On Tuesday, February 26th, we attended a City Club Youth Forum in which Ms. TiOlu Oresanya, the Youth Forum’s former President and now a student at the University of Pittsburgh, talked with Mr. Evan Narcisse, the co-author (along with National Book award winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates) of The Rise of the Black Panther, a graphic novel and part of a 6-issue prequel series that, according to our program notes, “details the first year of the Black Panther, T’Challa, as King of Wakanda,” and whom Narcisse himself says is his favorite superhero.
Mr. Sam Lehman, a junior at Shaker Heights High School and a member of the Youth Forum, introduced the program and properly noted that “the story of Wakanda began far before the film as a series of comics, debuting in 1961 in Marvel Comics Fantastic Four No. 52. Introduced amidst the civil rights movement, it not only brought forth a superhero with supernatural strength, agility, and intelligence-but it brought representation into the world of mainstream comics which often lacked racial diversity, both in the characters and the writers who create them.”
It is this trend that Mr. Narcisse intends to continue, a quotation by him read, “I want to inspire readers to love the world of the Black Panther as much as I do. I think he’s a unique character that serves as a powerful symbol of black excellence in a world that seeks to diminish that.”
Much of the conversation between Ms. Oresanya and Mr. Narcisse dealt with the evolution of the characters in the Black Panther series, which resulted in the creation of the blockbuster film that was released in 2018, and their significant social relevance in terms of race and gender roles.
Our focus was on the fact that Mr. Narcisse is the son of parents who immigrated to the United States from Haiti and settled in Brooklyn, New York and how the immigrant experience affected his perspective which is evident in his writing.
During the Q and A, Mr. Nacisse told us that Haitians tend to be very proud of the fact that, in 1804, they were the first country to overcome colonialism and, despite new reports that depict them as impoverished, their country is beautiful. Through his mom and dad, he learned that racial stereotyping should be resisted and thus, as a high school student back in the 1980’s, he took part in social justice actions regarding restrictions against Haitians donating blood during the AIDS crisis. Consequentially, he hopes that his characters reflect this sense of pride.
Along these lines, Mr. Narcisse emphasized that how wrong it is to consider people of color to be alike in their viewpoint because so much of this depends on their personal backgrounds and cultural experiences. To go further, people from different countries of Africa are alike in some ways and in other ways they are not but Mr. Narcisse loves the way the Black Panther series is bringing diverse cultures together and creating discussion like the one at the City Club at this time.
While we ourselves are not big fans of comics, it was interesting to learn about them and their impact on society. It was also inspiring to see someone as passionate as Mr. Narcisse. The film based on these comics was also very popular and received acclaim at the Oscars.