Ben Liemer Says Status Quo-Challenging Films Shoulder Message Preached By MLK Jr.
On the eve of his death, Martin Luther King Jr. told a standing-room-only crowd in Memphis, Tennessee that he had “seen the Promised Land.” The date was April 3, 1968. “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” King would be gunned down less than 24 hours later, but his prophetic words live on both in the social justice struggle and in popular culture.
According to media expert Benjamin Liemer, two films with an unlikely tie-in to each other are also representative of the “Promised Land” King envisioned.
The year was 1998 and “Blade,” starring Wesley Snipes as human-vampire hybrid Dhampir, became a blockbuster hit. The plot – as it pertains to the overall empowerment message that King preached – was that Snipes was one of the first African American superheroes. Ben Liemer, whose music and media industry experience lends him plenty of insight into content development, says that this was a bold step for a production studio. It paid off, too: Blade grossed $70 million in the U.S. and more than $131 million globally.
Fast-forward exactly two decades and we see Chadwick Boseman cast as Marvel Comics character “Black Panther.” Despite the provocative title that may appear tied to the civil rights-era group that King came up alongside, the plot has nothing to do with reprisals carried out on American soil. Still, the film was lauded for its “cultural significance” and would eventually take in $1.2 billion in box office sales across the globe and prove to be the largest debut by an African American filmmaker. What’s more, reports indicate that none other than Snipes was eyeing a role as the protagonist in a Black Panther film long before Blade and the 2018 release came to be. Benjamin Liemer says that it was Boseman who was the heir apparent when it came to a leading African American superhero and the impact of the film is still reverberating among young African American adults and children seeking other positive role models who are not athletes like Derek Jeter or conscious rappers like Mos Def.
On April 4, 2018, mourners gathered at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis where King was gunned down by a marksman. He was 39 years old at the time, but his message is still shouldered by the likes of civil rights activists everywhere. “He was a man who wanted to transform our country morally, economically and racially,” former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said at the recent gathering. To Ben Liemer, the transformation of public opinion is possible through exposure to status-quo challenging art like Blade and Black Panther.