Well, the world of today offers us many reasons to feel that we are going flat-out insane, but I have to say I’ve had a doozy with not just the new Black Panther trailer co-opting the meaning of “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” to sell a corporate blockbuster action movie, but then finding articles in which the song is praised as being “perfect” for the trailer, which has been judged as “Lit”—which, in this case, is not short for “literature.”
The song, a spoken-word poem accompanied by jazz/funk music by Gil-Scott Heron, became one of the most searing statements of early 1970s black liberation—the title was a popular slogan among 60s black power groups—and is basically saying that there will be nothing comfy, cozy, fun, awesome or marketable about the black revolution. It will be nasty and unpleasant, as a real revolution should be.
The opening lines, which are in the trailer, are:
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.
The song later says:
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.
Now, I’m a white, middle-class guy who was raised in the suburbs, so I am not claiming any sort of understanding of the black experience. But it seems pretty clear that the song is casting the black revolution as something that is in opposition to easy, feel-good pop culture entertainments such as might be released by Disney. In fact, the song is railing against the way pop culture diminishes serious movements to fun, star-studded entertainments that are stripped of meaning, easy to dismiss and turn away from. And now, Disney/Marvel is asking us to consider that the black revolution Heron was writing about may actually have been about secret high-tech black civilizations where people with magical powers can do backflips off of exploding cars.
It is essentially like using John Lennon’s “Imagine” in the trailer for a Transformers film.
So that was horrifying enough. Then came the moment where I realized I may truly be going insane, the point that I may no longer be able to function in this world, when I did a search to find out how outraged people were by the use of this song in that trailer, only to find that not only are they not bothered in the slightest, they actually think it’s pretty darn awesome.
First, there is this piece in Bustle, which is “by and for women” who are “passionate about making a difference, making connections, and, more than anything else, making your mark,” and thinks the song is “the perfect choice for a film focused on ideas of how to run a kingdom, justice, and Black identity.” The author is a young white woman.
At Oohlo, white woman Cindy Davis thinks the use of the song “hits a powerful note,” while white guy James Grebey at Inverse thinks the trailer “is the most lit thing Marvel’s ever made.” Bruce Fretts of the New York Times, a white guy, thinks that the use of the song is “seems ironic since the movie itself seems downright revolutionary,” while fellow white man Gabriel Bell, who is somehow the cultural editor for Salon, finds the trailer to be “unspeakably hype” and “what we need in the Trump era,” in fact, “quite obviously needed not just because of the historical sidelining and repression of black culture, but of our current administration’s attempted negation of various civil-rights efforts.”
Gosh, and here I thought what we were talking about was an ADVERTISEMENT for a PRODUCT by a GLOBAL CORPORATION.
But all those people I found in an initial search were all white. Surely the black community must have some reaction? I kept searching until I found some. Damon Young at Very Smart Brothas found use of the song “somewhat paradoxical, since we’re watching a televised trailer while listening to it, but blackness is somewhat paradoxical, so it’s apropos.” While Natelegé Whaley of Mic believes that the trailer is “filled with moments of black empowerment,” and quotes a Twitter user who says the film is “a love letter to us, for us, with us, and by us.” Sameer Rao thinks it’s all wonderful, and quotes a tweet from director Ava DuVernay who thinks that director Ryan Coogler has come to “change the same old game.”
So that’s the prevailing opinion. Here’s an alternate viewpoint:
Disney/Marvel is interested in making money, and the main purpose of the movie Black Panther is to make money for Disney/Marvel, a global corporation. Disney/Marvel is not a charitable organization, and while there may be moderate, intangible benefits to having a superhero movie based on black characters, the primary purpose of making this movie is to appeal to black moviegoers, in order to make money for the Disney/Marvel corporation. One could even argue that Disney/Marvel is exploiting the black community by making a film pandering to them for the sole purpose of making money for this global corporation.
While there may be some ephemeral and intangible benefits to showing black people as superheroes, ultimately we’re talking about an escapist power fantasy as entertainment, which delivers no ACTUAL benefit to the black community. One could even say that believing in the unproven positive effects of escapist power fantasies actually helps to maintain the existing power structure; let people believe that an escapist fantasy offers them power and advancement, and they will be less likely to seek actual, meaningful power and advancement.
The song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” argues that true black revolution will not be a fun, escapist fantasy with beautiful people and extensive special effects. It explicitly calls out escapist fantasies as in direct opposition to revolution. Thus, the using of the song to advertise an escapist fantasy, and the representation of the release of a tentpole action movie from a global corporation to be an expression of black revolution, is an egregious insult and travesty.