Movie Review

Separate but equal lies

Was watching a quasi-zombie horror/comedy film called “Mom and Dad” starring Nicholas Cage in full psycho mode, and was struck by the fascinating similarities between it, and “Get Out” and even “Black Panther.”


I haven’t finished watching–it is uneven, and its hyperviolence turned me off a little at times.   Basically, it’s the story of a community struck by a mysterious disease that makes parents want to kill their children.  And yeah, they go there, if you know what I mean. And it is quite funny in a sick way, although there are some scenes that, as I said, went over the line for me.


But let’s look at it from a Lifewriting perspective, shall we?  This isn’t in a particular order, just as it comes up.


  1. Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair are a set of parents with two kids, a teenaged girl and a pre-teen boy.  Cage and Blair are infected by the disease, and begin to hunt their kids, who are forced to put personal differences aside in order to survive “Home Alone” style.
  2. Cage and Blair are deep into mid-life crisis: the sense of life potentials gone wrong, dreams unmet. Fear of changing aging bodies and waning sexuality.  And a sense that they have given everything to kids who are now starting to shut them out, as kids do as they begin to bond to their own peer group.
  3. The external plot (parents killing children), therefore, simply exaggerates a real concern on the part of parents (their children are “killing” them, symbolize lost potential) AND children (“my parents are killing my spirit”).    One good thing is that “Mom and Dad” touches on the different kinds of “loss” men and women feel.  Each side can feel uniquely wronged by life, rather than grasping the universality of existential angst.  To the degree that we believe these characters, and the exaggeration of the core fear is tempered, the film succeeds. To the degree that the angst underlying the core plot and images are shared by the audience, the film will have an unconscious fascination, and will be more successful.
  4. If those psychological and plot levels are cookin’ with gas, the next question is: how POWERFUL is the underlying reality, and how big is the social charge? The social charge is intensified if we haven’t seen it addressed before: pressure that hasn’t been relieved, right?
  5. If you can apply this to GET OUT you’ll see the reason it made a quarter-billion dollars and won all those awards. The surface (plot) works like a dream, but isn’t that atypical of other horror films: fiancee goes home with lover, is victimized by a situation with hidden currents.  The NATURE of those currents psychologically is the “can I trust the ones I love?”. But socially, they go deeper: “can black people trust white people, even those who seem to be allies?” as well as “will white people ever be trusted by black people, considering the painful history and lack of understanding?”  Taps into BOTH white and black fears, as well as some male-female stuff.  Nice.   The fact that it opens a door very seldom unlocked (fear of assimilation.  Guilt and pain when recognizing your own “micro-aggressions”) it also tapped into a vast ocean of unexpressed tension. Result–powerful emotional associate.  Ca-Ching.
  6. How about “Black Panther” ?  On the surface, a superhero origin story with touches of Shakespearean/Godfather family dynamics and power plays in a royal house.  Very very well done.  Psychologically, it touches a universal hunger: to live up to parental expectations.   But wait! There is a spiritual component as well: the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” need to connect directly to the divine without seeing another human being as an intermediary.  So long as T’Challa worshipped his father, he could not be equal to him.  Once he sees his father is just a human being (who made a HUGE mistake) he could be his own man, in his own way…and rise to being king.
  7. But wait!  There’s more!  The psychological and spiritual aspects have been expressed before.  But the social aspects are almost unique.   The images are pure Afrofuturistic, tying together past and future, mundane and profound.    Since the year 2000 there’s been an increasing  “collapse” of the American (and therefore worldwide: we’ve driven popular culture) social construct around race that was necessary to justify slavery, a lie maintained for almost 400 years.   Just YESTERDAY I saw another endless, vile, ignorant threads conflating slavery with immigrant workers, however mistreated.   It’s the same confusion people have about the difference between violent rape and voluntary sex, however poor.  I can make an excellent case that there wasn’t a single major dramatic theatrical film dealing with slavery from the actual perspective of slaves in the entire 20th Century.  Compare to the number of films about the Civil War, and you’ll grasp how terribly rotten something is.   “Gone With The Wind” was the major theatrical image system, in adjusted dollars the most popular film that might ever exist, and a gigantic wet kiss to a world of horrific abuse viewed with rose-colored glasses by the abusers and their descendants:   “There was a land of Cavaliers and Cotton Fields called the Old South… Here in this pretty world Gallantry took its last bow.. Here was the last ever to be seen of Knights and their Ladies Fair, of Master and Slave… Look for it only in books, for it is no more than a dream remembered. A Civilization gone with the wind…”  that’s the opening crawl. That’s the meaning of the title.   If you don’t grasp “The big lie” lurking in that, you need to look again.
  8. So for black people, “Black Panther” gave image to the precise things stolen from us: names, spirituality, language, history, mythology, nation, agency.  A dream of what Africa might have been without colonialism.   A garden of Eden, no more distant and fantastical than endless mythical lands whites and Asians have given themselves and their children a hundred times a day in countless thousands of books, films, and bedtime stories.   Watching the faces of black children who have been told endless times that they are nothing, that their history begins with rape, as they watch “Black Panther” should be instructive to anyone who has a heart.
  9. But what of white audiences? Well, there is the surface (it’s a good movie) and then there is the empathetic (feeling the powerful emotions others feel).   And another layer: we want the truth.  The truth saves us.  It takes energy to maintain a lie. And what VERY pleasantly surprised  me was the number of people willing to reject the negative lie and  embrace a positive one.  As if saying: “you aren’t what my parents and grandparents say you are?  Then who are you?  Show me your dreams…”
  10. Remember when Sting said that we have nothing to fear if the Russians love their children too? The communication of universals has this same power.  If we all dream of the stars, IF you believe in human equality you look for the problems that created an uneven result.  You look at the “playing field” rather than the players.      White people who believe blacks are unequal mentally are welcome to have that discussion with blacks who feel whites are unequal morally.  That’s an entertaining conversation:   I’ve eavesdropped on a few of them,  and its equivalent to having a grenade battle in a phone booth.     Neither should expect to have a serious conversation with those of us who believe in one human family.  If you don’t feel the need to defend the past, you can embrace the future without fear.
  11. I’ve talked about a Jules Ffiefer cartoon I saw when I was a kid.  In it, a white intellectual was sitting across the table from a black man who looked a lot like Malcolm.  The black man says: “you have your history.  White history. Written by white men, to promote white power.  We want our history.  Black history.  Written by black men, to promote black power.  Our demand is separate but equal lies.”
  12. That’s what Black Panther is. Separate but equal lies.    The creation of a strand of mythology that has been missing for centuries.The fact that friggin DISNEY, who never had an animated image of a black human being in any theatrical film of the 20th Century (until 1999’s “Fantasia 2000”) bankrolled this to the tune of two HUNDRED million dollars (!) suggests that they knew it could make its money back.  That suggests a sense of where the culture is: far enough from the events that needed the lie that people are safe to finally speak the truth.  This is huge. It is transformative. While problems remain that will not be resolved in my lifetime, it is the moment in our history I’ve awaited since childhood.
  13. Using the same model we use looking at “Mom and Dad” then, threading it through “Get Out” and “Black Panther” you can see how, whether your interested in the technical (plot), thematic, psychological (personal), social or spiritual meaning, you can “line up” these aspects so that your work has greater power, and greater potential for success.


This is, of course, a way of deconstructing what really smart, integrated, lucky artists do on a purely emotional level: they just “feel” their way and thread those needles “instinctively”. The rest of us…need to think a little more.

But all of us can do better.


Write the myths that change the world!

Steven Barnes


Applying “Lifewriting” to Black Panther

Lifewriting is a breakthrough in conceptualizing the basic nature of writing and creative living. The intent is to teach you to apply the combined wisdom of humanity to your own life…and the wisdom you have gained in your life to the stories you create (if you are a writer).


Here’s a SPOILERIFIC view of “Black Panther” from the Lifewriting Perspective.


HERO CONFRONTED WITH A CHALLENGE: To be both a good man and a good king.


HERO REJECTS THE CHALLENGE:  Ultimately, he will have to reject his hero-worship of his ancestors to be worthy to stand among them.   Doing this is “Killing the Buddha”, rejecting his father as an image of perfection.  He cannot be his own man until he does this, and he puts it off as long as he can, as most of us do.


ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: By taking on the mantle of king, he is now in the arena.   The train is leaving the station.


