Comic books originated and are firmly rooted in social justice. Today more than ever the idea of a unique person that is different from the rest of society using their unique attributes to save the day is especially powerful. In the wake of the unjust death of George Floyd and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matters movement, the cry for social justice is louder than it has ever been in this country.
Comic-Con at Home provided an interesting conversation on the power of Pop Culture and how it can be used to inspire real life heroes, bringing a powerful conversation on how “Black Panther, Harry Potter, and other characters educate, inspire, and mobilize us to be heroes for each other, as well as for ourselves.”
Chase Masterson, the leader of the Pop-Culture Coalition, sat down with a variety of guest speakers Dr. Rheeda Walker (The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health), Geoffrey Thorne (Black Panther’s Quest, The Librarians), Dr. Janina Scarlet (Harry Potter Therapy, Dark Agents), as well as a variety of educators across the country to lead this powerful conversation.
The conversation began with Dr. Rheeda Walker, a psychology professor at the University of Houston and renowned author, who addressed how lack of representation in the visual and written mediums help amplify the social isolation felt by minorities, specifically the African American community.
This conversation, which we will not be doing justice by trying to summarize it, addresses how there is a stigma around mental health in minority communities. This parlayed into a conversation about how the lack of representation in the entertainment industry heightens these issues.
This conversation comes at a point where the industry at large is attempting to remedy their own role in institutional racism and how representation matters. The entertainment industry needs to be better and do better, and opening up the modes of representation will go a long way in making minority voices heard, changing our society for the better.
The conversation then went to Geoffrey Thorne, a renowned writer known for his work on DC, specifically Black Panther’s Quest. Thorne details his journey from a failed actor to a writer, detailing how he was discouraged from is acting career as a result of his skin color, seldom finding roles for himself in his favorite genre, science fiction.
Thorne took it upon himself to change this, beginning in the written medium, by writing comic books for both Dark Horse and DC that featured minority perspectives and a distinct, creative minority voice. As a result of comics firmly being rooted in social justice principles, Thorne found his work valuable and hopes that his writings will soon become films and other mediums to grant Black actors the opportunities he was not offered.
Another conversation that occurred that would peak the interest of movie lover everywhere was with Dr. Janina Scarlet, author of Harry Potter Therapy most notably, who talked specifically about how comics and other mediums can help in the fight for social justice by offering diverse viewpoints and diverse representation.
It is no secret that Harry Potter has a distinct anti-racist subtext, detailing the struggles that ‘muggles’ and ‘half bloods’ have in the wizarding world as an obvious metaphor for racism and segregation. Dr. Janina Scarlet, a Ukrainian refugee who immigrated to America after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, was inspired by X-men to develop therapeutic techniques , inspired by comic books and superheros, to treat anxiety, depression, and prejudice.
Dr. Scarlet has been on the front grounds on the fight against racial prejudice, teaching children empathy through their favorite superheroes and even using it to battle anti-semitism, something that she knows all too well.
While there are a variety of other speakers for their events, it would be wrong to try and summarize here. This conversation was wide-reaching, but shows us how impactful comic books, films, and superheroes can be in our society. They can show us the best and worst aspect of ourselves, challenging us to be better and do better.
For those who were unable to attend this groundbreaking conversation and would like to see the entire hour and seventeen minute panel, the link to view the recorded panel can be found here.