Myth making, Afrofuturism and why The Black Panther Movie matters. A Futurist's Briefing from Chet W. Sisk
I am a Futurist, that is, my job is to chase stories beyond their typical news cycle and follow them over an extended period of time, then see how they will affect our society in general and my clients specifically. While some Futurists look 50 to 100 years down the road, my focus is on the next 3-5 years. With automation unemployment, climate change adaptation, the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rise of Authoritarianism, people like me are kept busy trying to help people understand what’s coming. Make no mistake…this is a unique time in the history of humankind.
I recently was at a party and brought up my great anticipation of the coming Black Panther movie starring Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan and Danai Gurira. This visual treatise of Afrofuturism (seeing the future through the lens of African culture as opposed to Western culture) is one of the most anticipated movies of 2018. A colleague in our conversation circle also thought of it as a must-see movie event, but added “it’s all fantasy, but hey, we need a little escape”.
Something about the tone in which he made that statement hit me sideways. How can anyone call the first major, global big budget blockbuster starring a predominantly Black cast and led by a Black director and writer something as cheap as ‘a little escape’? Did he say that about Thor Ragnorok? The reason Black Panther is getting all of this world attention is because it is a cultural flashpoint like the first Birth of a Nation or The Matrix or 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the cultural impact changes the language, vision or trajectory of a society or of a people. I believe the Black Panther movie has the potential to land with particular intensity here in the States because of the current times we live in. Of course, having a lit movie doesn’t guarantee people will get the bigger message. I mean, there are people still talking about the fight scenes in The Matrix, but missed the bigger story of looking beyond the illusions. Problem is…to get the deeper message The Matrix or The Black Panther can provide, you kinda hafta be somewhat woke.
This is where the African American community is going to have to dig deep. We have people in the community who are intelligent, articulate and conscious, but we still have to break the shackles of only looking at what’s in front of us and start looking at those things that are ahead of us. Many of us have developed a cottage industry around raging against the machine, but never really imagining ourselves beyond the machine. Thus, we end up developing an entire lifestyle around “resistance”. Not to say that it’s not warranted, especially in the climate that exists today. It’s just that true power isn’t in reacting, it’s in acting. Resistance is based on how to respond to what someone else does. Thus, all of the power is with the person that does something, not with those scrambling for a response.
A message to society?
To society in general, we must develop a vision for what we want. Even if we don’t know what we want, we should at least develop an environment that allows us to speculate on what we want. Some would say African Americans haven’t had time to do that kind of speculation because, collectively, we’re constantly under fire. Truth. But I would submit that we’re going to have to make time for this kind of being. Anything less than that is destruction. A famous scripture in the Christian Bible says “without vision, the people perish”.
I constantly say that we as a society must “raise our gaze” so that our whole focus is not to get what other people have, but to create something above and beyond our wildest imagination so that we can develop communities that are an extension of our greatest dreams and aspirations. Think about it. If our high bar is just to obtain instead to achieve, we’ve lost our very soul.
The power of myth
Visionaries must set a new course of what quality of life is and the power of the human experience. All of us may not be visionaries, but those who do have a minute to get an imaginative idea must take those ideas back to the people and, in the words of Malcolm X, ‘make it plain’. Sometimes the best way of making this kind of thought accessible is in mythmaking stories. Mythmaking allows us to get out of our heads and into our hearts and spirit for answers to some of our most pressing challenges. It doesn’t exclude the intellect. It just makes it an equal partner with imagination. Imaginative thought should be a first requirement of our ‘leaders’. If the best of us don’t have a more imaginative view of the road ahead, the rest of us don’t stand a chance.
That’s where the Black Panther movie comes into play. Director Ryan Coogler(Creed, Fruitvale Station) is simply borrowing from the ancient African tradition of dramatic and fantastic story telling. Those stories were told by our ancestors so that we would create a more profound look at our lives and what we could achieve. Of course, the ancients knew that when they told the stories of Anansi the Spider, they weren’t talking about an actual talking spider who thought about how to trip people up in their day to day dealings. They knew what they were doing was myth making. They understood the transcendent power of myth and how it could set the imagination of generations on fire.
Myth making is simply someone’s thought. In fact, everything first begins as thought. From thought, all things are born. If our thoughts are of compromised materialism and how not to lose instead of how to win, we get a dearth of original ideas. We experience the same problems over and over again seeking answers from the usual suspects. I look at the movie Black Panther as a way to jumpstart or re-imagine the future.
We were born to contribute to the wealth of humankind --- not merely as an addendum unto someone elses' agenda, but as pillars in today’s modern world. I am certainly not downplaying the role of the establishment of humankind by our ancestors, but the baton has been passed to us to imagine….and create. What would happen if, in our imagination, we took a step beyond what we know and saw ourselves as the generation who created a reboot for humanity? What if we were the ones that saw the ugliness of the direction we’ve been on for the past few centuries and did a dramatic course correction that would halt climate change, reduce income inequality, stop the exploitation of other people, end the potential of nuclear war and cure food insecurity.? How would that change what you're doing with your life right now?
The power of myth making is to get us to expand our capacity as individuals. We can go beyond talking about how bad things are and concentrate on what possibilities are emerging. The youth are empowered by it. The creatives see vision in it. The activists find a plan in it. The elders hold onto hope in it.
If your biggest vision in life is to pay bills then die, that’s all you will ever have. The Black Panther movie could provide us all with an ‘escape’ from imagination lock down. But it can also give us a vision of what could happen if we fully indulge into the myths and stories and let our heart and souls get brave. Just a little bit. It’s about creating a new kind of vision. And, as the R & B group, The Dramatics, said years ago…what you see…. is what you get.
Chet W. Sisk is an author and one of the world's leading Social Futurists. He is also expert on the current world paradigm shift. Find out more about him and the LEAD Global Team at www.leadtheshift.com or you can write him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org