ROAD OF TRIALS:  His ritual combat for the throne.  Travel to Korea to catch his father’s killer. Accepting Killmonger’s challenge: attempting to be “a good man” and pull his punches initially. “Death” and rebirth and rejection of his father’s self-justified actions.  Return as the king.


ALLIES AND POWERS:   Shuri, Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, M’Baku, T’Chaka, etc.  His courage, physical skills, the “Black Panther” superpowers, intelligence and problem solving, and compassion.  In a very real sense, even Erick Killmonger was an ally, as he ultimately awakened T’Challa’s moral sense.


CONFRONT EVIL-DEFEATED:   Temporary defeat by Killmonger is the EXTERNAL defeat. But there is a deeper INTERNAL one: realization that his father, to protect his kingdom, family (and perhaps ego) not just killed his brother, but abandoned his nephew to poverty and want (catch the metaphor?).


DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: A literal fall into the abyss (external defeat) and sundering of his relationship with his father to become his own man.


LEAP OF FAITH:   In a higher power (the Panther Goddess trusted them with godlike power), in his companions (that the essence of being a king is making hard decisions and wielding power with both authority and compassion.  They did they best they could in THEIR time, but to be worthy of them, he must go beyond them) and in himself (this is HIS time.  HE gets to decide what kind of king he will be.)


CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS:    Killmonger had been corrupted by his deprevation and programming.  T’Challa beats him, defeating Erick’s lifetime ambition…


STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:   Offering compassion to his defeated foe, they deal with each other as two men. As brothers, two sides of the same coin.  Killmonger is offered life, but chooses death (worthwhile to note that his lovely line about making the choice of death his ancestor’s made…is bullshit.  He is descended from a Wakandan father and a black American mother whose ancestors chose LIFE.  I chuckled a bit…after I wiped away a tear.)  But note that you could easily map this entire movie from Killmonger’s perspective.  That he made choices which, classically, doomed him. There was no way to kill his “Ride or Die Girl” and still deserve the throne.  No way to dishonor the Wakandan traditions by destroying the Panther herbs or brutalizing the priestess and claim he had his people’s best interests at heart.  But if his words and actions were in conflict, he still taught T’Challa, changed him in a way no other Marvel villain has ever changed a hero.  T’Challa learns…teaches Killmonger the power of compassion…and also teaches his country that they MUST open themselves to the world, and at the very last scene, is about to teach black Americans another aspect of their heritage.    Powerful, powerful stuff.




Note that this film might be interpreted a thousand different ways, almost like an historical event, and certainly like quality art throughout time.   It has a synchrony of philosophical and political perspectives contained within a package of world-class storytelling and unique imagery.  THIS is what entertainment is capable of being and doing.


When you watch great art, you gain perspective on your life.  This requires that the artist themselves spend time asking “who am I?” and “what is true?” and either come to further or different conclusions.  They don’t have to be brilliant, but they DO need to be honest. When they are both…you get something special.





Congratulations Jordan Peele!

When GET OUT became a social phenomenon, there was discussion of its Oscar chances.    I didn’t know about categories like acting (excellent) or directing (startlingly refined for a first film) but I KNEW I was looking at a superior piece of screenwriting.


ALL art is a matter of self-expression.  Successful art integrates craft into this equation, as “craft” is the specific language an artist uses to communicate that sense of “who am I?” or “what is true?”


According to Jordan, he began working on the script About eight years ago, starting to actually write it about four years ago.  And in-between…emotional/mental integration.


  1. He started with a desire to create a film that he could direct.  This implied scale (he wasn’t going to get a ton of money for his first effort.  Nor did he WANT a ton of money–that would have been a level of responsibility that inhibits creativity.)
  2. He chose an idea that touched something deep enough within him to excite him. That meant something intensely personal. Why?  He was going to have to live with it for years.   Dream about it.   Go to sleep thinking about it, wake up in the morning thinking about it.  EMOTIONAL ENERGY.


Remember: the “wall” was that he didn’t have much experience directing (some sequences on Key and Peele, I believe), and that meant doubt from studio backers as well as “the voices in his head”–and trust me, EVERY artist has doubts.  Impostor syndrome. Pretender voices.    You have to not only believe you can do it (within your resource circle) but that you SHOULD do it (it aligns with your values).


The “what” was to become a director, to move his life forward.  The “why” was some combination of personal ambition, artistic vision, social awareness and emotional pain.


Once he had the clear vision, and a powerful stack of motivations, THEN he could look at the “how”:


  1. Select a story from the flurry of ideas in his mind.
  2. Work with it. Play with it. Turn it around and around. Is it a story that can be told visually?   Does it have emotional power?  Does it hold his personal truth (“who am I?”).  A social external truth?  (“what is true?”)


For YEARS he did this, absorbing thousands of hours of film, television, and written word, looking for the “language” with which to express a core notion:


“A young black man with a white girlfriend meets the parents.   Although on the surface all is well, underneath lurks a nightmare.”


Is this a universal fear?  Sure.  Remove race from the equation, and you simply have the fear of rejection, of losing identity, of the doubt that those who claim to love us really do, or that we can love but not “fit in” to the new family.


Basic, universal stuff. What happens when you personalize it?   Jordan, being biracial, HAD to have experienced fear of rejection by both black and white communities, that sense of “who am I? What am I?”   LOTS of room for discomfort, because nothing makes us more vulnerable than love.


If you want to get positively brilliant about it, you would just ask: “did he view the premise through the eyes of potential investors?” The people who he would ask to pony up 4.5 million?  They are the surrogates for potential audience.  This is one of the most important reasons NOT to put your own money into a movie: if you can’t convince investors, your chance of convincing and audience to come out en masse is NOT good.


What was there here for white audiences?  The answer is obvious once you look at it:

  1. They can associate with the universal fear of rejection and danger.  Simply looking at Chris as a human being, absent race, does this.
  2. On a social level, the question of race allows them to feel the discomfort of the situation in a new way, identifying with Chris as he experiences the danger of being a black man in a white world, controlled by the actions of white people (note the first instance of this: Rose and the cop.  Chris is damned near irrelevant in the power-play between two white people.   He has stepped out of his world).
  3. The audience also gets to ask an important question, the mirror image of the question Chris asks (“is it safe to trust?”).  Their version of that question is: “can we really communicate with each other?  Can we move past the pain and enter the realm of trust?”


There is SO much pain associated with racial issues in America, and I don’t think it was really open to discussion until late in the 20th Century.


I know that Jordan asked himself questions like “will anyone let me make this?  Can it possibly succeed?” And the period of incubation, of turning it around and around in his mind, testing images, dialogue, sequencing, timing, and more, he was looking to “solve” a creative Rubick’s Cube, following a thread of emotion, seeking to gain skills and understanding that would take the TECHNICAL knowledge needed to translate his vision and raise it to the level of “unconscious competence”, the place you have to have ANY skills if you want to create with them.   As long as you are mumbling “1-2-3, 1-2-3” you aren’t dancing.  But if you do it long enough, you’ll find yourself just flowing with your partner and moving with the music.  No counting.   THAT is dancing.


But you have to break it down to get there.   Four years of turning it around and around in his mind, until everything worked.  Technical, creative, logistic, philosophical, emotional.  Everything aligned.


Then he just had to write it down.  Polish it.


Then he had to market it to the people who had the resources to help him make it.   Which means that AS he was writing it, he was making connections.   Proving himself.  Making money for investors.  Being totally professional so that adults would trust him with millions of dollars of their capital.


And in threading that series of moving needles, created something that was close to his heart AND had serious social impact, encouraging a discussion of painful social issues that have been long ignored or marginalized.   The cherry on the sundae is that he is a world-class comedian, skilled at knowing the precise moment to release tension with a laugh.   And that is VERY close to triggering a release through scream.


It is really so satisfying to deconstruct a victory.   So much more interesting than looking at a failure and doing an autopsy on what went wrong.  Study a half-dozen successful people and you’ll start seeing patterns, things that successful people do over and over again.  Look at people in different times and places, of different genders or ages or resource circles, in different arenas, and you’ll see deep patterns that apply EVERYWHERE.  Then you can begin to apply them in your own life.


In truth, the world makes perfect sense if you discard the notion of innate genius, except perhaps the genius of constant action, sustained focus, the ability to CARE enough to get up day after day, week after week, month after month and constantly be aware you have to grow and learn and stretch.  To listen to the “pretender voices” that keep you dissatisfied without letting them cripple you.


I don’t care WHAT you want to succeed at.    Jerry Pournelle’s words still ring in my ears: “once you’ve mastered one thing, you know how to master anything else.”


