Why Black Twitter is the engine room of the internet
The online engagement surrounding Black Panther is part of a fightback against black erasure from popular culture
The black community’s joy over Black Panther is all the more understandable when one considers how frequently black credit has been denied to whitewash the American cultural pantheon
Black Panther has already broken several records this week, garnering the biggest ever opening for a solo Marvel movie, and the best for opening day volume.
It also boasts the greatest online engagement of any movie in Twitter’s history, spawning #InWakanda, #NoContextSpoilers, and even the Black Panther Project, which paid for poorer kids to see the movie. As zeitgeisty site High Snobiety put it “Black Panther is not dominating the news cycle – it IS the news cycle”.
All of this is perhaps unsurprising considering the film’s prominence within the unsung beating heart of the internet; the engine room of content that is Black Twitter.
It’s staggering how much of the internet’s hashtags, images, lingo and jokes begin on Black Twitter. Even if you’ve never heard of it, you will have seen its works picked up, re-packaged and made famous, with all original authorship erased. Those billion Oprah, Wendy Williams, Kanye and RuPaul gifs? Black Twitter. The #OscarsSoWhite campaign? Same. That theory that Kanye West and Gucci Mane are clones bred by greedy record companies? Alright, not every creation of theirs goes top of the charts.
More notably, terms like “lit”, “bae”, “fleek”, “shade”, “yolo” and “basic” drifted from black Twitter – and largely from the LGBT voices within it – to your little cousin’s Instagram without their providence ever being acknowledged.
Lifting jokes, images and phrases is not necessarily a grave cultural crime, but serve as a neat microcosm for the wider issue of black erasure from popular culture, whether in creating the foundations for folk, rock and country music, or in the chronic under-representation of black people in cinema, both on and off camera.
That community’s joy over a truly black blockbuster is, therefore, all the more understandable when one considers how frequently black credit has been denied to whitewash the American cultural pantheon.
As if to prove this point, a Facebook group named Down With Disney’s Treatment of Franchises and its Fanboys this week lobbied their members to leave poor reviews and ratings on Rotten Tomatoes, as punishment for Black Panther’s overuse of “social justice themes” (AKA “black people”). Still more declared they had been physically attacked for being white at Black Panther screenings, going so far as to repurpose images of people’s wounds and present them as their own.
Fortunately for Marvel, and society, their efforts were spectacularly unsuccessful, as the movie was a critical hit, Rotten Tomatoes and Twitter took action against trolls. Having earned nearly $250 million to become the second most successful opening weekend of all time, the question isn’t how Marvel took the risk to play to the waiting crowd eager for a black-representative movie, but why on Earth they made them wait this long.