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Who is the Black Panther? Former Daily Mississippian Editor Jesse Holland wrote the book

Posted on: February 21st, 2018 by ldrucker

Holly Springs native Jesse Holland crafted his most recent novel, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?,” using skills he honed during his undergraduate years at Ole Miss.

Holland started at Ole Miss in 1989, immediately going to work for The Oxford Eagle. There, he covered the town of Water Valley, high school sports, and just “whatever had to be done.” One of his most memorable moments was when a writer came in the office asking if anyone wanted to interview him. That writer was John Grisham.

UM alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. has written a novel for Marvel to reintroduce its 1960s superhero ‘Black Panther,’ the main character in a new blockbuster film.

Later, Holland worked for The Daily Mississippian as a news editor before climbing to managing editor and all the way to editor-in-chief. He helped craft a comic strip along with two other students called “Hippie and the Black Guy” that made light of stereotypes for the paper, all while a full-time student double majoring in journalism and English. He also worked for Rebel Radio as a DJ for his rap show and talk show, and was a cameraman for the school’s TV newscast.

“All of the professors at Ole Miss insisted that we all learn different forms of journalism. I went from room to room in Farley Hall,” Holland said. “I tried to stick my finger in every form of journalism I could, and Ole Miss encouraged it.”

Meek School of Journalism and New Media Dean Will Norton found Holland when he was in high school in Mount Pleasant and encouraged him to come to Ole Miss.

“I would have never been at Ole Miss if it wasn’t for Dean Norton,” Holland said. “He has been to a great mentor to me all of these years.”

Norton described Holland as “exceptional” and credited his success to his work ethic.

“I wish I had his character. He is so honest and hardworking, and he never complains. If he talks about something being bad, he does so with a smile on his face,” Norton said. “When Jesse Holland tells you something, you can trust that it’s the truth. I look up to him, not just because he’s taller than me.”

Ever since his time at Ole Miss, Holland has been writing books and for The Associated Press and now lives in Washington, D.C.

Holland has been writing since 2005. His books mainly focusing on African-American history, and he was approached by an editor at Lucas Films in 2016 about writing the backstory for a character named Finn in the “Star Wars” trilogy.

“(Star Wars) was one of the first films I saw in a theater,” he said. “I jumped at the chance, and ‘The Force Awakens: Finn’s Story’ came out.”

After reading the story, an editor at Marvel contacted Holland about writing a story for the latest film about the Black Panther. A comic book fan, Holland readily agreed.

“Marvel wanted a novel retelling the origin of the Black Panther in time for the 2018 movie release so people wouldn’t have to read all of the comic books to figure out his history,” he said. “I’ve been reading them since I was 5 or 6 years old.”

Holland said he had an advantage because he wouldn’t need to be sent the comic books – he already owned them all.

“Back at Ole Miss, I used to drive from campus to Memphis to be there when the comic books came out on Wednesdays. It was a weekly pilgrimage for me and my friends,” he said. “When Marvel came to me, I said, ‘I have all of the comic books down in my basement.’ It was a great experience – it gave me an excuse to read comic books.”

Dex McCain, Holland’s fraternity brother with whom he pledged the Eta Zeta chapter of Omega Phi Psi Fraternity, Inc., the first black Greek-lettered charter at Ole Miss, remembered Holland’s love of comic books in college.

“We knew he was destined for this. The things he’s done have prepared him for this, and he has always had a passion for comic books,” McCain said. “Even in college, he would read comic books. He’s just the right person for it. I’m so proud of him. He’s always been a perennial all-star. Anything he did, he did well and with passion. To me, he tells every story like it is, and that’s what you see in his books, including ‘Black Panther.’”

Holland drew inspiration for his novel about the Black Panther from his own life, something he’s learned to do with his fiction writing over the years.

“A lot of people in my life are represented from the book. You write what you see and you write what you know. I pull from every source that I can,” he said. “The speech patterns come from people I see on a daily basis.”

Marvel gave Holland free reign to work on the book, so he started it in Washington, D.C., where he lives at places he’s familiar with, like the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“If you’re the king of Wakanda, where else would you go?” he said.

Marvin King, professor of political science and African-American history, met Holland as an alumnus and said he believes his background in history research has made his fiction writing stronger.

“He brings a lot of knowledge about the subject,” he said. “He’s done so much prior research about historical matters of race in America. He’s worked in a lot of different places, so he’s been exposed to a lot of different stories as a reporter, and I think that’s all coming together in his latest project.”

Holland said he incorporated as much of the real world as possible, but shied away from including much politics.

“I did do a little flavor of what the world would be like if these characters were real. How would the politics of a hidden country in Africa play with America?” he said. “But this is a superhero story – I had to make sure there were enough punches being thrown. I don’t delve too much into ‘meat grinder’ politics. I tried to look at it from the point of view from someone from Wakanda.”

