Over Spring Break, I stopped by my local movie theater to watch the highly praised “Black Panther.” The film had a different feel than other Marvel movies, straying away from the cliché evil villain who is evil strictly because they enjoy it. Instead, the film opts for a more sympathetic villain who many can relate to. It’s a refreshing take on a movie industry that usually produces strikingly similar heroes, villains and plot lines.
After the movie, I felt empowered. I felt this array of confidence and swagger come over me and for a second, I was the Black Panther. I felt like a superhero. This movie is an example of how film, music and the arts can transcend the boundaries of inequality and reach a vast array of people, no matter the color of their skin, class and gender. As I walked out of the theater, visualizing myself in the slick and savvy Black Panther suit, I began to wonder: Is America approaching equality?
The media has the ability to shape our social ideologies and discourses. Today, we are constantly “plugged in,” especially in the realm of the instant gratification we gain through streaming services. In the 1960s, times were not so simple. The civil rights movement swept over the nation, stirring disputes as racial tensions grew. Then, in 1968, boxer Muhammad Ali stepped onto the cover of Esquire. Ali posed with arrows stuck in his body from all angles, blood (probably fake) gushing from the wounds; yet he stood tall, head turned upwards as if calling for the heavens for help. This cover would become one of the defining pictures of the decade; a powerful Black figure with non-conforming ideas inspiring mainstream society to think differently. Covers like this serve as the foundation for a new kind of thinking because they challenge the status quo, and this challenge eventually alters the way we view race.
Fast forward to 2017, and pregnant tennis player Serena Williams poses on the cover of Vanity Fair while flaunting her powerful, athletic body. A cover like this is years and years in the making, having gone through the media’s constant shaping of our perceptions of what is socially acceptable. There were times in America when a cover like this seemed unimaginable. Yet, here we are. Throughout the years, race and gender have changed, and with it, equality has changed too. African Americans are seen in more significant roles throughout the entertainment industry than before. Many important conversations have been brought to light, including the conversations inspired by movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. We must take the small victories where we can, hoping they will add up to the bigger picture as we strive for equality.
Today, the useless information that floods our media sources dilutes the more serious issues at hand in our society. Media outlets and different social media platforms still idolize white entertainers and celebrities, hardly ever challenging societal norms. They preach the importance of physical beauty and happiness, which reinforces and shapes our socially-constructed ideal that in order to have both, one must look like a celebrity.
It may be far-fetched to say that we can ever fully accomplish equality. Oppression, unequal rights and class hierarchies still plague our society, but we are moving in the right direction.
I personally do not believe full equality can ever be reached; conventional norms are still embedded in our culture and will be for a long time. Nonetheless, the media has come a long way, and it is important to note the strides we have made in becoming a more inclusive society. We must continue to push the boundaries of what is socially acceptable like Ali did, like Williams is doing and like “Black Panther” will do. Only then will we shape our future for the better. In “Black Panther”, the main character, T’Challa puts it beautifully: “We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”
Lucas Rosendall is an LSA sophomore.