Jordan Peele’s journey to the Oscar is one hell of a story, really.   Studying excellence is always valuable. But studying it when it applies to a favorite entertainment is just sublime.



Congratulations, Mr.Peele.  So damned happy for you and proud of you.   You’re doing the work, dude.






(our black horror class GET OUT is now 70% off, an amazing value.    Check it out today at: WWW.REALBLACKHORROR.COM)


Run, Girl, Run

“For the writers here, are there any contemporary writers who make you feel like a pretender?”


The kids in our “Author’s Club” at Sandburg Jr. High are just so cute.  We teach it every other Friday at Jason’s school.   After Career Day, Tananarive and I were approached by several kids who said they wanted to be writers.  I remember wanting desperately to be a writer,and how much it would have meant to have a real professional sharing tips…so we set it up.


We’ve decided to publish a little e-collection  of short stories, and pay every one of them five dollars. That makes them a paid, published writers.  If we put it up on Amazon for a buck or so, their friends and relatives can buy it. If the money goes to their teacher, she can disburse it to each of them, and now they get a tiny trickle of cash that reinforces their “writer” personality.


Let me tell you–the first time you buy so much as a hamburger or paperback book with the money you make from your writing, you enter a new world.    These kids are  eager.  I suspect they think that if they get across that line, it’s smooth sailing.


They are wrong.


Just yesterday, I saw a writer post the following question:  “For the writers here, are there any contemporary writers who make you feel like a pretender?”


And writer after writer posted the names of the writers who were better than them, and how they felt like “pretenders” in comparison.

That’s fine, and in some ways those voices never go away.  No matter how good you get.  Why?  Because every expert knows a thousand components that make up their craft. And the ALWAYS know people who are better at those individual components, so they ALWAYS know people “better than them.”   Doesn’t matter what field you are in.  Always better people.  You might have the best specific COMBINATION of attributes if that’s where you’ve put your emphasis.  I consider any human being to be better at me at something.  But what saves me is that I’m the best Steven Barnes in the world.  I’m who I wanted to be when I was a kid.   Might I have chosen better?  Sure, and working on it.  But no one is better at doing me than me, and considering that I really dig me, that’s a pretty cool thing to be.


But it wasn’t always like that.  I remember when a Famous Writer read the galleys on  my first solo book, STREETLETHAL…or to put it more bluntly, read the first two chapters and put it down.  “Its not ready to be published, kid.  Needs work,” he said.


It was already at the publisher.  And here was one of my favorite writers, a man at the top of his game, who I admired as I did few living human beings, telling me I sucked.  Disaster. The “Impostor voice” in my head was screaming at me: I sucked.  I had nothing.   I’d never have my dreams.  Larry Niven had only worked with me because of Affirmative Action

I was a pretender.


It was raining that night, and I lived alone so no one saw me curl up in a corner and cry. I was lost.


But…in the depths of my misery, I remembered something I’d learned while running on the track at Pepperdine University, forty years ago. My distance was five miles, and at the two mile mark, every time, the voices in my head said: STOP.  My body hurt.  I was tired.  Everything was working wrong.  YOU ARE HURTING YOURSELF.  The voice said.   YOU WILL DIE, it said.  But if I kept struggling on…I hit a rhythm, and it was like a third lobe of lung opened in my chest, and there was the energy I needed.


And I realized that THE VOICES IN MY HEAD WERE LIARS.   They told me I would die, and all they really wanted was to stop me.  And finally, after it happened a dozen times, I got the joke.  And the next time I was on the track, when the voice said “you are going to die” I answered “well, then die, dammit.  I’m going to live doing what I want, being who I am.  And if I’d die running on the track, I’d probably die by the end of the day anyway.  So…screw you.


And the voice in my head would mumble, and give up.  And I would run like the wind.


I remember that, running around and around the track at Pepperdine, sailing. And there was an old black man, gray-haired and bent,  who had stopped his laborious walk  to watch me.  Around and around the quarter-mile.  And he smiled, and called out to me:   “You keep running boy!   Ain’t no telling what a young black man can do!” And we waved to each other, and he went on his way, and I never saw him again. And never forgot him.




I was curled in the living room, staring at the telephone that had just bit me, crying.  And something inside me got mad.

So Famous Writer  thinks my book  sucks.   Not everyone will agree.  I’ll get feedback.  Keep learning and growing.   I don’t have the obligation to live up to Famous Author’s standards.  I have an obligation to be the best I can be.  The best Steven Barnes I can be.   Because really?  That’s enough.




Remember “Rocky”?  The first one?   He trained like a maniac, pounding sides of beef into tartar and drinking enough raw eggs to fuel an Ihop, but the night before the Big Fight realized that he was a joke, a laughing stock, a publicity stunt.  That he had no chance. Adrienne asked him “what are we going to do?”  (Note the beauty of the “we”?  Masculine and feminine energies, together.)


And at that moment Rocky says the thing that made my eyes open wide, that raised that movie to the status of Truth.    “No one has ever gone the distance with Apollo Creed,” he said.    “All my life, I’ve been just another bum from the neighborhood. But if I can go that distance. If when the bell at the end of the fifteenth round ends, and I’m still on my feet, for the first time in my life I’ll know I’m not a bum.  That I really am  somebody.”

Now…Rocky already WAS somebody to Adrienne.  He was the man she loved.   Given that strength, he didn’t need the rest of the world to give him a victory.  He WANTED their acclaim, but didn’t NEED it.  He already had what he needed, get it? What he needed, what ANY of us ever need, is a sense of love and connection.       He was then able to describe a path to victory that was dependent upon his actions, not Apollo’s, not the judges.


I’m gonna be on my feet. No matter what.  And because of that inner direction, he almost beat the greatest boxer who ever lived.


You keep running, boy.  Ain’t no telling what a young black man can do!   A man of one generation, who had done as much as he could, run as far and as fast as he could…handing the torch to the next runner.


I sat in my living room and realized I didn’t have to write  a best-seller.  Didn’t have to win awards or acclaim. What I had to do was be true to myself, no matter what.  No matter what it costs.  That there will ALWAYS be criticism, from others and from the voices in my head.


Many years passed. Famous Writer and I became friends in time.  And one day he saw my “A Stitch In Time” episode of the Outer Limits, and told me he loved it.   I glowed, because I knew I could trust him with the truth.


And even more years later he grew older and  fell sick, and I was at his house, at his sickbed, and he spoke of regrets. And this man who I had adored for so long told me that he didn’t know if anything he had done matters, if he had ever created anything of worth.     And I smiled, and told him that he was, quite possibly, the most “himself” writer I had ever met.   He was, quite authentically, Famous Writer.  And there was nothing more any of us can do. The fame, the money, the awards come if they come. But the real reward, if you have chosen your goals in alignment with both your childhood dreams and deathbed values, BEING WHO YOU ARE.

I told him I had dealt with fear, that that was the reason that drove me into the martial arts. “How did you defeat it?” he asked.

You don’t.   You make your peace with it. It’s there for a reason…to keep you running.




So…yesterday I asked the kids how many of them had negative voices in their heads.  80% of them raised their hands.    I laughed.  “Very good,” I said.  “The rest of you are lying.”


They laughed.  “Here’s  secret,” I said.  “One of the most important secrets in the world.  Are you redy to hear it?” They nodded eagerly.


“Then who am I?”  A little Asian girl asked.

“You are the one listening to the voices.”

“Well…who is that?”  She asked, eyes shining and wide.  Empty cup.  They are the blessed.

“That is what you must discover,” I said.  “And the answer won’t quite fit into words. But if you are a writer, you will do the best you can to answer that question, with every character you create.”

Write your million words.   Speak your truth.  Do your best.  Enjoy every day, for the simple pleasure of being yourself, separating your is-ness from the voices of the crowd.


Run, girl, run.  Ain’t no telling what a young Asian woman can do.





Words, Actions, and Faith

What is more important? Words or actions?


Lifewriting is an opportunity to apply the same tools we have in life to our fiction, and the same wisdom gleaned from exposure to countless millions of stories to our lives.  For instance:


In the debates about “Team Killmonger” and “Team Panther” one thing that happens is a prioritizing of what is said above what is done.    He speaks revolutionary rhetoric, and has some VERY good points, no question about it: the most natural thing in the world is to want “your tribe” on the top.


But without paying PRIMARY attention to behaviors, it is easy to be manipulated by a good salesman. What does a good demagogue do?


