A year ago, Marvel’s Black Panther film took the nation by storm, and millions of Americans from all different backgrounds filled theaters in droves to celebrate an African superhero on the silver screen. Two of those people were Brooklyn Free Speech Community Producers Mario “Marz” Brown and Sam “PD” Barden.
As creators of The Spinner Rack, a weekly TV program that discusses comic book culture, serials and films, they had much to be happy about; seeing an all-Black cast among the big budget Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) franchise, as well as watching a near-perfect comic-to-film interpretation of characters and a world they grew up reading about. As the one year anniversary of the film’s release draws near, we spoke with Mario and Sam about their show, their love for comics, and the importance of comics’ relation to Black American culture.
Mario and Sam grew up in East Flatbush, Brooklyn—East 51st street to be exact—and became fast friends. Sam’s parents passed on not only their interest in comics to him, but an acute sense of taste in comic quality. “For me, it was my mother,” Sam explained. “She used to read Superboy, Superman, and Batman. She didn’t want us to read Archie (chuckling); she was a real stickler about what me and my brother [chose] as comics.”
Mario shared the same kind of attention to detail for comic books, especially when it came to cartoon adaptations. “I got into comics because the guys in the neighborhood were into comics,” said Mario, “And when we’d watch cartoons, we’d notice things didn’t add up, because what we’d see on TV wasn’t in the comics.” This kind of nitpicking happened all the time among the two kids and their circle of friends. In fact, sometimes arguments about comics – like Hulk vs. Thor, for instance – led to even more intense conflict. “When we were kids, we’d all argue about this,” Sam reminisced. “We’d pick our favorites, get into these deep discussions and then get into fights over who was better — who was stronger.”
Mario and Sam’s bond over their mutual love of comic books led to their reconnection in adulthood. Those constant back-and-forth debates about comics and films inspired them to create a show about their favorite subject, and then in 2016, The Spinner Rack premiered on Brooklyn Free Speech TV.
Founded in 1990, BRIC’s Brooklyn Free Speech TV and Podcast Network helps to level the media playing field by offering high-quality, wallet-friendly training and also serves as a distribution platform for media artists to share their films, TV shows, and podcasts to more than 600,000 viewers in NYC and countless more worldwide.
With Mario producing, Sam editing, and friend Calvin Ellis narrating, The Spinner Rack analyzes comic serials, graphic novels, and film adaptions. One of the episodes featured on-site coverage of New York Comic Con 2017 and highlighted one of Black Panther’s most prominent writers, Christopher Priest. It was that episode that garnered them some illustrious hardware in 2018.
Just as the Academy Awards celebrates excellence in media artistry for those in Hollywood, the B Free Awards celebrates excellence in media artistry for those in “Brooklyn-wood.” It was at the 2018 B Free Awards that The Spinner Rack’s episode on Priest won in the B Informed category, which honors shows that inform the public about news or current events. Mario and Sam were elated to win, but seemed to be even more excited about meeting other media makers who were following their dreams, just like them. “It’s also great to interact with [other creators] out there and see what they’re doing, but also it’s important to be acknowledged that you’re doing something.”
Going to festivals like New York Comic Con at the Jacob Javits Center and Black Comic Book Fest at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Mario and Sam noticed just how much people of color were connecting comic culture with their own.
Mario spoke about how comic characters parallel the lives, turmoil, and hope of people of color and how it helps build that connection. “If you go to any comic book convention, you see a TON of black and brown people…and that is us; that’s part of the fabric. One of the reasons people love the X-Men is because the X-Men, even though they had super-powers, were treated as a [disenfranchised group], they were treated badly and that’s how we ourselves are looked at.”
When Marvel’s Black Panther hit theaters last February, we all got to see the emotional connection African-Americans had with T'Challa, Nakia, Shuri, and Okoye in full effect. We know that Black Panther took the whole world by storm, but the film was particularly important for Black audiences who weren’t used to seeing a Black superhero on the big screen.
All across the United States, Wakanda expatriates rocked their “Wakanda best,” to see the film— wearing traditional African garb, making the official Wakanda salute, and becoming part of the Black Panther experience. “I’m glad that the audience took it that way,” Sam remembers. “Not necessarily dressing up as the Black Panther – they dressed up as the Wakandans, like they were a part of the movie. That’s amazing to see the audience take that extra step.”
Reminiscing about their own childhoods growing up in East Flatbush, Mario and Sam are proud and thrilled that there is a new generation of Black boys and girls—Black men and women, too—who have a hero with whom they can identify. “It’s always good seeing brothers and sisters coming out and doing cosplay,” Mario said. “[In the past], so many people say, ‘You can’t be this or that character because you’re Black.’ It’s good when our people have a character that’s our own that no one can say that to.”
Relive the excitement of Black Panther’s opening weekend here at BRIC! On Saturday, February 16, 2019 at 3PM—the one year anniversary of the release—Mario and Sam will host a free screening of the MCU epic at the BRIC Media Center. So, come in your “Wakanda best,” enjoy the film, eat vibranium-inspired treats, and join in on a rousing post-film audience discussion led by Mario and Sam.
If you want to whet your comic book appetite, watch Mario and Sam's show The Spinner Rack on Brooklyn Free Speech TV every Wednesday at 7PM (RCN Ch. 83; Spectrum Ch. 79; Optimum Ch. 68; Verizon Ch. 43). You can also watch Brooklyn Free Speech TV via streaming worldwide here!