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22nd Annual American Black Film Festival

Ryan Coogler poses for a portrait backstage during ABFF Talks: A Conversation with Ryan Coogler at the New World Symphony Center during the 22nd Annual American Black Film Festival on June 16, 2018, in Miami Beach, Florida. | Source: Jason Koerner / Getty

For years, Atlanta has ranked among the top cities for Black people to live and thrive. Due to the high number of Black politicians, historically Black institutions and cultural influence, the city has often been referred to as “Wakanda” after the release of the movie Black Panther.

This past week, Ryan Coogler, co-writer and director of the box-office smash, who was in town filming the sequel, made headlines due to an unscripted run-in with the law at a Bank of America branch in Atlanta. During a $12,000 withdrawal transaction, the bank teller decided to call the police. Despite Coogler giving his ID and PIN number, the teller found it suspicious that he made the request via a written note and because Coogler was wearing sunglasses and a hat in addition to his Covid mask.

Upon hearing the news, Black people defaulted assumption of typical racial profiling. But as more information came out, the plot twist revealed both the bank teller and bank manager were…Black.

IMPORTANT SIDEBAR: This sheds light on a longtime gripe I’ve had with ALL banks – privacy. Money is one of the most personal aspects of one’s life, yet it is designed with the same public discretion as a fast-food restaurant. When the tellers can’t hear, you’re forced to practically scream your request through the partition. During times of financial hardship, one is often forced to negotiate embarrassing details within earshot of judgmental customers behind you. Then, when in neighborhoods where you feel the streets are watching, anything more than the next man’s meal is a large enough amount for you to be a potential target when leaving the premises.

As the wealth gap gets wider, this open-air operation has to change.

So-called “third world” countries are getting increasingly better than the U.S. at implementing societal advances for functionality, whether it’s through technology or policy. For example, I was living abroad during the pandemic and due to mask mandates, all banks had a simple rule: Remove hats and sunglasses upon entry.

There was no backlash about optometrist prescriptions or “freedoms” to cover one’s head. Traditionally, bank robbers tend to wear masks, therefore additional accessories to a disguise will not be allowed – simple. When you think about the days of the “Wild West” and “Highway Robbery” when bank robberies were most common, then you think about today’s proliferation of laws like “Stand Your Ground” “Open Carry” and “Civil Forfeiture,” it’s a reminder that the United States chooses to operate in a labyrinth of criminal-enabled dysfunction that allows for double-standard landmines of anti-Blackness to prevail in the grey areas of threat – it’s by design.


The more you travel, especially to countries governed by Black people, the more you see the impaired visibility of the American lens. Look, most Black Americans predicted incidents like Coogler’s in the early stages of the pandemic. But with all the Karens Gone Wild, many of us overlooked the 9-1-1 call coming from a “Candace.” No matter what projected traits we use to categorize the bank teller, she’s just a Black woman trying to make a living in a country that conditioned her to see a Black man as an imminent threat.

There’s something both fascinating and frightening regarding our relationship with Hollywood. As the audience, we want all our inclusive demands to live free of contradictions. We ask, “Why can’t a Black man be James Bond?” Yet we know the answer. A spy can’t be a spy if he’s immediately profiled as a suspect – duh. In our utopian emotions, we wanted Idris Elba to be anointed with racial exception but would probably reject the casting of John Boyega or any other dark-skinned Black man. Yet, we exist in these paradoxes where desires, fears and pride can be deceitful; making you believe your eyes, even if you know what you’re watching is a well-crafted illusion. Sometimes, when we finally see that image of ourselves, that self-reflection can be a grueling process of self-acceptance because we are still looking through the lens of man and not God.

A while back, I wrote a piece entitled “Does the N-Word Exist in Wakanda?” As the film (and fantasy homeland) became the main topic of discussion for positive Black images, Black heroes and the overall normalization of Blackness in both a human reality and mythical universe, the idea of the fantasy homeland showed signs of conceptualization. It’s all good when discussing music and Vibranium but the purpose of my article was to reflect on the conundrums of Black identity and our self-determination as byproducts of an American value system which includes its invention of “the N-gger.”

According to reports, the bank teller is pregnant. Her child will live in a world where Wakanda was already created. On the set of a studio lot, Ryan is not just a director but an architect of a tangible mirage gifted for Black people. Offset, in the city of Atlanta, on that day, a Black woman saw what she wanted to see – so much so, she admitted to not even looking at his ID. We all know what she saw because we’ve seen this movie before – thank God they didn’t kill his character.

Trevor is a creative mercenary and ethical lobbyist born and raised on Beale Street. Follow him on Twitter @trevbetter.


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