On their podcast Still Processing, Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham, joined by author Ta-Nehisi Coates, discuss Disney-Marvel’s new film, Black Panther. The film had the biggest debut ever for a Black director (Ryan Coogler) and is now the top-grossing film with a predominantly Black cast. It’s also a worldwide hit, finally debunking the myth that movies about Black characters don’t sell well overseas. Black Panther follows the tale of a superhero named Prince T’Challa, ruler of a fictional nation in Africa called Wakanda that has thrived under-the-radar for centuries, protected from colonization and highly technologically advanced thanks to a precious resource called Vibranium. Wortham says the film moves away from the “traditional storyline” of what we think of when we think of Africa and centers Black women as tech geniuses, adept warriors, and leaders. Coates brings up that the original Black Panther comics were not written by people of color, which he says makes the film’s success that much more impressive. The discussion also hits on the point that Black people have to constantly “re-encrypt” their cultures within the mainstream culture, similar to how the fictional Wakanda hides from the outside world. Coates adds that there is a strong hunger for a mythology for Black people, and that he, along with Morris and Wortham, are excited to see what comes next in the story.
A few days ago, Nia Harris, a sophomore at N.Y.U., walked into the cafeteria to find Kool-Aid, watermelon-flavored water, barbecue ribs, cornbread, and collard greens being served for Black History Month. Recalling the racist connotations of watermelon and Kool-Aid, the menu offended Harris, who felt that Black History Month was being reduced to a few stereotypical food items. After “being bounced around from person to person,” Harris finally made contact with the head cook, who denied that the choices were racist and claimed that the Kool-Aid was just fruit punch, and that fruit-flavored water is a standard menu item (Harris acknowledges this is true but says that watermelon was a new addition). N.Y.U.’s food service provider, Aramark, has a policy that menus for special events must be reviewed by the student advisory body and campus cultural groups, but the two employees responsible for the menu failed to follow this process. Shortly after the incident, N.Y.U. fired the employees. Harris says that the employees weren’t acting out of malice but rather out of ignorance, and that she and other Black students are “doing the same work and we’re getting the same grades…and we’re doing this extra work, teaching people how to be sensitive to us.
Cornell University recently kicked off a campaign called #DiversityIncludesDisability, aimed at “[building] awareness of disability issues and support for an inclusive and accessible environment for individuals with disability” on campus. Every month, members of the Cornell community are featured on social media and posters around the campus, discussing a range of topics from “non-obvious disabilities” to “physical and web accessibility.” While the campaign’s primary goal is to expand the campus’ understanding of “disability diversity,” administrators also hope to draw community members to Cornell’s accessibility website for additional resources. Angela Winfield, director of the Department of Inclusion and Workforce Diversity, described the mission of the campaign: “We hope to showcase…diversity [within disability] and shed light on an aspect of diversity that sometimes is viewed only as a challenge, when really there is much more.”