Dr. Gordon Briggs and Brandon Thompson join forces to organize ‘Heroes in Color’ at the Athena Cinema< < Back to
ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) – As a Black kid growing up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, Dr. Gordon Briggs didn’t see many people who looked like him in films or on T.V.
When he did, he rarely could see himself in those characters in the same way everyone tries to see themselves depicted in the media they consume.
“Back then, you just had stuff like Steve Urkel, stuff like The Nutty Professor,” he said. “They were always physically goofy. There was always something wrong with them.”
Briggs says this is a major contrast to the kind of Black representation in films like Black Panther or Blade.
“When we get to movies like those, you’re seeing images of Black intelligence, Black empowerment,” he said.
This is the kind of representation you’ll find in the five films selected by Briggs and Brandon Thompson for the Athena Cinema’s Heroes in Color series, which kicks off next week with a screening of Black Panther. Thompson is the Outreach Coordinator with the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, Executive Director for Ohio Brew Week, known widely as DJ B-Funk, and an avid movie lover.
The series spotlights cinematic heroes of color like Wesley Snipes as the vampire-slaying Blade in the 1998 Marvel film of the same name, and Michelle Yeoh as the inter-dimensional traveler Evelyn Quan Wang in 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once. In addition to the films, each screening will include extra content organized by Thompson and Briggs, like trivia, special introductions, and even themed drinks.
Heroes in Color screening schedule
February 1 – Black Panther
February 7 – Blade
February 15 – Everything Everywhere All At Once
February 22 – Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
February 29 – The Last Dragon
“I’ve been watching movies for a long, long period of time,” Briggs said. “And its only recently we’ve had this sort of influx of superhero movies that have leads in them that aren’t white males. Here, we have five movies that all show strong, empowering and entertaining figures for people of color.”
Briggs and Thompson said they crafted the lineup with the distinct goal of presenting highly entertaining films, each of which provide opportunities to educate audiences about the important subtext in each.
Briggs noted the impact of the selections when considered collectively, especially given that the series includes titles released as long ago as 1985 (The Last Dragon) and as recently as last year (Spiderman: Across the Spider-verse).
“I think it’s important that people can see the evolution of these images throughout the films,” Briggs said. “These movies work in a lot of different ways – I’m thinking about Everything, Everywhere All At Once: it’s a strange, crazy movie about an woman who works in a laundromat and travels interdimensionally, but there’s also this really tender gay love story in the middle of it between the main character and Jamie Lee Curtis – but they have sausage fingers. And yeah, you can enjoy the movie apart from all this other stuff, but it’s also a story about immigration.”
Briggs and Thompson emphasized each screening will be an individual event, themed around each film. These will include various kinds of activities, but there’s one aspect in particular Thompson encourages folks to participate in.
“If you’ve never seen Gordon Briggs’ cosplay, I highly recommend you come out even if just to see that,” Thompson said. “Gordon and I are pretty hardcore about these movies, and movies in general, and one of the parts of fandom is showing fandom, if it’s a T-shirt or full out cosplay. And so please go all out. At the very least, myself, [Athena Director ] Alex [Kamody] and Gordon will be there supporting you.”
The importance of representation
You don’t need an advanced media degree (although Briggs does have one of those) to know people of color are underrepresented in film. You don’t need statistics, either, but perhaps statistics are worth considering in the context of a news article about this film series.
The 2023 Hollywood Diversity Report published by UCLA’s Social Sciences found 78.4% of lead actors in 2022 theatrical films were white. This is a problem, and it’s one Thompson said he’s seen white people grow increasingly aware of over the past few years.
“One of the things about the pandemic was there was a much stronger focus on race from the rest of the country,” Thompson said. “People of color have been acutely aware of all this stuff for a while, but it seemed like our white friends were starting to kind of open their eyes to what we’ve been seeing. And one of those things being: people of color don’t get to see themselves on screen in positive or strong ways very often. And when we don’t see ourselves, we tend to feel bad, like this isn’t for us.”
The kind of representation we see in films like those featured in the Heroes in Color series has a ripple effect – making appropriate representation all the more important.
“When more people are shown, hopefully there are people who are going to go into film because of these films and make movies themselves,” Thompson said.
“One of the things about the pandemic was there was a much stronger focus on race from the rest of the country. People of color have been acutely aware of all this stuff for a while, but it seemed like our white friends were starting to kind of open their eyes to what we’ve been seeing. And one of those things being: people of color don’t get to see themselves on screen in positive or strong ways very often. And when we don’t see ourselves, we tend to feel bad, like this isn’t for us.” – Brandon Thompson
Thompson emphasized how important the series is, and expressed hope that the community takes advantage of the fact they can see these films in theater.
“No one else is doing this in all of Ohio, Athens is the only city where you are going to see an entire film series about heroes of color,” he said. “If you’re listening to this or reading this and you’re excited about this series and you don’t show up, you’re part of the problem. With so many things like this, people get excited but then no one shows up, and if that happens, we can’t do things like this. It’s not enough to be like ‘that’s really cool,’ – you actually need to show up and actually support it. Hey, if you love stuff like this but can’t make it out, you could always buy a ticket and give it to somebody else.”
Find more information on the Heroes in Color series at this link.