Identifies a problem that causes pain in his potential followers

Intensifies that pain.  Tells them why and how he empathizes with them (“I feel your pain…”)

Gives them reason to feel he is real, often by having testimonials, or having others vouch for him.

Makes them an offer, painting a picture of the rosy future they can have if they follow him.

And gives marching orders (“follow me!”)



And once he has them hooked, they will bend over backwards to justify his actions.  If you remember that everyone starts life just wanting to be loved and happy, and then see people in abusive relationships with their partners, their own bodies and emotions, or their political choices.


Appeal to your values, bait-and-switch to their own agenda. The words can be so sweet.  How can you know?


  1. Watch what they do.
  2. Listen to what they say
  3. Do their behaviors match their words?  If so, and their words are in alignment with your values, and you have determined that your values are in alignment with both love and strength…fantastic.




My first girlfriend Sandy had a friend who was in an abusive relationship. He actually went to jail for beating her up, and while he was gone, she took up with a new boyfriend. When the first one got out of jail, he came straight to her house and found her with the new guy, beat him up and then…well, I don’t want to trigger anyone, but it was ugly.


And…after she recovered, she took him back.  When I asked her “why?” she replied:  “you just don’t know what love is.”


I guess I don’t.    But I know we all start life experiencing love and nurturance, or we die.  And we spend our entire lives trying to duplicate that sense of blissful connection to the mother (at least) and father (hopefully).


Love and strenght.   Hopefully, you got both from both.  But if they are role-playing, you can at least get what you need from the team.  Sandy herself had grown up without her father…who was notorious (a story for another time) but I remember that she believed strength WAS love, and didn’t feel safe with a man who wouldn’t push back.  In fact, on a couple of occassions she tried to manipulate me into hitting her.


Let’s say I saw where she and her friend were on the same continuum.   We WANT love, but we NEED survival.   And strength seems a direct connection to survival.  So if we have to choose between love and softness, or  brutality accompanied by the strength that would enable survival in the crunch, we’ll take the strength.


This is why a very simple set of rules can really help here:   Would you want your son or daughter treated the way this person treats people?


That question works so damned well.     Sandy and I broke up, and it was many, many years before I saw her again. It was in a supermarket, and I almost didn’t recognize her. She seemed softer, sweeter.  She recognized me first: “Barnesy!” she said, and we hugged.


She told me that she had been married, and become very much a church lady, and her heart was happy. She apologized to me for having been so hard and critical, and realized that she had been a lonely, frightened girl looking for a Daddy to make things right.


Look at the Hero’s Journey, please:


For Sandy to have a healthy relationship, she needed to connect to the love within herself, demand to be treated the way she would want her daughter to be treated, and feel strong enough to protect herself.


Faith.  In her strength, in her worthiness for love, in the notion that she was as beautiful as the night and  (to paraphrase Tanith Lee) as precious as the stars therein.


What are the three components of Faith?

  1. Faith in yourself (your innate value)
  2. In your companions (that there WILL be someone who can love her, if she can love herself.
  3. In a higher power (she found this in Church.  A sense of love and protection, giving her a route to finding human love in alignment with the divine.)


How wonderful for her.  I have no idea what ever happened to her friend.   Many people in abusive relationships with others…or themselves…find their way out of the maze.  Many do not.



Never let yourself be treated worse than you’d want your children treated.  Never prioritize a person’s words above their actions.


The life…the heart…you save may be your own.






What does the Killmonger tragedy teach us?

(Warning: Black Panther spoilers ahead.   When we look at movies LIFEWRITING style, that happens!)


Lifewriting says that our fantasies and myths reflect our inner world. And our inner worlds are shaped by the fantasies and myths and stories.  The best are touching us on a deep level. Let’s take a look at a story thread people have debated, not from “this is truth” but “this is a way to connect the fiction we love with the lives we lead.

Is Eric Killmonger hero or villain?

Make no mistake: a case can be made for either position.    On the one hand is his revolutionary rhetoric: why NOT switch the power structure? What possible reason would he have not to want to be on top? On the other hand is his behavior, which clearly suggests we are looking at a baby tyrant, that when they say “power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely” they were talking about HIM, and if you aren’t careful, you’d end up being one of those “gee, I thought we’d be able to control him.  Gee. I thought he’d settle down.  Gee, he SAID he would change…” enablers.


You are a good man. With a good heart.  And it is hard for a good man to be king“–there’s your theme!   King T’Chaka killed his brother.  Why?   Ego perhaps (he was angry.  Also possible: he didn’t’ want the disgrace of his brother’s trial).   It was NOT a measured action.  Once done, those eggs were broken, and couldn’t be unbroken.   He had a horrible dilemma: IMO, if you are watching a story about a man who kills another man, who has a son…aren’t you waiting for the other shoe to drop?  WHEN WILL THE CRIME BE KNOWN?  When will the son take revenge, and how juicy is it going to be?  “Black Panther” is a Hamlet and broken-eggs omelet.

I mean, think about it: if so much as a single whisper, look, action, clue EVER came to light, that boy would move heaven and earth to kill his way to the throne.  So…T’Chaka abandoned him in America.  If he’d been more ruthless, frankly…he would have killed him. Too much risk to his own bloodline.

How about if ANYONE ever learned, they’d realize how valuable and dangerous that boy was, and would either want to kill him or use him to topple the throne.  IMO, the best choice T’Chaka had would be (if Wakandan tech allowed it) to wipe Erik’s memory and have him adopted by a good American home, anonymous, far away from Wakanda.

Even that might not have worked (the level of coincidence and synchronicity in comic books is off the chain. Do you REALLY believe this wrong would never have come to light?  Really?)

But by abandoning him, T’Chaka created a monster.  A sociopath with revolutionary ideals, who (as far as we know) grew up on the streets, fought his way to excellence powered by a dream of vengeance.  Killmonger never knew love or softness–demonstrated by the casual way he killed his girlfriend.  With no safe home, he needed control.   And used seduction, lies, violence, strategy…anything and everything to get to what he really wanted:


Home.  Love.   He talks about his “Auntie” “princess” (cousin), “Uncle”.  This is personal stuff.  All he really wanted…all ANY of ever really want…love and peace.  And he was prepared to kill his way to it.

What would a good king/good man do?   We saw T’Challa willing to see truth (in the 21st Century, Wakanda must forgo isolation.   In our world, to rectify wrongs and become one people.  In the Marvel universe, to stand against Thanos with the rest of humanity.  The power of a simple metaphor. “Thanos” which means “noble” in Hindi and “Immortal” in Greek, is a cool name for a cosmic villain.   In the comics, he is enamored of the Goddess of Death.  Get that? Immortality and Death, together again?   Yin and Yang, anyone?).  But T’Challa was also willing to come from love (extend help to enemies.   Offer of life to Killmonger.  Earth must pull together.  We must see the humanity within each other, or die as a species).  Incidentally, he was also strong enough to stand against tyranny.  Not alone–alone,   he was defeated.  When his family and his people connected to him, he went to his ancestors, rejected them AND THEREBY PROVED HIMSELF WORTHY TO JOIN THEM.  He was his own man. A good man. And a good king.


Killmonger had the right idea, but a broken heart.  Moses couldn’t enter the promised land.  MLK couldn’t make it to the new world with us, although from the mountain-top, he could see the gates.


This is cost of corrupting our children: the healing is multigenerational, and takes either time, or an epiphany.     We all have a Killmonger within us, have abandoned our hopes and dreams and values for expediency.   The answer is STRENGTH, LOVE,  AND TRUTH.

We need the wisdom of the Elders, and the dreams of a child.  Otherwise, those poisoned fruits come back to haunt us.  We cannot disown our own inner children.

Or ignore the lessons of the past




Got an email today, from “Andrew”, who said:

“One of the biggest issues I’ve encountered in myself was the NEED to have an editor go through my story before submitting.  I can’t tell you how bogged down I would get because I needed to have someone proofread it and then find an editor to go through my short story. In reality it was just my own fear of being rejected.  As of now, I’ve been submitting the stories after I make a cursory check to make sure there aren’t any obvious issues or typos.  Otherwise, it’s in the (e)mail and will stay there.  If an editor gives me feedback then I’ll take that into consideration and apply it to my next story.


“I figure time is short and the faster I get to a hundred short stories the faster I’ll be published.   I’ve been writing so many stories back to back I seriously don’t even remember writing the earlier ones.  I have to read a few paragraphs before I even know what it’s about and I outlined and wrote the damn thing.  My thoughts are consumed with the current story and the next one in the pipeline.

