Talking about race, comedy, and storytelling first thing in the morning is quite a way to kick things off. On day 2 of SXSW, socio-political comedian & United Shades of America host W. Kamau Bell, activist & #OscarsSoWhite’s April Reign, and Luvvie Ajayi, the best-selling author of I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual did exactly that, making the audience woke in more ways than one.
The panel originally had included Black-ish creator Kenya Barris, but in a last-minute change Reign and Luvvie signed on. After stepping out on stage to tell the audience to stop clapping like it’s 9:30 in the morning and start clapping like it’s 7 o’clock at night, Bell addressed the change in the panel: “Something happened at Black-ish HQ and Kenya had to cancel.” (He is most likely referring to the recent Black-ish episode that was pulled). He said he had to send out the “black signal” and rallied Reign and Luvvie — who were great additions to the insightful talk.
“Thanks for coming to the black panel,” he added. “We started late. We’re gonna end early. Wakanda forever.”
The trio talked about a robust list of headline-making topics and how they relate to race in America. They touched on gun control in the wake of Parkland, the pay gap in America (with a focus on Monique — which I will touch on later), poor marketing choices (remember the Kendall Jenner ad where it seemed like she solved racism with a sip of Pepsi?), the use of privilege, and other issues that could fill more than an hour session at SXSW.
Taking the forefront of the conversation was the privilege of failure for white filmmakers and storytellers compared to people of color. With Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time causing waves at the box office, Bell, Reign, and Ajayi were enthusiastic about the successes. Still, they pointed out how there are certain expectations for filmmakers of color and if those aren’t met, they lose and won’t get another chance.
“White people can fail over and over again and still have a chance,” said Ajayi.
Reign chimed in saying “Matt Damon” which receives laughs from the audience.
“We cant expect everything to break records,” continues Ajayi. “But we have to create a space for black art to exist to succeed.
Bell pointed out how people are putting Wrinkle‘s Rotten Tomato scores and box office numbers under the microscope, but also said that in order to achieve excellence, you have to swing big. “Ava is taking a huge swing,” he said.
Reign said she hopes Wrinkle in Time will “blow the door of opportunity off its hinges” while Ajayi says there is something “magical” about the time and shows us how change is possible. The Ava DuVernay-directed fantasy pic along with the blockbuster Marvel movie debunks the fact that movies with predominantly black casts can’t sell overseas.
Still, Ajayi hopes that Black Panther isn’t the exception to the rule when it comes to these unspoken rules. Said Reign, “Black Panther isn’t the first to do this.” She points out the box office success of Straight Outta Compton, Hidden Figures, and Girls Trip. “Black Panther is one of series.”
Ajayi said, “We got receipts yo!”
And then there is the fact that people are trying to pit Wrinkle and Black Panther against each other — a competition that shouldn’t exist in the first place. Reign remarked how there hasn’t been a time when two white movies of different genres like Wrinkle and Black Panther have been put against each other.
“There is room for all of us,” said Reign.