies are black, they are usually not written by black writers, which can perpetuate black stereotypes that limit the multidimensionality of black characters. Black writers are typically left out of the creative process, but for “Black Panther,” they were front and center with Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole, two black men, writing the story of T’Challa.

Coogler and Cole’s writing works to subvert the trope that stereotypes Africa as a destitute continent. The movie is set in Wakanda, the most advanced African nation of its time. Typically, a Western worldview imagines Africa as a monolith, a continent rife with poverty and social unrest. History has conceptualized Western nations as superpowers, leaving African nations with these tired stereotypes. Given this history, the location and prominence of Wakanda does not go unnoticed. “Black Panther” shows an African nation more advanced than any other country on earth.

For black children, having superheroes with the same skin color as them emphasizes the implications of representation: that children find their superheroes accessible and relatable. People view superheroes as characters that should be admired because they have good morals and protect people. Children grow up wanting to be superheroes, and now they can see one of African descent portrayed on the big screen. In anticipation of “Black Panther”’s release, people bought tickets for black youth to go see the movie. Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Octavia Spencer started fundraisers for tickets to the movie for black youth, just so they could have a superhero to look up to. Serena Williams, in particular, surprised a group of girls from Black Girls CODE (further bolstering the character Shuri’s narrative of intelligent black women) with a paid-for screening of the film.

To me, “Black Panther” represents the beauty of black actors and writers coming together to create a film that black children can look up to. When this movie was first announced, I didn’t realize its necessity until I noticed how few black superhero movies have garnered the same mainstream attention. But now, we see dark-skinned black women fighting and protecting the nation of Wakanda. Seeing “Black Panther” on the screen reminds me of when I first saw Tiana in “The Princess and the Frog,” the first black Disney princess. Seeing Tiana on the screen made me feel like Disney was writing me into the movie. I watched the movie dozens of times and I even checked which Disney theme park would have Tiana available to take pictures. She had my skin color, hair, and Southern accent. I connected with her as a child because she looked just like me. “Black Panther” represents another influential movie in which black children can see themselves when they look at the big screen and see T’Challa fight villains and protect his nation.

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Oakland’s Souley Vegan: Jack London Eatery Serves Soul Food With A Healthy Twist

For nearly a decade Oakland’s Souley Vegan has sat on a quiet corner at 301 Broadway (3rd Street) in Jack London Square, serving up healthy, plant based soul food. The restaurant’s menu is comprised “solely” of vegan dishes, meaning that no meat, fish or dairy products are used.

“I can’t believe it’s been nine years,” owner Tamearra Dyson tells Hoodline.

Dyson recalls a childhood during which her mom introduced her to healthy eating. “My mom raised us as vegetarians,” she said. “But at 16 I found myself eating chicken–I felt like I was eating meat off of a bone. Later I learned about animal cruelty. I’m happy to be part of the solution–when you eat at Souley Vegan you have a cruelty free experience.”

The menu covers all the Soul Food classics such as black-eyed peas and southern fried dishes, but Souley Vegan serves southern fried tofu in lieu of southern fried chicken. There’s even a touch of the Mediterranean–a couscous plate which includes glazed onions, mushrooms and yellow corn.

Dyson recalls being told that she was crazy for opening the eatery in what was then a neighborhood where not much was going on. “There was no money then, it was the recession,” she said. “People advised me to sell fish–I said no, this is my vision, I can’t do anything but be myself.”

Dyson explained her vision. “I wanted to present a place for people to experience vegan food in a whole other way,” she said. “The music, the food, the customer service. It’s all a reflection of who I am as an individual–I want people to have fun and so I initiated a different perspective on the vegan lifestyle.”

Music does play a big part in creating the atmosphere at Souley Vegan. Soul and jazz from African American artists play over the restaurant loudspeaker as patrons dine. The walls are graced with portraits of black jazz musicians such as Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Live music is performed at Souley Vegan on Thursday evenings.

Tamearra Dyson stands in front of Souley Vegan’s portrait of jazz legend Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

“Music is very important to me,” Dyson said. “It’s a huge part of my life.”

Souley Vegan also offers a well-stocked wine and beer bar.

