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‘Black Panther’ Saturday: On the prowl for Oscars, dialogue and truth

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The first order of business for today is for me to make a straightforward invitation to everyone — clergy or parishioner, black or white, woman or man, person of faith or other — whatever kind of dividing line one might perceive — everyone to join me this afternoon to watch “Black Panther” at our church, Ascension Lutheran Church on Nash Street, starting at 4 p.m.

We will have the movie, a meal, world-renowned artist Louis Small Jr. showing us how to draw the main character, but of primary importance: a conversation, discussion, dialogue on the relevance of this movie that came out a little over a year ago.

On the one hand, “Black Panther” is just a great movie. There is no need for a qualifier of any kind here: not “a great Marvel movie;” not “a great African-American movie;” just quite simply a great movie! It has a bunch of awards already under its belt, and it is indeed up for seven Academy Awards including that elusive top prize, Best Picture.

Its win would continue an affirmation process that could be similarly seen when “Moonlight” won a couple of years ago. It would affirm a story primarily about black characters as well as affirming what before has been seen as a fringe genre of the geek-lauded comic book hero. Though in the midst of Black History Month, one should in no way underestimate the statement even the nomination makes about the increased recognition that there is more than a niche desire for heroes beyond the white male stereotype. And in fact, it is perhaps a sign that much of society has become restless with the whitewashing of the way the world looks even when looking through the eyes of fiction.

Now, one of my hopes in lifting up this movie, which is already over a year old, is to promote some conversation and understanding between folks who may come at life from different perspectives. I usually get stuck with leading discussions at my movie events, but in many ways I will be the least qualified person in the room!

I just attended a workshop on “white privilege” during which we participated in a rather revealing exercise. Each of us was asked to identify one or two identity groups from a list of six in which we individually would have privilege. There were then a list of common everyday situations listed for me to compare my privileged status with someone on the other side of the equation. The list was made up of experiences as a: white person, heterosexual person, Christian, able-bodied person, male and professional wage-earner. I looked at the list and realized that I fit all those categories and was not the “other” in any of those scenarios. It did not take much to envision the ways the “other” is disadvantaged in situations the privileged never even take into consideration!

It’s possible some folks at this workshop let the realizations roll off them like water off a duck, but a couple of phrases from it stuck with me. “Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem to you personally.” (Like when, for a moment I mentally put myself in a wheelchair and then imagined the logistics of trying to get to a grocery store and the consequences of finding that what I came for sits perched upon the highest shelf.) Or one that was apparently quoted at one of the awards ceremonies recently: “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” (This one made me wonder if that’s why there is this tendency to put down the “other” if for no other reason than to lift oneself up.)

So, all that having been said, maybe it is clearer why my qualifications might be best summed up as a facilitator of discussion rather than a leader of discussion. You see, “Black Panther’s” real power is not in the action or even moving the Marvel movie universe forward in its storytelling. The real power is in how it can help us reveal truth as God intended, the universality of the human condition that human sin continuously obscures!

Thank goodness, I have by my side someone who does bring perspective, understanding and not only a love for the characters of the movie, but also the industry from which they originate. My friend and co-conspirator for this event, Louis Small Jr., will be with us not only to show us how to draw, but to speak from the perspective of an African-American artist who works in the comic book industry and who experiences the world from the black perspective. His words as well as pictures will make the day!

Lou and I have been talking up this event in the community the past few weeks while also looking forward to another “Free Comic Book Weekend” mini-comic-con the last weekend in March. And as we’ve talked, we’ve tried to share the vision of having a discussion room representative of our community with ALL races present, with young and old, male and female (you know there are STRONG female characters in the movie!) and everyone gathered to talk about being together.

The truth, as we see it, is that differences don’t have to divide. In fact, diversity is what makes us stronger. Celebrating differences and gifts is one of the things that St. Paul talks about a great deal with the caveat that the greatest gift is the commonality of love. And when questioned about what might divide, Galatians 3:28 makes clear: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

So, I hope many folks will take the opportunity on what might turn out to be a washout of a day otherwise to come together, hopefully from different faiths, different backgrounds — diverse as we can be — to share in a good movie, some good food and mutual conversation. For we are many on the one earth, united by our one Creator, to be interdependent in completing the created order. And ultimately, that is something to celebrate!

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 27 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears each week in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.

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