“I know I’ll use editors eventually but for now I need to just concentrate on volume.  I’ve held myself back for too long.

“I’m finally learning to trust myself.  I can’t thank you enough.”–Andrew


How does the care and maintenance of your child fit here?

  1. The child is frightened of rejection. But the more love he gets from YOU the easier it is to move forward.
  2. If you are committed to protecting the child, you stay on your discipline.  You do the “work” so that the child can “play”.  Stay on task: write one #$%% sentence a day, no matter what.
  3. Trust that you are an endless fountain of ideas. And if your “child” feels safe, you will be.  And I doubt you can come up with a hundred ideas without one of them being good.
  4. If your child trusts you, and you trust her, you have the connection you need for endless creativity. So long as you are heading in the right direction, you cannot lose.


Trust.  Love.  Faith.  Truth.    Constant work, motivated by love and guided by truth.  Strong enough to resist fear, from within (insecurity)  or without (aggression).


T’Challa was strong, and unafraid,  so he earned Killmonger’s respect (“that was a move”)  and was t and was clear enough to hear the truth (“we are one”) beneath the fear (“I must control”)

If only both of them had had that connection sooner…it would have been a very different film.  And in some ways, I’m sorry we’ll never see that one.  Erik Killmonger…known as N’Jadaka, son of N’Jobu, nephew of T’Chaka and cousin of T’Challa…deserved better.

So do we all.





I think that people become addicted to arguing.  Why?  Well, sometimes it does work. But they forget their actual outcome: to solve a problem or determine “what is true.”  To experience more pleasure than pain in life.


Why then do people so often get exhausted, express frustration, anger and fear because of conducting or witnessing apparently endless argument?   Because they have forgotten their ultimate goal.


ULTIMATE GOAL: To be happy

LONG TERM GOAL: to remove an obstruction to happiness

SHORT TERM GOAL: To create alliances to achieve something that cannot be done alone

IMMEDIATE GOAL: To determine “what is true?” in the “who, what, why, where, how” categories.


And since SOMETIMES, arguments can lead to clarity, and that to creating alliances, solving problems and achieving happiness…arguments can seem like a good idea.  Oh, I’m sorry: “debates.”


But you can also become addicted to debate. Just as “combativeness” is a positive quality in some arenas, people engage in it inappropriately.  Sometimes referred to as a component of “toxic masculinity.”  (A question: would aversion to conflict, a positive quality in some arenas, if engaged in inappropriately be a component of “toxic femininity”?)


Another discussion. Anyway I think it is important to know when battles are not worth fighting.


I recently  watched something fascinating happen.  I asked:  “who has ever changed the mind of someone who believes X?” (A controversial and polarizing political discussion).


Not a single person indicated that anything they said ever had changed a single mind.    Not one.   But, amusingly, people started arguing the subject right there and then.


Excuse me.  What part of “apparently this doesn’t work” wasn’t understood?    I say because people mistake the process for the goal.  If the process leads to the goal, fine. But when it leads to frustration, fear, exhaustion, shouldn’t we consider that argumentation is the wrong tool?  Aren’t we being toxic?


Let’s apply Lifewriting  to  problem solving on a social level, shall we?


CHALLENGE: To solve problem X

REJECT: There is no apparent answer

ACCEPT: to take the position that because we cannot see an answer doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist (otherwise, you slide into despair and destructive rage)

ROAD OF TRIALS: to keep trying DIFFERENT approaches, modeling successful approaches in a variety of contexts until an answer is found.

ALLIES AND POWERS:   Whatever teachers, role models, comrades, friends and family you can enlist in the effort. Brain storming is a good thing!   Try this question: “a hundred years from now, this problem will be solved, no matter how it looks now.  What was the process?”    It is nothing but ego to assume that if YOU can’t find an answer, an answer cannot be found.

CONFRONT EVIL, DEFEAT:  you are gridlocked in argument, and the problem recurs again and again.

DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Exhausted, you fall into the ego state of “If I can’t find an answer, there is not answer.”  Let alone the “all is lost” thingie, considering that people have this need to believe that somehow, their generation is so important that they have front row center to Armageddon.  Every generation seems to think this.  So far, they’ve all been wrong.

LEAP OF FAITH: Remember that every generation creates answers the previous generation hadn’t thought of.  Of course, they also create new problems.  That’s another story.  Over and over again, the adults of one generation have insisted that they are the shit, that they have all the answers, and that if they have failure of imagination or will, That’s All Folks. They are almost always wrong.

CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS.  You keep trying, and either find the answer yourself or  inspire others to find it.

STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:   You share the answer you have found.


This is a way the “Hero’s Journey” can work. If there IS no answer, it doesn’t hurt to keep trying.  If there could have been an answer, and you stopped trying, you have betrayed your grandchildren.



Now, that said, there are distinctions along the way. Role models will demonstrate the proper logic patterns (first: is it true?) or tactical approaches (“nurture your tribe.  Don’t argue with sleepers or snakes”) and so forth.   But the overall pattern is pretty solid.




MODEL SUCCESS.  If other people, groups, or countries have solved the problem…look there.  What were their belief systems, emotions, tactics and strategies?   If opponents disbelieve these things would work for us, are they assuming we are more basically different as human beings?  Is their basic view that of human equality (“their answers won’t work for us!”  Could that be true if human beings are basically equal? Yes? No?   If not, does that match YOUR core belief?  Remember, no matter what they say, their ULIMATE belief in equality/inequality is faith-based.    Ultimately, if what you are saying challenges that faith, they will reject it regardless of the logic used, until or unless their belief changes.  It is best to consider them “asleep” in this arena, remembering that you are asleep in others, and may actually be wrong now.  “Asleep” is probably the kindest way to attribute “wrongness” about such a core issue, as it relates to universal humanity, and doesn’t require you to consider them “evil” or “stupid”.  Just…asleep, and may awaken at some future point.)



  1. Love yourself
  2. Love one other person
  3. Study history, embrace humanity without guilt, blame, or shame
  4. Support your Tribe, avoid sleepers and snakes.
  5. Win with integrity.


In combination with a belief in Equality, and the Hero’s Journey, you have a syntax for success, if success is possible.


Frankly, I always believe it is possible to win.  But sometimes you have to define the terms for yourself.

Like…not having your time wasted.





I’m not really going to review this film.  I love it.   If you want to know more about my reactions and thoughts, check out the FB Live video T and I did yesterday: BlackPantherAfterAction   or:


SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS   Do NOT read unless you’ve already seen the movie PLEASE!!!





When I say that this may be the most important “Popular entertainment” film I’ve ever seen, I mean it.  Myth matters, at least partially because it embeds the patterns of life at a deep unconscious level, where all wisdom must reside to be useful.


Let’s look at the pattern of the Hero’s Journey  applied here:


  1. HERO CONFRONTED WITH A CHALLENGE: T’Challa wishes to be a good king…and a good man as well.
  2. REJECTS THE CHALLENGE.  He believes he can do this by simply following in his father’s footsteps.
  3. ACCEPTS THE CHALLENGE: Tradition and his own heart puts him on the path, although his father’s ghost warns him:  “it is hard for a good man to be king”
  4. ROAD OF TRIALS: Return to Wakanda, the kinghood ceremony, travel to Korea to capture an enemy, return to Wakanda empty-handed, challenged for the throne by a cousin he never knew.
  5. ALLIES AND POWERS: His family, his country, his ancestors, his friends.    Courage, intelligence, martial prowess, and deep emotional reserves of wisdom: he knows who he is, even if he still hasn’t fully awakened.
  6. CONFRONT EVIL–DEFEATED.  He discovers that his father killed his own brother and abandoned his nephew Eric “Killmonger” in America. This breaks his heart: he no longer has the strength of his ancestors.  He fights his cousin, and is defeated (but does not submit).
  7. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL: Thrown into the abyss, he suffers a near-death experience.
  8. LEAP OF FAITH:   He rejects worship of his ancestors to become his own man.  Ironically, this is precisely what must be done to honor them.  His father had made an error. Accepting his father’s humanity allows him to take the positive without being limited by the negative.  And even more: to embrace the spirit of the Black Panther without being limited by the flawed human beings who represent her.  Compare to the “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him” notion.  To become a king, he must kill his IMAGE of the king.  Reject father-worship to be a worthy son.
  9. CONFRONT EVIL–VICTORIOUS.  He defeats Killmonger, and offers him mercy.
  10. STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER:  His mercy offers Killmonger enlightment or awakening at the very end of his life: he sees the waste he has made of his life.  That he was consumed by vengeance and hatred when he could have found family. Became the evil he sought to fight. But dies with defiance on his lips–teaching T’Challa in turn.  And T’Challa unifies the goals of his ancestors (to protect their people) with a 21st Century obligation to help build a better worldfor all.


