Black Panther and the Adventist Movie Myth

Black Panther and the Adventist Movie Myth

I’ve been tricked! Hoodwinked! Bamboozled! …I think that’s a word. After a time of research and writing, it’s dawning on me that Ellen White never actually said that our guardian angels “stand weeping at the door of movie theaters.” (Actually, she came pretty close. But that’s for another blog.)

Now why is that mythical but missing quote on my mind? Because it occurred to me that if it’s true, a lot of guardian angels have been patiently waiting outside Black Panther showings lately. The movie has become a movement. I’ve already seen it -for purely research purposes- 2…. ok, 3 times. It has taken the nation by storm.

  • Cinema Blend reports that it will be the most financially successful superhero origin movie of all time. In 2 weeks it has grossed $412 million domestically and $700 million world – wide.
  • Black Panther is the first mega budget project – super hero or otherwise- with a black director and predominantly black cast.
  • The stars and cast are everywhere. Chadwick Boseman, T’Challa, is on the cover of Time magazine this week. The feature article title sums up the phenomenon well, “The Superpower of Black Panther.”
  • #Wakandaforever has become more than a hashtag. Millions of people have adopted the mythical African nation as a symbol of everything from self- determination, to black liberation, to artistic excellence, to feminism for women of color.

But this is not a Black Panther blog. Believe me, I’ll be back for that. For a black academic/preacher, Black Panther is the gift that keeps on giving! No, this is a quick word on Christians as consumers of popular culture; movies, music, sports, you name it. In a world where we are bombarded by positive and negative sounds and images, what are we to do? How are we to choose?

Before I suggest what does help, let me suggest what doesn’t. Myths. Unthinking, unbiblical, unresearched urban legends. They do more harm than good. They offer quick answers to often complex questions. Here are 3 unhelpful movie myths.

  1. Adventists Don’t Go To Movies – Perhaps you don’t, but that myth is way off base. Adventists have visited movie theaters, in large numbers, for years. In 1975, Insight Magazine sited a survey that showed 48% of Adventist youth attended the movie theaters. And that was almost 50 years ago!
  2. Adventists Can’t Go To Movies – This is the myth that the movie prohibition is buried somewhere in our baptismal vows or fundamental beliefs. Not there.
  3. Angels are weeping at the door – I began with that one. Believe me, if our angels dropped off every time we dropped in to the wrong places, we’d have bigger problems than Black Panther!!

So, what is a Christian consumer of popular culture do? It would be a lot simpler if immediately following the book of Revelation, the Bible provided a comprehensive list of appropriate books, movies, and music. Simple, yes, Sensible, no. We don’t mature by having decisions handed down, we grow by exercising our powers of choice under the direction of the word of God and the influence of the Spirit of God.

The favorite colors in the Christian crayon box are black and white. We don’t do well with grey. But popular culture is full of grey areas that demand that Christians think, watch, and pray. Now let me be clear. I fully support those who choose not to attend motion pictures. I can think of several good reasons for that choice. But the fact is, most Adventists are probably already choosing to attend movie theaters. So instead of acting as if they don’t, we should probably invest our time exploring guidelines that will help them make wise choices.

For those who choose to visit the local movie theater, let me suggest some quick questions you can ask about the movie before you buy that ticket.

Will I Leave Worse?

Philippians 4:8 is a helpful measure, “  Finally brethren…whatever is true…noble…right…pure…lovely…and admirable. If anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.”  The Christian battle is staged primarily between your two ears. Motion pictures, at one level, are pieces of art. They have the power to teach powerful lessons in creative ways. But they can’t be divorced from the same standards you apply to other influences.

Will I Leave Weak?

This is a personal question. I Corinthians 8 and I Corinthians 10 are passages that illustrate an important principle.  What might be fine for me, might be bad for you. Your experiences have made you vulnerable to certain temptations that mean absolutely nothing to me. For instance, Black Panther was packed with noble lessons, but if you have a thing for bald- headed black women, you might not want to go. Just sayin.

Will I Leave Bored?

Life’s too short to waste on bad media or entertainment. Some of the most creative minds in media today are in the motion picture industry. Some hit close to home for Adventists. Hacksaw Ridge was the true story of Desmond Doss, an Adventist who was the first pacifist combat medic to receive the Medal of Honor. It got 6 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. If you’re choosing, choose well.

Will I Leave Broke?

That’s the stewardship question. Is it the best use of my money?  If you take a date to a $15 movie and leave broke, you don’t need a movie, you need a job!

Just a few thoughts on the Black Panther and consuming popular culture. What do you think? Did you like the movie? Did you see the movie? Is it safer to stay away from movies altogether? How do you choose what to see?