“When we opened in 2009 there was nothing much around here” Dyson said. “Now it’s developing–it feels like its coming alive. A lot of tenants are moving in–the Oakland A’s corporate office will be down here and will employ around 500 people.”

Dyson added that she likes to hire people from the neighborhood, and that the neighborhood has been supportive of her. Her customer base, she notes, comes from near and far.

“We have regulars who eat with us,” she said. “We get people from all over the world. There’s a family from India–the children live here. When the parents come to visit they eat here. We’ve had people drive up from LA.”

There have even been celebrity sightings. Singers Eric Benet, Erykah Badu and Angie Stone have all eaten at Souley Vegan, as has activist Angela Davis. “We don’t draw attention to celebrities,” Dyson said. “We might ask for a photo and an autograph saying that they liked the food.”

Through Souley Vegan, Dyson has found a happiness which she tries to share with others. “I love to give,” she said. “I’m in a position to–I share my smiles with people. It seems to light them up too.”

Souley Vegan is open Tuesday-Thursday 11am-10:30pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-11:30 pm, Sundays 10am-3pm at 301 Broadway in Oakland. Catering is also available.

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Millennials pick and choose when it comes to health, claims new report

Millennials pick and choose when it comes to health, claims new report – African American News Today – EIN News

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Words and songs honor late ‘trailblazer’ Scott


On the occasion of his birthdate and in celebration of Black History Month in Abilene, the late Rev. Leo F. Scott was remembered Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, as a “great, great trailblazer.” Greg Jaklewicz

On the occasion of his birthdate and in celebration of Black History Month in Abilene, the late Rev. Leo F. Scott was remembered Monday as a “great, great trailblazer.”

Scott’s life and contributions to the city were remembered at the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, where striking illustrations by African-American artists grace the walls in an exhibition titled “Our Voice,” an appropriate theme for the evening of spoken words, sung words and holy words.

The Rev. Iziar Lankford, emcee of the event, said Moses and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. heard the call when leadership was needed.

“Abilene needed a leader,” Lankford said, and the city received a young pharmacist who would become a respected minister and the first African-American on the City Council.

Scott, a Rockdale native, died Dec. 28, 2009, at 76.

Despite “enduring hardships,” Lankford said, Scott persevered to become a man of many accomplishments. “He was a workhorse and not a showhorse.”

In his invocation, the Rev. Phil Christopher said Scott did not just make a living but lived to make a difference. A city, he said, is not defined by city limits but by compassion that knows no limits. For Scott, it was the same.

The Rev. Larry Kimbrough, who came from Mineral Wells where he pastors Bethel Baptist Church, turned to Psalms for his scripture reading.

“For in the day of trouble

he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

and set me high upon a rock.”

Choirs from several churches offered selections and speakers included former chief of the Abilene Police Department, Melvin Martin, and the man who succeeded Scott at the pulpit of New Light Baptist Church, the Rev. Eddie Jordan.

Mayor Anthony Williams, who spoke near the end of the program, said it has been long since Scott was honored. Two more programs are planned at the NCCIL this month — the annual Claudie C. Royals Banquet on Thursday and honoring African-Americans who work for the city of Abilene on Monday.


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Mississippi bluesmen rediscovered in ‘Two Trains Runnin”: BIFF review

Skip James, left, and Son House in "Two Trains Runnin’," which screens at noon today during the 2018 Boulder International Film Festival.

Skip James, left, and Son House in “Two Trains Runnin’,” which screens at noon today during the 2018 Boulder International Film Festival. (Not Provided / Courtesy Dick Waterman)

On June 21, 1964 two separate groups of music fans seeking out blues musicians located Skip James and Son House in Mississippi, where they had been living in obscurity since recording scratchy 78 records more than 30 years previously.

It was a triumph for the fanboys, all white men from New York and California. One group came upon old blues music as a logical extension of their interest in folk music. Such attention led to a second act for some of the blues players and prompted the second wave of rock ‘n’ roll.

On the same day as the black artists Skip James and Son House were re-discovered, however, civil rights workers Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan and local police.

Sam Pollard’s documentary “Two Trains Runnin'” — which screens at noon today at Longmont Museum in Longmont and at 10 a.m. on Sunday at eTown in Boulder — toggles between the two narratives in a fascinating, terrible and occasionally funny look at a place and time where hauntingly beautiful blues music coincides with what amounted to 100 years of terrorism being waged against the community that created it.


