The critical acclaim and box office success of the Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole film Black Panther, a paean to African Nationalism and Black Power if ever there was one, has caused lots of conservatives and especially the alt-right to lose their minds. (1) Or, to be more accurate, it has helped an ongoing process of a perpetually outraged sector of society to reveal just how unhinged it is. A large swath of the right's responses to Black Panther and, perhaps more pointedly, to the film's successes fall into three categories of white supremacist grief and rationalization: 1) trolling; 2) bar-raising and goalpost shifting; and, 3) co-optation. As we shall see, these silly arguments reek of desperation and reveal the tangled arguments of white supremacy's self-justification. This reflection will briefly attempt to untangle this rhetorical and ahistorical mess. It goes without saying, #NotAllConservatives, but #EnoughToMatter.
The First Stage of Alt-Right Grief: Trolling and Fake Merit
It would have been sad had it not been so pathetic.
Even before Black Panther had appeared nationally in theaters on February 16, 2018--that is to say, even before virtually anyone had seen it--stories began to appear about a bizarre phenomenon. Alt-right trolls, possibly the spawn of the legendarily misogynistic and racist online community known as "Gamergate," had put together a coordinated effort to torpedo Black Panther's "Rotten Tomatoes" audience scores. (2) Two weeks before the movie appeared on screens across the United States and the world, it had broken all sorts of pre-sale records and was the number one daily ticket seller on Fandango. An organization with a Facebook page, "Down with Disney's Treatment of Franchises and Its Fanboys," which self-identified with the alt-right, wanted people to flood the movie's Rotten Tomatoes page with negative reviews of a film that none of them had yet seen. (3)
The group had successfully attacked the acclaimed blockbuster Star Wars: The Last Jedi in December 2018, lowering its ratings beyond all proportion based on critical responses and various other measures of fan engagement. And while the alt-right organization initially claimed that it was concerned with the treatment of various franchises and with the alleged (and utterly unsubstantiated) paying off of critics, it did not take long before members of the organization admitted their real concerns were about the elevated role of female and black characters in the movies they targeted. (4)
Facebook and Rotten Tomatoes quickly shut down the alt-right effort to coordinate an attack on Black Panther's fan ratings before it could make many inroads. The same cannot be said for the movie's IMDB ratings, however, which did plummet due to similar alt-right efforts. (5)
What is most pernicious and disingenuous about these efforts is that they represent trolling efforts to game a crowd-sourced system that exists to achieve some sense of wisdom-of-the-crowds merit. In other words, flawed though they may be, these sorts of assessments are supposed to give moviegoers a sense of how their peers reacted to a movie. These alt-right efforts are therefore attempts to stuff the ballot box on movies they have not seen on purely ideological grounds almost universally based upon sexism, racism, and other forms of ethnocentrism. (6) Similarly, some alt-right trolls posted pictures depicting alleged black attacks on white Black Panther attendees. None of these pictures contained even a vague scintilla of truth, instead coming from images from video games or completely different contexts. As the title of one story on the alt-right responses to the movie suggests, Black Panther is "loved by the world, hated by trolls." (7)
The Second Stage of Alt-Right Grief: Denial, Bar-raising, and Goalpost Shifting
Dear reader, did you know that Wakanda does not exist? Are you aware that Wakanda is not a real country in a real place in the modern world of 2018? I knew that...