Shame Meter: Best Picture Nominated Films- Black Panther

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Bill Senyard here with another Gospel Rant #108. I am looking at just how much shame is evident in the eight Oscar Best Picture nominated films. This is not just an interesting-I hope—psychological study that has little or no bearing on our lives. I am observing that in the recent decade, shame has become epidemic in our culture.

What is shame? Shame is what happens when something happens in my life, memory or awareness makes me feel that there is something wrong with me or that I am not enough to pull something off, or live up to certain expectations, real or perceived. I am afraid that I am inadequate somehow, unworthy, subject to embarrassing uncomfortable criticism or abandonment. It is a sense of powerlessness, but it has a sharp, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, sense of judgment and self-criticism to it. Look, we all do it. Now to be even clearer, shame rarely comes to my awareness so clearly that I can get out a microscope and analyze it in order to make reasonable life changes.
“Ah, there it is, you knucklehead. Shame, I see you there. OK, so now I need to do steps A through D and that should clear it up.” Like we can apply cream to a facial blemish and rinse.

Understand that shame hides. That is one of its innate qualities. Who wants to feel shame, or see our own shame, or to admit that we have done something shameful, or fall short of expectations? Not me. Not my brain either. So, my shame hides, covers up, deflects, excuses, ignores, and denies. And if we were aware, we would see that our brain is a co-conspirator in the cover-up. It’s not evil—It is being human. We all do it.

So, if shame is not a reasonable easy to spot and fix error that I can easily self-analyze, what is it? Shame, one person described it, is an “undercurrent of sensed emotion of which we may have either a slight or robust impression.” (Thompson, 24). It resides in our emotional bandwidth. To be even more confusing. Negative emotions are not our shame, but they are ignited and rooted in our shame.

So, these podcasts hopefully help us to take real steps to begin to identify our shame in the mirror of media so that we can begin to recognize it in our lives, identity, relationships and religion. If we can begin to better understand it, we can also then begin to apply the power of gospel to our shame. Perfect love casts out fear. Shame is a function of fear.

The movie Black Panther is riddled with shame, but it is hardly obvious at first blush. This should be very helpful. Shame is not for just losers, those failures those who have fallen short of expectations. The highly successful can feel shame equally as well.

Imagine a superpower that had been supernaturally-by chance–blessed with unique resources, a super metal vibranium and a miraculous healing herb that gives superhuman strength, speed and instincts.  They didn’t earn it. It was a “fluke” of nature that made these tribes of Wakanda, the greatest and most technological nation on the planet.

Per the intro? N’Jadaka is telling his son, the story of “home.” He tells of a meteor that struck the heart of Africa and bestowed five tribes with Vibranium, the most powerful element on the planet.

Storyteller: “The Wakandans developed technology more advanced than any other nation. But as Wakanda thrived the world around it descended further into chaos. To keep vibranium safe the Wakandans vowed to hide in plain sight, keeping the truth of their power from the outside world.

Child: And we still hide, Baba?

Story teller: Yes

Child: Why? <pregnant pause>

I love it. Sometimes, children say something, or ask something that for some crazy reason totally exposes our shame and nakedness. This child got it. Maybe there was a good reason in the beginning to keep their stuff secret. Maybe. But now fast forward to the present, these couple of tribes, as advanced as they were, still refused to share that wealth with the rest of the world falling into chaos around them, including those of the same race—and they justified it to themselves. It is so easy. No judgment.

 The Warrior prince W’kabi gives us the official largely unquestioned party line. “If you let the refugees in, they bring their problems with them. And then Wakanda is like everywhere else.”

In the words of the throne usurper N’Jadaka, “Y’all sitting up here all comfortable. It must feel good. It’s about two billion people all over the world that looks like us, but their lives are a lot harder. Wakanda has the tools to liberate ‘em all.”

Ironically, it was N’Jadaka’s father who had been unjustly killed for plotting to give Vibranium to the needy world. All he wanted to do was to help hurting people and was ultimately killed as a traitor. Think about that.

So, let me bring shame in the open. If Wakanda’s shame could speak and would tell the truth, I imagine this conversation”

“Hi, I’m Wakanda’s shame. I have a deep secret. I am afraid that if I opened up to the rest of the world and shared my stuff with everyone, then I would no longer be special. I would be just a regular nation. Also, and maybe this is worse, if I came out of the closet of nations, I am terrified to see that in spite of all of my advantages, I would finally see that I am not advanced at all in the areas of compassion, inclusivity, caring for others and generosity. I couldn’t take seeing myself as that indifferent and selfish. It would hurt too much to see that mirrored in the eyes of other peoples who look just like me. I would have to deal with the obvious questions, “Where were you, brother?”, and “Why didn’t you help us?””

We get it, right? No one is questioning that the Universe gave them a staggering poker hand that caused them to advance so much quicker than all other tribes and people. No one questions that such technology in the wrong hands would be disastrous and so it makes sense that it must be protected. And yet, what doesn’t make sense, and is shameful, is that this advanced, so-called compassionate society hid from view and refused to help hurting people and nations around them that were in desperate need of help—all in the name of protecting their advantage. At some point, it is no longer reason, but shame that sets in so deeply, they can no longer hear reason or feel compassion for others. This is not just a white or black thing. This is a human thing. Thompson again, “To be human is to be infected with this phenomenon we call shame.”21

One of the nasty signs of shame’s presence and activity is the disintegration of any and all relationships it touches. For Wakanda, shame didn’t manifest as an unbearable torrent of shame. Rather it convinced them that they should separate from the world community and then continue to separate long after it made any sense to do so– and still believe somehow that you are an advanced people. They desperately needed to keep their secret. Shame is committed to secrets.

Great movie. It definitely could get the Oscar for best picture. It is time that a Marvel movie is recognized by the academy. This could be the one. Shame Meter? I give it a 7.5. A little lower than “The Favourite”, largely because in the end, there is a redemptive resolution where Wakanda’s shame is admitted and they publicly commit to step into relations with other faulty nations and peoples. Spoiler alert: In the end, T’Challa lambasts his dead father in the place where deceased Kings go,

T’Challa: Why Baba? Why didn’t you bring the boy home?

Baba (ashamedly not looking T’Challa in the eyes): He was the truth I chose to omit.

T’Challa: You were wrong to abandon him.

Baba: I chose my people. I chose Wakanda. Our future depended upon… (you remember, the lie of shame)

T’Challa (yelling at his father and all of the other Wakanda kings): You were wrong! All of you (i.e., former Kings of Wakanda) were wrong! To turn your backs on the rest of the world! We let the fear of our discovery stop us from doing what is right. No more… I must right these wrongs.

Christian, Jesus is the one who actually paid for any and all shame that you are carrying so that you can begin to be more vulnerable, love others, and be loved by others. You don’t have the muscle group to root out your shame, even when you actually can see it clearly. But as a child of God, you can access power from the Spirit that does have that muscle group. Not perfectly, that’s Heaven, yet it should be noticeable. It is a present experience of God’s perfect love that can begin, to cast out your fear—and emasculates your fear—a little bit more today than yesterday. Baby-steps right, this side of heaven, but then you will begin to experience more vulnerability, freedom, identity and joy today than yesterday. You will care for others just a little bit more. Want to know more?

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