Rapper and actor Common provides narration to the feature length documentary that folds in animation to lend extra life to the stories told by the two crews that set out for Mississippi from Cambridge, Mass., and California. In a rare moment of levity, an elderly black man goes along with one of the groups to guide them to a possible location of one of the musicians only to get in an argument over directions with a group of ominous white men loitering in a corn field. It’s a nail-biting moment, for sure, but an oddly funny insight into an elderly black man who’s lived his entire life under Jim Crow and just isn’t taking any more. (The incredulous white men relent and give him the directions.)

The folk nerds who unwittingly put themselves into a great deal of danger trekking into 1960s Mississippi make for compelling storytelling on their own. One of the men, John Fahey, a notable musician in his own right, studied old records trying to decipher the odd tunings, and the two crews of men searched for their idols with scant information. One bluesman was only known to be fat and a fan of white cowboy hats, for example.

But it’s the on-camera interviews with Civil Rights workers from the period, mostly black, that remind the viewer that while the stakes might have been high for the white music fans, they pale in comparison to what the black folk went through every day as they struggled for equal rights. The film spends more time on the blues, but one of its more poignant moments arrives when a civil rights worker tears up recalling the awful deaths of Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney.

As for the music, Pollard filmed contemporary artists like Lucinda Williams and The North Mississippi performing their take on some old blues tunes. The vintage country blues recordings, as scratchy and lo-fidelity as they may be, will likely bring tears to the eyes of anyone who is actually listening.

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Newsbook: What to Read After Watching ‘Black Panther’

The long-anticipated “Black Panther” film debuted in theaters on Feb. 17, and the response from critics and fans has been overwhelmingly positive. The movie earned $387 million in its opening weekend, which makes it the highest-grossing film of all time by a black director. If you want to dive deeper into the world of black comics, here are three books to start you off.


Politics of Race and Representation
Edited by Sheena C. Howard
288 pp. Bloomsbury Academic. (2013)

Howard, who wrote “Encyclopedia of Black Comics,” presents a collection of analytical essays that explore the historical and vast contributions of black artists to the graphic book genre, including comic strips, political cartoons, manga and graphic novels. One essay, “Brief History of the Black Comic Strip: Past and Present,” chronicles the work of black creators starting in the 1920s, while other contributors contextualize the work of black creators, explaining how they tackled themes such as the intersection of gender and race and incorporated political and social commentary in their comics.


A Nation Under Our Feet (Book 1)

By Ta-Nehisi Coates, Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
144 pp. Marvel. (2016)

If watching “Black Panther” left you wanting to know more about the Wakanda universe, consider Coates’s first book in his reprisal of the classic comic. Wakanda is threatened by a superhuman terrorist group called The People, which is deploying suicide bombers and poisoning the population against the king and current Black Panther, T’Challa. He must quell a violent uprising and lead the country through necessary change. Other heroes, like Storm and Luke Cage, join him to help save Wakanda.


Dictator of Discipline, Revelation (Book 1)
By Guy Sims, Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee
110 pp. Big City Entertainment. (2016)

Originally conceived in the early 1990s by three brothers, the “Brotherman” comic series is considered a cornerstone of contemporary black comic culture. It follows Antonio Valor, a public attorney in Big City who doubles as Brotherman, a realistic hero who combats delinquency in his crime-ridden city. This graphic novel — the first in what will be a series of three — tells Brotherman’s origin story, and reintroduces the character to a modern audience.

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Coal mining has a deep history in Southern Illinois

By Casey Bischel | Of the Belleville News-Democrat

Special thanks to the Belleville News-Democrat. 

Louis Joliet and Pere Marquette, returning from an expedition on the Mississippi River in 1673, were the first explorers to notice the combustible material that would shape the Illinois economy. The coal just sat there on the surface like low-hanging fruit near Utica along the Illinois River.

The first mine appeared near Peoria not long after, but it wasn’t until 1830, when coal from Belleville found a market in nearby St. Louis, that the industry took off, according to Keith Weil and Alvin K. Grandys, who wrote the 1976 Illinois Coal Digest, a publication from the Illinois Department of Business and Economic Development.

