We need more voices.
That much became clear on February 16, 2018 when Black Panther made its nationwide debut. In the theater with three black friends I met through pick-up basketball and about three hundred other people – many in identity-affirming attire that ranged from traditional African to contemporary Wakandan – their pride was palpable. “Finally, a flick where the superheroes look like us, a film made For Us, By Us.”
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Don’t underestimate Black Panther’s importance either on the basis of who was in front of the camera or who was behind it and as a matter of employment, example and inspiration. Films like Black Panther, and now Crazy Rich Asians, send a message of hope to people from populations that are under-represented in mass media, entertainment and other creative industries: they can and should aspire to share their voices.
And we need more of them. Unless your political leanings include bigotry, you will agree our democracy needs the widest possible diversity of voice. After all, the word “democracy” derives from the Greek “demos” (people) and “kratia” (power, rule). Or, in the words of a real-life Black Panther, “power to the people.”
Lacking a “one person, one vote” style of democracy in America, it’s even more critical to pursue the “one person, one voice” approach. That’s what makes Twitter, however misused, so popular and so powerful.
But an individual’s ability to Tweet is no substitute for proportional, representative voice in traditional mass media –TV, radio, newspapers, film, advertising and other artistic and creative endeavors. Films such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians generate so much buzz because they are anomalous in their inclusiveness and messages of empowerment to people of color. The films’ mere existence lulls much of the public into belief that we now live in a post-racial media world. Meanwhile, under-representation of voice persists in undermining our democracy.
Thus, the importance of WeXL, a fledgling non-profit devoted to:
- developing diverse creative-industries talent from under-represented populations
- creating opportunity for those creatives through networking that leads to greater employment, empowerment and share of voice
- providing authenticity for the clients who hire WeXL actors, directors, producers, artists, performers, and, yes, even writers.
That’s why this writer gives time to WeXL, including participation in the organization’s Mentor Monday series and a presentation September 17 at 7 p.m. in San Francisco’s Google Community Space. Mentorship and encouragement for the young and the restless, those who compose WeXL’s creative community, benefits not just them, but can also trickle up to benefit others.
At Mentor Monday with Ci’era London
If WeXL sounds overly aspirational, aiming too high for such a new organization, consider the bottom line. Films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians make bank: $1.3 billion in box office sales for the former and $164 million for the latter, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy of the decade.
WeXL members are not looking for a hand-out or even a hand-up. They are banding together to earn a living doing what they love, to contribute economically and socially, and to find and share their voices with a public that very much needs to hear them.