Culture

Andy Samberg’s Golden Globes Black Panther Joke Explained

While Black Panther didn’t win any of its three nominated categories at Sunday’s 2019 Golden Globe Awards ceremony, it bore the brunt of the night’s most blistering joke from co-host Andy Samberg (teamed with Sandra Oh), who took aim at the U.S. government for violent suppression of black activist groups like the Black Panthers.

“If you told me as a kid, growing up in the Bay, there’d be a movie called Black Panther that starts off in Oakland, this is not what I would have imagined,” Samberg said, then addressed Black Panther director Ryan Coogler directly. “Ryan, were there, like, a bunch of old members of the actual Black Panther Party saying, ‘I can’t even get an audition?’ Just kidding, they were all framed and murdered for wanting justice and equality. The world is and always has been a nightmare; it just seems worse now because of our phones.”

Samberg delivered the end of the joke in a darkly comedic torrent, then quickly pivoted to a new topic. “What else happened this year?”

While Coogler's reaction shot appeared impassive, Samberg alluded to government brutality against black activists that had previously inspired both Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan, who has appeared in every one of Coogler’s feature-length movies, playing the “villain” Killmonger in Black Panther.

In December 2016, more than a year before the release of Black Panther, Jordan and Coogler paid tribute to Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, on the anniversary of his death. Hampton, a powerful orator, grassroots organizer and utopian communist, was a rising star within the Black Panther Party, brokering peace between Chicago street gangs and organizing the Black Panther Party’s People’s Clinic to provide door-to-door health services.

After an introduction by Coogler, Jordan read aloud a speech of Hampton’s at the MLK Now celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. at Harlem’s Riverside Church, where King once delivered a speech against the Vietnam War. “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death,” King said.

At 4 a.m. on December 4, 1969, Chicago police officers stormed Hampton’s apartment, dragged him from bed and fired two rounds into his head at point-blank range. Hampton never woke—an FBI informant had spiked his drink with a powerful sedative, though the Cook County coroner and the FBI disputed the claim Hampton was drugged. Hampton was 21 years old.

“I didn’t find out about him until my adulthood—he’s not someone they teach about in history books, though I wish they did—but the more I found out about him, the more I realized how much we needed him, how much we could have used him, had he lived beyond the years he was given on this Earth,” Coogler said of Hampton.

Hampton was far from the only victim of FBI and police violence aimed at the group’s political activities. In 1971, the FBI’s surveillance program Cointelpro was exposed. Documents stolen by the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI revealed a litany of illegal law enforcement activities, with the Black Panther Party as a primary target. The FBI regularly tapped Black Panther phones and even faked threatening letters between Black Panther Party members and local street gangs, hoping to intensify animosity in black communities. Police and federal agents also targeted the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast for Children Program, intimidating participants and organizers.

At the MLK Now celebration, Jordan read aloud Hampton’s speech “Power Anywhere Where There’s People”:

We got to face some facts. That the masses are poor, that the masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I'm talking about the white masses, I'm talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We've got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don't fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”

Surveillance of black activists continues to this day, as the FBI targets Black Lives Matter activists for their First Amendment activities.

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