Coal grew by leaps and bounds over the decades. In the 1850s and 1860s, railroads opened lines to new customers and the Civil War. Later, Weil and Grandys write, the formalization of geology and the appearance of the steam engine made coal easier to find and dig.

The mines attracted tens of thousands of workers, many of whom were exposed to the dangers of an unchecked industry. As mine collapses and explosions claimed hundreds of lives, new vitality sprang into labor unions that went on to fight for better safety and health care.

Early mine collapses, the result of apathetic owners, encouraged miners to organize but still produced few gains, according to Rosemary Feurer, a history professor at Northern Illinois University. Reforms went unenforced, and even a nascent form of workers’ compensation, the victory of a particularly deadly episode in Cherry, in the northern part of the state in 1909, barely compensated widows from a legal judgment.

Every law “was written in blood,” said Bernie Harsey, president of the United Mine Workers of America Local 1825 in DuQuoin.

Harsey also fought for a better way of life for miners. In 1993, management wanted to reduce health care benefits, so the union went on strike, and Harsey was out of work for six months. If the strike didn’t happen, he said, he didn’t think he would have health insurance coverage.

Harsey, who started in the coal industry in 1973, said he’s used between $2 million and $3 million in health insurance to cover his family for everything from cancer to a kidney transplant.

“We wouldn’t have that without our labor disputes,” he said.

Health care was one of the items that miners fought hardest for, and in 1946, John Lewis, the leader of the United Mine Workers of America, negotiated legislation that secured cradle-to-grave health care coverage for its members that was guaranteed by the federal government.

Recently, that compromise came under threat when Peabody Energy filed for bankruptcy in 2016, the latest in a series of coal companies to fail. After a temporary stopgap that saved health insurance for 22,600 retired miners, their widows and children, Congress finally saved the deal in April 2017.

Today, the “Promise of 1946,” a term the Krug-Lewis Act acquired relatively recently, seems sacrosanct, but miners at the time wouldn’t have seen it that way, Feurer said. Throughout Lewis’s tenure, the UMWA grew closer to management, and the organization became more bureaucratic. Inspired by these trends, a more rebellious wave of labor action in the 1960s won the Federal Mining Safety Legislation of 1974, an improvement to narrower and weaker bills passed in 1951 and 1969.

For as much as miners sacrificed for their benefits, others who weren’t covered sometimes sacrificed just as much, as companies pit workers against themselves by bringing in different ethnic groups to undercut wages of more established groups. The 1922 Herrin Massacre stands out as the one of the most violent episodes of labor violence in which union members shot and killed 19 strikebreakers.

The first people to mine in Illinois were slaves, Feurer said. Other early groups to settle the area were English, Scots-Irish and Irish, people who’d struck out with the poor soils of Appalachia, according to David Conrad, a history professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. From 1890 to the early 1920s, eastern and southern Europeans settled the area next. After the Civil War, African-Americans came north only to find that “southern Illinois was not greatly different,” Conrad wrote in “Tell Me A Story: Memories of Early Life Around the Coal Fields of Illinois.”

As evidence of coal’s importance to the economy and culture of Southern Illinois in particular, the first mining union, the American Miners’ Association, began in West Belleville in 1861.

Since then, Illinois has produced many generations of miners, and today, as a lack of opportunities clamps down on the region, it ensures that only an eager, if smaller, generation will continue the dangerous work.

Only, they won’t belong to the UMWA anymore, Harsey said. Not a single member works in any mine in Southern Illinois.

About 98 percent of workers who belong to the Local 1825 are retired now. The other 2 percent, about 10 people, are waiting for work on the inactive list. It’s been this way since 1997, when the mine reached the end of its property and there was nothing more to dig.

“We knew the day was coming,” Harsey said. “You just get on with life.”

The future of coal mining in Illinois is bleak for workers, and although many believe the industry’s freefall began only recently, it peaked in the 1920s, and has been declining since, Conrad said.

In 1930, a whopping 185 coal mines employed 51,200 people who produced 52 million tons of coal. By 2015, just 19 mines employing 3,600 people produced 55 million tons of coal, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

While coal production varies from year to year, the number of workers has declined steadily. Technology and natural gas, the two biggest culprits for the industry’s current decline, were blamed 100 years ago, too, as trains became more efficient and other fuels found new markets.

