Black Bart for the Black Panther

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

2018 was an awfully rough year for many Californians. But that means it offers no shortage of candidates for Black Bart.
Victims of our massive fires—and the firefighters who worked almost constantly to protect people and communities—were first to come to mind when considering a year when the town of Paradise literally burned to the ground. CAL FIRE Director Ken Pimlott deserves Black Bart consideration as a stand-in for everyone who faced these unprecedented fires.

This, of course, is a site about California politics primarily, with a bit about business. And those worlds offered an abundance of candidates. Jerry Brown wrapped up a political career. Gavin Newsom secure the right to start a new governorship. Kamala Harris turned herself into a presidential frontrunner. Dianne Feinstein, the Senate’s oldest member, refused to be retired. Xavier Becerra led a legal civil war between California and the United States. And Donald Trump kept lying and attacking the Golden State, and dominating media coverage.

Any of them could be Black Bart in a normal year. But this was not one.

I thought long and hard about naming Christine Blasey Ford, the Palo Alto psychologist who came forward—at great risk to herself and her family—to accuse Brett Kavanaugh. Whether you believe or not, she was the Californian person who put the most on the line this year. And she will have an impact that goes way beyond politics.

But in the end, I must nominate someone who told a story from the other side of the Bay.

Ultimately, I decided that in this time of endless conflict, the real Black Bart – the real mavericks—are those that find ways to bring us together. And for togetherness, I turned to the city of Oakland.

It was a banner year for that city. Its mayor, Libby Schaaf, warned her citizens of a raid by ICE, a cruel and out-of-control government agency, and then she stood down threats to prosecute her federally for protecting her residents. Oakland hosted another NBA championship, and was the setting for multiple highly praised films and an award-winning novel, There There by Tommy Orange.

And best of all, Oakland was at the center of the greatest American cultural phenomenon of 2018: the film Black Panther. The story starts and ends in Oakland, and in between visits Wakanda, which, unlike California, has a finished and efficient high-speed rail system.

The film’s director, Ryan Coogler is a proud Californian—an Oakland native, who went to Sac State and then USC’s film school. He broke into major filmmaking earlier this decade with a smaller but no less brilliant movie from Oakland, Fruitvale Station. And in this dark year, his film was a brilliant flash of light.

So I nominate Coogler. Give the Black Bart to the Black Panther.

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