Was that goal valid?  We can argue about the “real” world, but in the MCU–absolutely. Remember why Tony Stark built Ultron? Because in Avengers, he saw a vast alien armada, a force before which humanity is, in Nick Fury’s words, “hopelessly, hilariously outgunned.”


Fury built the Avengers.   Stark built Ultron.    Isolation from humans makes sense if your enemies are humans. But if your enemies are off-planet, countless SF movies have posited that we will need to pull together.


ONLY A UNITED EARTH CAN SOLVE THE ULTIMATE WORLD PROBLEMS. The history of mankind is one of growing complexity and connection.  T’Challa sees the bigger picture, and must find a way to step into it. That is HIS fate as king.


Killmonger, then, was correct in his vision but poisoned by the dragon he had fought, a broken-hearted orphan who only “awakened” in time to save his soul…but not his body.


T’Chaka stained his soul making a choice to protect his crown…but an act motivated by love (for his children, because make no mistake: Patricide is NOT forgiven. It is entirely reasonable to fear Killmonger would have arranged an “accident” for T’Challa and T’Chaka and taken the throne.  Presumably, his father was all he had.   The best thing T’Chaka could have done is wiped the boy’s memory and found him a good family to raise him as their own) and anger (rage at betrayal) and arguably shame (the humiliation of a public trial for his brother would have created vast problems. I don’t know if Wakanda uses the death penalty, but if they did, he might have considered killing his brother to be Royal Justice.  Its messy) created a Shakespearean nightmare. Black Panther is a  Hamlet and broken eggs omelet.

T’Challa had to find a way to the future, while respecting the past. A path for his people, and all mankind. This requires forgiveness. Is it reasonable he could do this?


Did he kill Zemo in “Civil War”?  No?  Do you have the slightest empathy with Tony Stark’s “I don’t care. He killed my Mom” pursuit of Bucky, even at the cost of killing Captain America? Even thought Bucky had no control?


If you can buy that T’Challa had more emotional mastery in a week than the brilliant Stark had after 30 years and half a billion dollars of therapy, you are believing in a human being who can also move beyond racial and national conflicts to see the larger picture.  T’Challa is such a Magical Negro that if he weren’t balanced by an entire country, he’d be Harry Potter singing “Mammy”.

But he IS balanced by Wakanda. He has mother, sister, father (deceased), friends, counselors, subjects, lover (ex and future), and alliances. He is probably the most fully realized character in all the MCU, with the possible exception of  Thor and Spider-Man.


Now, Killmonger, T’Chaka, Suri, and Nakia all had their own lovely arcs weaving in and out. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to plot them out, and see Coogler’s beautifully woven braid.  THIS is fine storytelling, world-class, and totally deserving of its success.


This is the power of myth.





(If you would like to learn more about Afrofuturism, please accept the gift of a free lesson from our DREAMS TO BANISH NIGHTMARES course, available at: www.WAKANDALIVES.COM)


“Star Wars” X “Roots” = Black Panther

People giving you the fish-eye when you say “Wakanda Forever”?  Ask you what was wrong with “Meteor Man” or “Falcon” or “Luke Cage” or even the beloved “Blade”?  Getting sick of the faux negative reviews and thinly veiled insult.  Well, you aren’t alone.


I find that the set of people who don’t understand “Panther Fever” overlaps nicely with those who don’t grasp   SF in general, or comic book movies in particular.  And…to be honest, those who don’t understand or approve of BLM.  They tend not to have many black friends, either. Yeah, I peek at their FB friend lists, and it matches what I see in the real world among the same people with the same tired complaints.


I remember back in 1977  when Star Wars came out, and the frenzy. People spending overnight in tents for days to be the first in line. The cultural take-over was huge.   Or the Star Trek phenomenon, with people creating languages, legally changing their names, wearing Spock ears to work and getting married in Star Trek ceremonies.  Remember all of that?  And people asked me why the weirdos were acting like that.


I never slept on a line.  Or wore Vulcan ears. BUT I UNDERSTOOD.  Understood how hungry we are for myths that connect head and heart and body.  That say we matter.  That say it is all right to be different, that there is a place for all of us in the galaxy.


I needed that myself, God knows.


Now: that’s half the equation.   Here’s the other half.   Remember  the “Roots” miniseries?  I distinctly remember a lady at my college who had always mocked black concerns. After seeing “Roots” she was in tears. She had literally had no idea. How would she?  There were forces pushing against clear representations of the issues in film, such that the dominant images were those in “Gone With The Wind.”
I don’t know nothin’ bout birthin’ no babies, Miz Scarlette.” If you can read that without throwing up in your mouth a little, you are luckier than I am.


To this day, there are sleepers and snakes  claiming slavery was no worse than immigration, or that “Liberal social policies” were more damaging than 400 years of captivity,  Jim Crow, and segregation.   These are voters, employers, lawmakers, justice officials. How do you think those people interpret the statistics on income and arrests?  Think they believe in equality, no matter what they politely say in public?


No, they do not.   And we’ve been surrounded by them for centuries. And the  stranglehold on media and society that these attitudes have had is just breaking down, leading them to feeling desperate and afraid.  Fear leads to anger, anger to violence. Be careful–myths have power.


“Roots” had that power because it was the story of one man who fought through the walls, rebuilt historical bridges, connected family myth on the American continent to family myth in an African village.  In the process, regaining a slender thread of what had been ripped away from slaves:    Names. Language, culture, history, mythology, religion, agency.  The memory of a  time when people defined themselves in terms of their own people, or to the natural forces of the earth–not in reference to oppressors and colonizers, kidnappers and even kind but patronizing allies.  Alex Haley was the first black American to accomplish this connection and write of it widely, and for it he was both enriched and attacked.


I sat in my Mom’s living room, watching this ground-breaking  program over the course of a week, and for the very first time in my life grasped a history that was not created and approved of by the very people who needed to kidnap my ancestors and brainwash them into working for a fraction of their value, as well as giving up all agency over their lives and bodies and families…whose descendants would blithely claim that offering someone free sandwiches for a month is more damaging than torturing and raping them for a year.


I mean…the bald-faced temerity of this is staggering. AND THEY GOT AWAY WITH IT for decades.  But they cannot get away with it any longer, if you know who you are.  It was too late for me to be blown away by Roots. I had already done an end run around race with countless hours of meditation, connecting me directly with the heart of being.    There was no strength or power in being black, not in my house, despite the surface happy talk.  It took decades to revisit those questions, and the price for doing so was just as severe as I had feared.    I’m strong enough to handle it…but the cost of developing that strength was severe.  I do not want the next generation to pay such a price.  And see enough changes in business, politics, economics, and yes, entertainment, to convince me they will not.


If you want to understand the reaction to Black Panther, all you have to do is look at the “Star Wars” phenomenon (which is about the power of myth and family identity), and the “Roots” phenomenon (which is about the power of myth and social identity), add or multiply them times each other, and BANG, you have the explosion of joy.


“Star Wars” X “Roots” = Black Panther


Look at the reactions from people, black and white.   As with the Wonder Woman “No Man’s Land” sequence, the reaction is “I didn’t even know I needed to see this.”   That it is filling a hunger so deep that we were numb to it.  To be connected to our ancestors, our land, our gods, our sense of centrality in the universe. The precise thing every other group of people in the world have. Africans have it, even if they have material poverty. Colonized people have it.  Brainwashed and kidnapped people do not.


And whites?  Most just want to live decent lives, raise their families, deal with their stresses with integrity.  For our children to be able to play with each other without dragging the past back up again and again.  But until all of that past is actually dealt with, until the liars stop claiming they would have “gotten over it” faster, or that immigrants who fought to get here had the same experience as kidnapped Africans who fought to escape…until we are a generation beyond those lies, it is irrational for anyone to expect us not to join ranks and say “back the hell off.  Go back to sleep. Unless you’re a snake, in which case slither on over. To paraphrase Nick Fury in “The Avengers”:   “Snake?  Meet boot.”


But you will not enter the nursery, even though baby Jason could strangle you in his sleep.  Black Baby Hercules?

No.  Little T’Challa.