After Harsey’s mine shut down, many workers were let go, but some stayed on for the next five years to work on land reclamation. Harsey worked with the operating engineers’ Local 5 for 10 more years.

“For me, only working (seven or eight) months out of the year, I was more fortunate than the others,” he said.

Local 1825 may be out of work, but it still celebrates the history of Illinois coal mining. Every year on April 1, it gets together to celebrate the victory of an 8-hour workday. In 2017, about 175 people showed up.

“We had a good turnout,” he said.

Casey Bischel of the Belleville News-Democrat can be reached at cbischel@bnd.com

Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.

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The Separation Between Church And The State Of Your Health May Be Narrowing

Glenn Ellis

By Glenn Ellis

(Trice Edney Wire) – “Much of the work of … prevention must occur at the community level, where human relationships breathe life into public policy. American communities are also home to scores of faith-based and secular initiatives that help reduce risk factors and promote protective factors associated with many of our most pressing social problems”

The separation between church and the state of your health may be narrowing, according to a new study released in the journal Health Promotion Practice.

In a survey of more than 1,200 members of 11 African-American churches in North Carolina, an overwhelming majority of congregants said they believe that the church has a responsibility to promote healthy living within the community they serve.

Many of us who’ve grown up in the church understand its historical context, and know that churches have traditionally functioned beyond spiritual guidance and social support.

Surprisingly to some, many African-Americans still believe their church is responsible for promoting health in their members and the community. But what may be more surprising is how those congregants say they’d like to receive those messages about their health — by way of interactive workshops and health fairs instead of from the pulpit.

I have often been critical of health promotion efforts which seek to reach the black community through churches, because while churches are important part of black culture, public health researchers often overestimate the role of the pastor, alone, as the sole mechanism for crafting and presenting health information

Presumably health ministry members are more knowledgeable than most pastors when it comes to health messages. After all, they are the group within the church that focuses on the promotion of health and healing as part of the mission and ministry of the larger faith group and the wider community. Even though this can vary from one church to the next, if appropriate technical support can be developed for church health ministries, this could be a valuable new resource for reaching African Americans with accurate and authoritative health information

While the Pastor does act as gatekeeper and advocate for a health program, most churches conduct health missions on their own via health ministry, without the ongoing presence of medical institutions as partners.

However, a stronger partnership between church leadership and health providers could potentially reduce the impact of health disparities for African-Americans.

Last weekend, I had a double privilege of going to Birmingham, Alabama (my hometown) and to be the featured speaker at Trinity Baptist Church, ministered by my cherished childhood friend Rev. John E. King, Jr.

The additional bonus was being able to fellowship at the church I grew up in, St. Paul A.M.E., on Founder’s Day, recognizing the life of Richard Allen. All of this took place in the very neighborhood where I was born and raised during the height of the Civil Rights Movement!

Witnessing the power, influence, and impact of an awesome community engagement reminded me how the historic role that the African American Church in our communities is as relevant and needed today as ever.

At its best, the contemporary African-American church continues in a rich tradition, providing material benefits, community organizing and spiritual renewal for a community that remains scarred by a secular world that remains stubbornly resistant to the idea of black citizenship, let alone black humanity.

Symbolically, the Black church has always represented more than a house of worship. Metaphorically, it has represented the protector of black bodies.

Their work provides an inspiring example of a community that is working toward achieving the Triple Aim of “ Body, Mind, and Spirit”.

Spiritual leaders and faith communities and now the research community know that practical applications of faith and spirituality can promote healthy living and provide pathways through which human suffering, be it mental, emotional, spiritual, or physical can be overcome.

Conducting a community health fair at African American churches across this country can help to fill the gap that currently exists in our health care system. Many people in our community are in need of health care services and resources.

Research studies have shown that 80 percent of health status is determined by the social determinants of health”. In other words, what happens and what we do where we live is more important in determining our health, than what happens in the doctor’s office or the hospital.

Why not start a real “Movement” of local, church/faith-sponsored events that can help our communities to thrive, and enjoy the best health possible?

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.