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Black Panther panel discusses identity within today’s society

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By Laura Lever

An exclusive screening of Black Panther, followed by a discussion on the importance of BAME representation in film and media, was held at Manchester Metropolitan University, this week.

The event was part of The Home Festival and invited the Manchester Met community to a film screening of the 2018 American superhero film, Black Panther.

Black Panther is the 18th Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date. It tells the story of T’Challa, now the King of Wakanda, and the Black Panther who is challenged by Erik Killmonger on how the country should be ruled. The film has been praised for its characters, world-building and for “breathing new life” into the superhero genre.

Inclusivity and Diversity Student Ambassadors Sandra Boateng and Ibtizam Ali, welcomed students and staff to the event. Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education Helen Laville, then opened the panel before handing over the discussion over to Sandra Boateng to chair the discussion.

As the film finished, the audience were introduced to the variety of speakers attending. Identity and representation in media was a consistent theme, with much of the audience’s focus on the lack of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) actors in popular culture. Diversity within the University was also highlighted: only 19 BAME men are professors out of 1900 and the University has a tendency to “bring back white, male students”, more than the rest of the student body. Suggestions to address this included student mentorship schemes.

The panel also discussed female representation within the film. Speakers reflected that while the female characters are good role models, they are still not the main characters and are actively following a male main character. Suggestions for the sequel were shared with particular emphasis on Shuri and the Dora Milaje and how their roles could be developed in the next film. A specific moment in the film between characters M’Baku and Okoye, in which he surrenders to her, was highlighted as challenging societal norms of patriarchal society. The audience praised the fact that Okoye was loyal to the country rather than to M’Baku and hoped to see further development of the female characters within the franchise.

Discussion also focused on how the film is bringing about change in cinema. Black Panther is the highest grossing Marvel film to date and panellist Sabar Ansari, Co-Chair of the university’s Race Staff Forum, said, “It showcased the talent that is there and hopefully open doors for young black actors.” Saba also highlighted praise the film received for its diverse cast and crew and referenced the possibility of a black actor being casted as James Bond in the future.

As wider culture within the modern world became a topic, the audience discussed whether society should fully embrace this change. There was a strong message that diversity within cultures should be celebrated rather than “everyone being the same”.

As the panel and audience reflected on the diversity of the UK, the discussion moved to Oxford, famous for being home to one of the best universities in the world, despite lacking diversity as a campus or place to learn and live. Manchester is viewed as a more diverse place to live, which panellist revealed was one of the reasons they chose to come to Manchester Met above other universities. The diversity in rural areas was also explored, with the issue of stereotyping being a major problem that has perpetuated through society. There was a emphasis on education to break down these stereotypes, bring more black history into mainstream school education and change that a lack of teaching in schools on black British historical figures.

History lecturer Dr Marie Molloy referred to diversifying the curriculum, especially regarding history, and mentioned the lack of knowledge about black women in the civil rights movement. She explained, “Most people only know of Rosa Parks”, with the perception of what happened displayed in a fixed way. Professor Laville added, “We have a big race problem we don’t talk about. We talk more about American history than our own.”

Colourism and a lack of dark skin role models was also discussed, with the topic of skin bleaching being highlighted. Further topics examined included profiling, with various audience members sharing their experiences, along with what the university can do to promote diversity and inclusivity within campus and problems within universities as a whole.

The panel concluded with the opportunity to learn more about the Diversity and Inclusion Student Ambassasdor Project and future film nights held as part of the project.

The next event in The Home Festival series will feature prominent bisexual community activist Jen Yockney MBE. ‘Manchester and the Bisexual Community’ will take place on Wednesday 14th November.

The Home Festival is a collection of talks and events for students in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and enables students to connect further with Manchester’s diverse culture and history.

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Laura Lever

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