Signs of the Black Panther movie: Black and white in living color

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OK so I’m running my theological playbook of philosophical, topical, cultural coincidence with Marvel movies this spring, and had every intention of giving the setup for the first movie tie-in I’ll be hosting at my church next Saturday, Feb. 23 in the form of the blockbuster “Black Panther.”

I had figured I had this week’s column to start since in addition to all the other awards it has already won, Black Panther just won two Grammys for its music last weekend. And then, I figured, next week as anticipation ramped up for its Oscar run on Sunday night, the screening at my church on Nash Street would be the perfect venue for people to get set with another rewatch (I’m not even going to suggest anyone has not seen Black Panther yet!)

And the timeliness of the showing was initially just to tie into Black History Month, but then there has been the “assistance” of several politicians whose actions have made issues of race and racism jump to the top of the headlines. All that joined with my own denomination’s daylong workshop that I have just attended on “cultural sensitivity training” specifically focused on elucidating white privilege. How much more timely could this showing get, just to prompt an open forum to discuss all the various angles that the themes inherent in the movie address in many various ways?

However, my setup to that discussion will have to wait until next week because I’ve just gotten distracted by another shiny object. It basically boils down to the difference between black and white and full color. And the problem with it is amplified because I’m colorblind.

No, I’m not being coy about some kind of racial interpretation; I’m talking about the quandary I found myself in in trying to set up signs to promote the movie!

You see, at my church, Bob is my sign guy (he is also the guy who volunteered me to write this weekly column, so at least he was making the signs in recompense). But Bob has been sick for the last little bit, and so if I wanted signs to promote this movie, I’d have to follow my grandfather’s advice: God helps those who help themselves. (As a theological note: that’s not in the Bible, very poor theology and really only helpful at an all you can eat buffet!)

So, I take my words and one bit of art representing Black Panther created by world-renowned artist Louis Small Jr. and try to get my signs made. I am picturing black letters on white signs with the picture on its own spot. But what I was presented with were COLORS! Lots of colors and fonts, and in the end, artwork involved in all the words!

Do you see any colors on these words in the paper? I’m betting where I wrote the word “colors” in capital letters in the previous sentence, even that didn’t get through! I’m used to black and white — here’s what the words say. But what I got were almost pictographs that were so beautiful I wasn’t really sure if they would be considered hieroglyphs or art in and of themselves!

So in the end, when I put my signs up along Nash Street and checked them for legibility, I was flummoxed. The colors certainly draw one’s eye to them. But then, I was almost hypnotized and wondered if the message might get lost in all the colors swirling together. Could the beauty of the sign obscure the meaning of the message?

Ah, but as I wrote that last sentence, it occurs to me that perhaps that’s the question at hand at what I’m about in my movie event. Just like any of those great topical shows like “Saturday Night Live” to this day or even “In Living Color” at its time, sometimes the comedy, the satire, the packaging is so strong that the message can get smothered.

And I guess that’s the reason I want to show “Black Panther” a year after the Black History Month when it was released; in the midst of all the accolades of awards season and the anticipation of the last two Marvel movies of this 22-movie story that will culminate with “Avengers: Endgame.” Because you just might miss the true gift if you get caught up in all the beauty and elegance of achievement or even reduce it simply as a cog on the wheel by which to get to the endgame.

In the end, maybe the truth is something beyond the colorful and understood only when one looks to the essence. That probably works when looking at my signs, this movie or at each other. But maybe that’s what next week is about after all!

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 weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.