What can you do? Just live a good and decent life with your eyes open.  Or…enjoy and support art that speaks to a wider world.   If you want to go deeper, share what you learn with your children, or children you influence.


And if you want to go deeper still, and are a creative artist, create your own inclusive worlds.  We need you: black, white, brown, yellow.  Christian and Jew. Male and female.  Liberal and Conservative. We need your perspective, and so long as you believe in human equality, you are welcome in the new world.


This is an opportunity, a NEW opportunity to close the door on the past without forgetting its horrors. To embrace a future grounded in a pretty new and revolutionary notion: that people can be different without being less than. We can create that world for our children, and must, or we have failed them. Let them deal with the new challenges of the 21st Century.  For God’s sake…don’t ask them to keep carrying the burdens of the 19th.


Science Fiction is just the mythology of the 20th Century.   Afrofuturism is nothing but this concept applied specifically to the children of the Diaspora–to their hopes and dreams and identities.  And if you never missed us from “Star Wars”, you have no right to complain that we are creating our own worlds now, and inviting all to share in the fun.


If you want to go beyond Black Panther, or understand its roots, we have everything you need in the “Afrofuturism: Dreams to Banish Nightmares” class–everything you need to understand, research, support, create, including the emotional tools and a full writing course, worth at least ten times what we’re charging.   Be part of the answer. To order it, go to:


And…I’ll see you at the movies!  Got my ticket!



Wakanda Forever!



Of Panthers and Tigers

65 Reviews. 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. You know? Last year I was praying that Marvel wouldn’t lose its Mojo for just one more movie. Just one. All it had to do was be better than, say, “Ant Man”, which I enjoyed. Just that much. And I’d be happy. This is way above that minimum.  It’s like  “Star Wars” times “Roots”. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be 10 years old and see this happening. No one in the “Liberals damaged black people more than slavery” crowd could have the slightest idea what this is, they are too deeply in denial.


Why is Black Panther hitting so hard?


I’ve listened to plenty of Conservative talk radio. And one of the themes is that the essence of a people is “borders, language, and culture.”   The ESSENCE. Consider that for a moment.  IF that is true, then what does that say about what was taken from Africans?  Names, land, history, mythology, agency, religion, language.  Slavery in the U.S. mutated from a simple theft of labor into a theft of ESSENCE.  It was turning wolves into dogs.  Wiping the hard drive and installing “Slave 1.0” then pretending that was the Original Manufacturer Specifications.    The damage is so phenomenal that the men and women who did it engaged in a (mostly unconscious and emergent)  multi-generational cover-up, trying to control the image systems (the major CINEMATIC image of black people was D.W. Griffith’s  “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With the Wind” throughout the entire 20th Century.)  That delusion didn’t even BEGIN to break down until “Roots”, but that was television, where the images are smaller than you. Ever notice that “Jurassic Park” feels different on a small screen than a large screen?  That when the tyrannosaurs are big enough to eat the audience the experience is different from when you could pick one up and shake it with one hand?


Yeah, me too.


“Django Unchained” and “Twelve Years a Slave” were the first real cracks in that armor, the “CSA”,what I call “The Current Southern Apologia”, the attempt to absolve slavers from responsibility for rape, torture, murder, and kidnapping.   The sad thing is that some of their descendants and allies continue to defend the actions.    The “Liberals damaged black people more than slavery” people are like arsonists   standing over the smoldering ashes claiming that fire-axes did most of the damage.    It is an insanity nearly rising to the level of Flat Earthers.  Certainly the level of Birthers.


They are asleep, or snakes.  At best.


If, specifically, you steal the “essence” of a people, then program them to be servile by killing the aggressive ones and breaking the rest, then after 250 years you set them kinda free…but follow that with 150 years of Jim Crow and Segregation, you have created something truly damaged.  And you have to either disown that damage…or defend it, pretend it didn’t happen, or that it was, for instance, no worse than voluntary immigration.   More insanity. Let’s see…Europeans, Asians, and even Africans left their homes, fought and sometimes died to come to America, and wrote letters home urging their families to follow them.


And in what universe does that voluntary immigration equate to the situation where people risked life and limb to ESCAPE?    Does it really not occur to people that those two states (voluntary immigration and kidnap) are not equivalent?  By any chance are these the same people who don’t know the difference between sex, even “bad” sex, and  rape?






I never saw Obama coming.  Black President?   Unlikely. With an African name?   Fuggetaboutit. But…in retrospect, it makes sense.    He had something no black kid grew up with had. No black person I had ever known until I was in my 30’s.  Late 20’s at least.


He knew who he was.  Who his ancestors were.   The village his father came from in “the mother country”.  He knew his name, his history.  Wasn’t crippled by the same cultural slaughter.   This was precisely why “Roots” was such a sensation, and why Haley was attacked: he was just about the first black America to undo a critical thread of that damage.   He actually managed to connect with his ancestors.


What about colonialization?   Clearly, it damages the colonized.   Yes.   But colonialization doesn’t destroy EVERYTHING.   Vietnamese, Zulus, Irish still have their names and history even though they are dominated and controlled.  And I suggest to you that it isn’t an accident that Barack Obama ascended as he did. He didn’t come from a history defined by his oppressors, didn’t have a name given to him by his grandmother’s rapist.    That what you were seeing there was a more natural human being. He wasn’t born standing in a hole.


“What about `Blade’? `Steel’?  `Meteor Man’?   What about  `Falcon’?   `War Machine’?  Don’t they count?”


In some ways, yes.  I was delighted to see them when they came out.  (Well, “Blade” anyway.)  But not only was he suffering from the same theft of “essence” I speak of, but he was alone in a world of white people.   Not to mention a eunuch in a world of sexualized vampires.  And when Wes complained, they promised him that Blade would have a love interest in the third movie…until they had his name on the contract.   At which point they reneged.   And Wes flipped a bit, leading to the problems we’ve all heard about, for which he was blamed.  Of course he was.    The idea that he was supposed to be happy handing Massa his balls in exchange for a pile of money was so deeply engrained that people never even asked if there might be a REASON that he was angry.


Blade, Falcon, War Machine, Black Lightning…all those black Superheroes lack “essence” in the way I’m using the term. Every one of their ancestors were owned, stripped of everything those Conservative radio commentators consider central to identity.


Why is Black Panther hitting so hard?  Because T’Challa has exactly, precisely what was stolen.  Name.  Language.  Culture.  Agency.  Religion.  History.   PRECISELY.


Remember what women watching the “No Man’s Land” sequence from “Wonder Woman” were saying?  “I didn’t even know I needed to see this.”  Female animals are pretty much as dangerous as the males.  In a sense humans made a “deal” maybe 30k years ago that the women would focus on the “softness” while males focused on the “hardness”. Both sides get advantage from this, and both sides suffer.  And due to the Trifecta of Birth Control, Machine Technology and Peak Population we are entering a new era in history where we are re-negotiating this contract, and it will be to the benefit of all…but those addicted to the past will fight it like crazy. They will lose. But there will be damage in the process.   Oh well.


Black people are looking at BP and having that same reaction. Only stronger, IMO.  Why? Because men and women aren’t just symbiotic, they are two halves of the same organism.  Almost every men and woman has men and women that they know intimately and love deeply.   You can’t sink half a boat.


On the other hand, tribes really can hate and exterminate each other.   Happens all the time.   Slaughter. Exterminate.  Genocide. Or…cultural genocide. The theft of “essence.”  The nature of the conflict is not “we will organize thusly to produce the maximum grandchildren” but rather “we will either exterminate you or program you into sub-humans, and then pretend that was your natural state.  And insist you should be happy.”


And after generations, the survivors accept that programming.  And the former masters and their allies can breathe a sigh of relief.  They actually got away with that shit!


For a while, yes. Yesterday, an exceptionally fine black writer expressed surprise that I knew this day was coming.  It was obvious to me, if I started with the assumption of equality between the races.  Black people are not inferior.  All cultures are emergent qualities of basic survival wiring.  That meant that, given time, it would re-emerge.  Oh, yes, it would. Multi-generational damage requires multi-generational healing, however.   But it was coming.


And the other half of it, of course:  Whites are not some special evil.  Americans did what they did to gain labor, discovered there were social (and sexual! Take the #meetoo movement and think for just a moment what sexual abuse is if/when there are no laws against rape or murder.  What the hell do YOU think happens?  Where do YOU think all the “light skinned black people” came from.  Give me a break) benefits.  But also realize that, the Chinese have this expression about Riding the Tiger–as exciting as it might be, its dangerous as hell getting off.  Especially if you aren’t just riding it, but sodomizing it.


