There was something in seeing that Black Panther trailer that caused a fire to rise up in me again. Something that made my eyes burn with tears and heart swell with pride. Yeah, it could have been the Boseman-Coogler combo or Angela Bassett giving us all of the life in the world for the 0.2 seconds she was on screen. But I think it’s deeper, bigger even. I’ll say it again for the people in the back: representation is so important. If we stop at visual images, the work is unfinished. We must create and demand thoughtful, complex, and diverse representations of our Black spectrum. And something in me believes that Black Panther is going to do that. It just has to.
So what exactly does this have to do with faith? I’m glad you asked, you committed and diligent reader, you! If you haven’t already checked out Part I of this post, you should do that. If you haven’t, shame on you! Pull the lever, Kronk!
There’s grace for that…
Let’s recap: Genesis 1:27 says, “… God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” A new understanding of this verse changed my entire perspective on who I am as a Christian and artist (did you know you can be both? Wowza!) It’s good news; it’s gospel; it’s something that everyone deserves to hear, experience, and believe. And with my little camera and my hard drive full of scripts, that is exactly what I intend to do. A nice little cycle, ain’t it?
Art is a reflection of God The Creator. But you can’t just make things in some big cosmic void...well, I mean you could, but I’m not. In case you didn’t know, there's literally a Struggle happening and I don’t have time for that. I have to approach this goal with intense specificity. That’s where the “image” part of this scripture comes into play. What do those images look like? Well, for me they're Black, Black, Black, oh so dark, and Black. Let me explain.
Keep reading to verse 28 and you’ll find this: “God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Scholars call this the Cultural Mandate, meaning that from the beginning, God intended for the earth to be filled with people, whom he loves and values. I’m no biologist, but because of things like climate and geography, in order for humans to survive, different types of people with different traits and practices had to develop over time. As a result, a diversity of cultures was born. Ta da. This wasn’t an accident; God knew that this was going to happen. Culture is a part of God’s plan--Blackness is a part of God’s plan. (How’s that for a Sunday School Lesson?)
Black people are made in the image of God. But how many of us live like that’s the truth? Some people don’t even know that it is. And I mean, how can we blame them? In textbooks our history starts with “yessuh massa,” moves to “We Shall Overcome” brought to you in part by your local white savior, and ends somewhere around Regan telling us to “just say no.” We are intentionally conditioned to believe that we are inferior. America and much of the Western world was built on this principle and on the backs of African peoples. If you think something’s racist 9/10 times (let’s be real, 15/10 times) it is. (Oh. You didn’t know I was a conspiracy theorist? Well now you know. The Lord is working on me). This system THRIVES on the subservience of our people and the media only fuels that. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that lines up with who God told us we were in Genesis. He made us fearfully, wonderfully, and on purpose. We’re so much more than this world would lead us to believe, y’all. We are dancers, doctors, lovers, poets, philosophers, fathers, freedom fighters—we bear the image of God in so many beautiful and diverse ways.
Art, films in my case, help to remind us of this holy truth. Disagree with me if you want, but I really believe that thoughtful depictions of our people help to carry out God’s plan. So, that’s what I am trying to do, create deeper, wider, and more thoughtful depictions of Black people and Black experiences.
I found that who I am as a Christian, artist, and Black woman only makes sense in the Kingdom of God. Like I said before, I didn’t always know that. It's been a journey, especially over the past three years. A real turning point came for me in an unlikely package, the most sincere blond-haired, blue-eyed white guy that you will ever meet. After seeing a play that I produced and directed that basically digs into what it means to be Black (Black Monologues stand up!), he wrote a letter to the cast and me explaining how he saw God and His glory through the work. I love the writing, directing, and bonding that goes into creating this production. But that’s all I ever wanted—for people to see God and know Jesus. Thanks, Bradford.
I’m gonna keep listening to God, but for now, I think that I'm supposed remind my people that we are made in God’s image through art. If I’m being honest, I don’t think that this message only has to be carried out through super Christian-y, churchy, worshipful-looking films. I find this message in Selma, Fruitvale Station, Daddy’s Little Girls, and even in Do The Right Thing. The list goes on and I’m trying to write the next one. One day. In His timing. God will create the image that he wants to see. He will equip me with words and characters that reflect the breadth of his being. I am committed to making art for, by, and about my people, not independently, but completely dependent on God.