Powerful Tools: Kevin Banatte on Story-based Strategy & Black Panther
Describe yourself in three words.
Brave, Visionary, and Vulnerable
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kevin Banatte. I was born in Queens, New York but grew up in Broward County, Florida. I’m Haitian-American and I was raised catholic by my mother and father.
I never viewed myself as artistic or political.
There are people I grew up with who say “boy, college got you different” or “my dawg went to college and just changed”. Translation, never in a million years would they ever have imagined me shifting the culture of American politics by highlighting systematic oppression faced by black and brown communities. Truth be told, college did change me. That’s what happens when you attend Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a historically black university located in Tallahassee, Florida. Studying Black Psychology at FAMU taught me how to love myself.
On FAMU’s campus I was digesting the work of scholars, doctors, and anyone who had a depthful perspective on anti-blackness, white supremacy, and mass incarceration. I found myself in this work. I began shaking off, what felt like pounds of weight, brought on by the shame and insecurity I was socialized to the feel as a black man in America.
Growing up in a Haitian catholic household, the pressure of what I came to understand as anti-blackness was ever present. My mother made it clear, I certainly didn’t have the freedom of being white and I sure as hell better not fall into the the stereotypes of being a Black kid — especially a Black American kid. In my house, if you heard the phrase “Black American” it was likely steeped in visceral disgust. I was to never — not even on accident — mirror the behavior of Black American kid. Adding more confusion to my developing identity was the negativity my classmates felt about Haitian people. In grade school, “Do you eat cat?” and some type of reference to Voodoo would come up in 80% of the conversations I would have about being Haitian. The other 20% of the time would represent my hiding or lying about my Haitian identity. When I think about hiding my Haitian heritage as a child, I feel deep shame. However, the impact of those moments is part of what fuels my understanding of Black liberation and the source of my creative communication skills.
FAMU brought on a surge of passion for blackness, love for myself and well managed rage against systems of oppression.
FAMU was also where I was introduced to and further politicized by The Dream Defenders, a racial justice organization based in Florida. After the acquittal of George Zimmerman, in the murder of Trayvon, Dream Defenders lead to a 30 day occupation of the Florida state capitol building, demanding change to stop racial profiling and stand your ground laws. During those 30 days, I rooted myself in the art of digital strategies and the power of shifting culture, essentially seeding the future of my career with the soil of my passions. In the year following the occupation, I worked with Dream Defenders on a number of creative projects exposing racism, police violence and injustice in Florida and connecting that to the growing movement for Black lives nationally.
My work lead me to more opportunities where I would further my digital organizing skills. From working with the American Federation of Labor & Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to consulting with some of the best organizers and organizations in the country.
I’ve launched a new project called The South. The South is a brand where unapologetic Black culture defines political power. Our goal is to create positive, powerful narratives that reshape the framework of Black identity in the US. We do this through popularizing Black southern culture and history in service of an audience of Black progressive, political thinkers that is strongly rooted in the power of blackness and their identity. By creating political art and apparel, curating news through a pro-Black lens and generating digital media content, The South will articulate the perspectives of an emerging and renewed subculture and power force of Black Americans.
Tell us about the work that you are doing with CSS.
I was fortunate to work with CSS on their Black Panther t-shirt fundraiser project. The goal was to create visuals that illustrate how the themes, issues, and ideals of today’s movements for progressive change are reflected in and tied to the transformative images and themes in the Black Panther Movie.
I was extremely excited about working on this project. Black Panther was making waves and influencing pop culture even before the movie’s premiere. I saw this project as a chance to bring a hero like Black Panther to our movements in a time when its so needed.
Why are you doing this work?
Through their tools and work culture, CSS has drastically expanded my view of the power in narratives. And this project was an opportunity to work with like minded creatives who see that power. Not only do they see the power of narratives, they understand how to use that vision to create compelling work.
How can folks get involved with your work or see your work’s final product?
Check out the collaborations here:
How would you describe Story-based Strategy (SBS) to someone who has never heard about it?
Collaborating with CSS is always a great opportunity to examine the depth of creativity that can come from one goal or idea. Our team put together visual representations that intentionally reached two audiences: Black Panther moviegoers and people active in the progressive movement. We spent time researching the story of Black Panther while anticipating the narrative of the future box office hit. If we wanted to create art that moved both our target audiences it was important for us to examine and hold the narratives of our progressive movement and Black Panther comic book culture closely together.
Collaborating with CSS on this project reminds me of how narrative based strategy has always been at the core of my work but I never had the language to articulate its power. It has always been my personal drive to align campaigns with impactful stories that challenge the assumptions that uphold toxic, oppressive norms in our culture. I’m really happy to collaborate with a group of creatives who have built the structure to truly hold narrative based strategy.
How did SBS affect your work on the project?
"I would describe [story-based strategy] as a crash course on fully understanding the power narratives have on our society. I believe it can be one of the most useful tools in any organization's Communications and Digital department arsenals."
If I were explaining story-based strategy to someone who has never heard about it, I would describe it as a crash course on fully understanding the power narratives have on our society. I believe it can be one of the most useful tools in any organization's Communications and Digital department arsenals. I’m often amazed at how many national organizations with resources and power, fail to realize the depth and strategic genius in the idea of building campaign strategy rooted in storytelling.
In explaining SBS, I would add that it is a great opportunity to unpack life's everyday challenges in dealing with the culture of racism, sexism, homophobia and other toxically oppressive forces. In my experience, being able to understand the depth of white supremacy has given me much peace and confidence in life. Not only is it like knowing the scary parts of a story but it also puts you inside the head of the writer or director of that same movie. Story-based strategy increases my ability to see the totally of white supremacy, the toxic assumptions and norms that lead to policies that legalize the ability for police officers to kill Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Rekia Boyd.
How was working on this project, using SBS, different from your work without SBS?
Without SBS, my work differs because it utilizes narrative based strategy without any structural or programmatic intentionality. There aren’t any clear questions to ask that reinforce: what makes a story believable. SBS tools give you immediate results because of the intentionality in its design. Without it, I’m making decisions about the development of narratives from a place of emotions, completely unattached to the necessity of strategy.
If you could have another iteration of your work, how would it have changed?
In another iteration of this project, I would make changes that reflect some of the popular lines out of the movie. As we worked on this project, before the movie came out, a lot of the focus surrounded the general narrative of the Black Panther and narratives from the comic series. Many lines and moments from the movies have become memes and been implanted in pop culture, especially Black culture. It would be cool to incorporate some of those memes into future designs.
Another change I would make would be to highlight some of the lead women in the movie/story. Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, Okoye, played by Danai Gurira, and Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, were powerful and relatable characters. The impact of their roles and characters in the Black Panther can still be felt, months after the box office release. That type of symbolism and pop cultural likeness will always be an attractive feature in creating political art.
Do you think SBS will change how you relate to future work in collaboration with others? How? And why?
I can certainly see SBS influencing how I approach my work and collaboration moving forward. I’m a student of life. That usually boils down to, if I know better I have to do better. To me, SBS creates multiple opportunities to do excellent work in my career as a digital/communication strategist.