There’s an image.


But what I knew is that if we became full citizens with full rights in about 1970 (the voting rights acts), then all that had to happen was all the  white people born before that point dying and we’d be in a new world.   Yeah, that sounds brutal, but there it is. That is EXACTLY what I thought. Deal with it.  Or don’t.  I have run out of fucks to give.


And as that generation, those who had to defend the laws and strictures designed to make it safe to get off that damned tiger without getting clawed died out, their children, in a way they had not for 400 years, could say: “this is bullshit.  I don’t need to defend this.”


And as that began to happen, we could say: “wait a minute. If there has been a myth of inferiority, what is the truth?  (And trust me, this went all the way to the top.  When I was about eight, I was in a white friend’s house and read through an old Encyclopedia Brittanica which stated clearly and for the record that blacks were less intelligent than whites.  Thanks a heap.  Hey, what do YOU think the “Encyclopedia Wakanda” would say..?)


There is, in other words, an awakening from the Matrix, a system of lies and myths designed to extract labor from one tribe and invest it in another, along with all the methods that made it safe to rape that tiger, and simultaneously absolve oneself of guilt.  “Why, slavery was GOOD for those people…”


It’s a version of Charlie the Tuna begging to be eaten. Why, animals LOVE to die for us.


Sorry, Charlie.


But this is the opportunity. If the CSA is finally breaking down, if the mythologies are dying, then the reality is the bedrock on which we can finally build a home for all.  And people both white and black are shaking themselves like people stumbling out of an opium den. Saying: “wait a minute.  If you aren’t these servile subhumans you’d have to be to be natural second-class citizens, what the hell are you?”


And as soon as you are far enough from the pain to disown it without defensiveness (“hey. Screw all of that. I want nothing to do with it!”) you want to know what is true. Remember the two core questions?


  1. Who am I? (What are human beings)
  2. What is true? (What is the actual map of reality, not the myths or illusions)


The gap between reality and fantasy is dangerous. And it takes energy to sustain that fantasy, especially if you are pushing against a coiled spring like the human spirit.  That means that the first person who tells the truth releases that energy…and if you do that through the structure of craft and commerce, there is money to be made.


Are you hearing me, artists?  TELL YOUR TRUTH.  Dive deep. And you will find others who, for their own selfish reasons, NEED to hear you.


We cannot create our country’s future without shedding the lies of the past.   And those who are still addicted to the CSA will hate and fear this discussion. Those who disown it will say: “finally.  Someone spoke the truth.”



At the core of art is an impulse, a vision.  Mine is the universality of humanity.  We are neither good or bad, we are creatures crawling through the muck with our eyes on the stars.  We do wonderful things and think we are “bad”, but we also do terrible things and think ourselves “good.”


We can choose which path to take.


And the most “trivial” of our entertainments speak to our basic yearnings.    Our view of the world.   Those who protest the “politics” of the “SJWs” were perfectly happy with the philosophies that excluded minorities or kept men and women in toxic boxes.  That stuff was invisible because it matched their perceptual filters.


“How DARE you wake us up! How DARE you deliberately, consciously alter the narrative.  Let us roll over and go back to sleep.”


Well, sure. But if you’re sleeping, you don’t get to drive the bus.





The pressure point, I think, is the intersection of race and gender, and the  illusions that served different purposes.  It is time for those illusions to die, and for us to explore the realities.   This is part of the strength of art. It takes the “Who am I/are we?” and “what is true?” and says that the stories we’ve been told are not the only stories.   If you WANT to be free of them, these new stories will be a joy.


But if you NEED to be free of them…they are a revelation, an explosion.


“Dear God.  I didn’t even know I needed to see that.”




We are faced with not an improvement on the old myths, but a new set, a chance to start over.  But we have to actually look at the past, and welcome the future.

In this case…the afrofuture.





The Power of Myth

I remember Star Wars.   Back in 1977, no one had ever seen fast-paced storytelling hooked to “2001” level special effects, dynamic soundtrack  and a real sense of fun.   It was everything SF fans loved from Space Opera, delivered in a way we’d never seen.  People camped out overnight to see it, EVERYONE in the science fiction community was talking about it.   And when you added the mythical resonance…just wow.  It spawned clubs, a felled forest of tie-in novels, billions of dollars in sequels, and an avalanche of toys.


It was, and remains, a cultural event, even after all this time, and all the changes and deaths and technological upgrades.  It matters.


Myths matter.  We look at the tale of Luke Skywalker, a simple farm boy who turns into the galaxy’s greatest warrior, who with his corrupted father will one day take down the Emperor himself.  We watch that, and dream.


Science fiction fans tend to be intelligent, friendly, enthusiastic…and wounded.   It is no insult to suggest that the more time you spend immersed in fantasy, the less likely you are to be happy with the “real” world. You find in those stories the romance, adventure, belonging, and empowerment lacking in your real life.


When people thought the fans were insane, and asked me “why?” I think back on what was, to me, the most important scene in the movie.


Remember: Luke Skywalker is flying his X-Wing in a desperate assault against the Death Star, a battle station the size of a moon.  Darth Vader and the defense forces are hammering them, killing them two at a time, while Luke tries to get into position to drop a torpedo into a vulnerable vent.


Meanwhile, Grand Moff Tarkin is positioning the Death Star to blast the rebel base to kingdom come.  The entire sequence is set to driving John Williams music, and executed with the most stunning effects ever seen onscreen at the time. Overwhelming.


Luke is in the trench. The Death Star is moments from firing.   All seems lost, and suddenly there is a voice in Luke’s head: his dead teacher Obi-Wan Kinobi, saying “Luke.  Trust your feelings.”


And he does.  Shuts down the computer and uses “The Force”, a quasi-mystical power that connects him to the universe at a level deeper than conscious thought.  Fires. And blows up the Death Star just in time.




I was stunned.  Metaphorically, what they had done was something magnificent.   The rapid pace of all that input, all the threat, was pure Future shock overload.  In the midst of all that carnage, all that speed and explosions and massive scale, human effort seemed to mean nothing at all.


And at the height of the driving chaos, a voice whispered: trust your feelings.

Even in the midst of the cold and violence and impossible scale…the human heart mattered.

We mattered.   I mattered.


That was the power of myth, of storytelling. To connect us with a fictional character, to put that character through the wringer and take them to a moment of impossible stress where all hope is lost. Defeat. The “Dark Night of the Soul.”


Then show that the way through the Dark Night, the way to the next level of your life is…faith.


Faith that within you is greater strength than you have ever known.

Faith that your companions will not desert you, that your teachers were right to say you had a spark of excellence in your heart that you can fan into flame.

Faith that whatever creative force you believe in would not set you along a heartfelt path unless within you, somewhere, you had the power to do it.


Faith. That’s what gets us through. Along with commitment, decision, action, role models and allies, and a realistic knowledge that progress demands tolerance for pain, fear, and failure.


That path, that truth, is why stories, myths, legends are not frosting, not trivial…they are part of what make us human, and every culture in the world has created and nurtured them, taught them to their children in the desperate hope that when the shit hits the fan…and it always does…they will remember the stories of great heroes, of their ancestors, of men and women of courage and capacity…and drag themselves back up and try again.


I’ve lost count of the men and women who have told me that Batman, or Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Captain America, or Luke Skywalker, or whatever, inspired them to be better people, stronger people, helped them through crisis of adolescence or adulthood.  Those who say stories don’t matter are lying to themselves, or to you.  Perhaps they are the lucky ones, who internalized the stories that make us strong at such an early age that they are part of the core DNA that drives every breath, every thought, every action.   They are lucky. But they are not wise, if they don’t understand.


I’ve spent my entire adult life writing millions of words, dozens of books, all metaphors for finding strength, clarity, puzzle-solving, loving, living, and sometimes dying.  Put the deaths of my mother and father, the failure of my first marriage, the love of my children, the glory of healing my heart and finding myself deserving of a good woman…all these things and more, I’ve poured into my work.  Because I believe it matters.


And it does.  If you are a creator, you are my tribe so long as you strive to speak your truth.  If you are a teacher, I hope some of my words have helped you raise up seekers to be strong and true to their hearts.  And if you are a fan…bless you.  We need you.  To understand, and patronize, and let us know there is someone out there who hears us.  God, do we ever need you.  And love you.  Without you, we’d have no reason to do the thing we must.




Steven Barnes