The movie shattered box office records and is expected to earn $218 million domestically and $387 million worldwide for the four-day holiday weekend. Malco’s Oxford Commons Cinema Grill was overflowing with crowds to see “Black Panther” for the film’s opening. Holland went to go see it with his kids Thursday night.

On the film’s significance, Holland stressed the importance of having an African-American superhero protagonist.

“Growing up, I didn’t have those type of heroes on the big screen. There were very few African or African-American superheroes on television or movies when I grew up. Today, kids will have these characters – they will be able to say, ‘I want to be that,’” he said. “I got the chance to take my kids Thursday night, and they were transfixed because out of all the superhero stories they’ve seen, never have they been to a superhero movie where everybody looks like them. That’s so important for the kids, and I’m just happy that I got to play a small part in crafting this character for the new century.”

Meek School alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. Pens ‘Black Panther’ Superhero Novel

Posted on: February 1st, 2018 by ldrucker

University of Mississippi alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. was tapped by Marvel to reintroduce the world to the 1960s “Black Panther” superhero franchise through a new novel ahead of this weekend’s release of the blockbuster film about T’Challa, ruler of Wakanda.

Holland, a Holly Springs native who graduated from the university in 1994 with a degree in journalism, was tasked in 2016 with retelling the story through a 90,000-word origin story novel based on material in six comics. The goal was to create a new world for the main character, T’Challa, set in modern times.

The novel was released last fall as part of efforts to promote the new $200 million movie, which stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, and features Forest Whitaker and Lupita Nyong’o. Rap megastar Kendrick Lamar produced the soundtrack.

Jesse Holland Jr.

Being asked to write the novel, “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?” was a dream come true, Holland said.

“I’ve been reading comic books my entire life,” Holland said. “When I was at Ole Miss, me and my friends would drive from campus all the way to Memphis to comic book shops on Wednesday or Thursday nights when the new ones came out and pick them up.

“I told Marvel I’d love to take it on and they offered to send me some Black Panther comic books for research, and I said, ‘Don’t bother. I already have them all in my basement right now.”

The movie is poised for a majorly successful box office opening weekend. Drawing attention as one of the first superhero movies to feature a person of color as the main character, it follows the release of “Wonder Woman,” which featured the first female superhero star on the big screen.

Audiences are clamoring for something different from traditional Hollywood superhero movies, and there’s a much broader appeal than normal that is driving the high expectations, Holland said.

“This is not a recycled superhero story,” he said. “It is not the third different actor playing the same character. This is something that is completely new, completely different as far as superhero movies go.

“One of the things we are going to see behind the success of this character is that we as Americans don’t need to see the same story over and over. We are accepting of new heroes and new mythologies, and in fact we’re more accepting of heroes of all colors and genders. America is ready for a different type of hero.”

In the film, T’Challa returns home to the isolated, but technologically advanced, African nation of Wakanda to succeed the throne that was recently vacated when his father, the king, died. The country is able to be technologically advanced because it’s the only source of an advanced metal known as vibranium.

UM alumnus Jesse Holland Jr. has written a novel for Marvel to reintroduce its 1960s superhero ‘Black Panther,’ the main character in a new blockbuster film.

When another nation attempts to invade Wakanda to take the ultrarare material, T’Challa is forced into a role as his nation’s protector.

He is a complicated character, Holland said.

“When people ask me about T’Challa, I tell them to imagine if the president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the pope were all the same person,” Holland said. “On top of that, he’s a superhero.

“His superhero outfit is bound with vibranium, which makes him almost indestructible. He also takes a special herb that gives him super powers.”

“Black Panther” is drawing high marks from critics. The New York Times called it, “A jolt of a movie,” and said it “creates wonder with great flair and feeling partly through something Hollywood rarely dreams of anymore: myth. Most big studio fantasies take you out for a joy ride only to hit the same exhausted story and franchise-expanding beats. Not this one.”

Over six months, Holland wrote the updated origin story based on a 2005 version.

“It’s actually pretty cool to not have to start from scratch and to take a storyline by an absolutely great writer like Reginald Hudlin,” Holland said. “He based his work (in 2005) on the great work that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby started with.

“To be able to take that work and make it your own and be able to add and subtract and mold it to something you’re happy with is just fabulous.”

Doing this kind of work is nothing new for Holland. Disney Lucasfilm Press commissioned him to write the history of the Star Wars franchise’s newest black hero, “Finn.” He told his story in the 2016 young adult novel “Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Finn’s Story.”

He’s also penned award-winning nonfiction. His book “The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slavery in the White House” (Lyons Press, 2016) won the 2017 silver medal in U.S. History in the Independent Publisher Book Awards.

He teaches creative nonfiction writing as part of the Master of Fine Arts program at Goucher College in Townson, Maryland. He is also a race and ethnicity writer for The Associated Press.

Holland recently saw a screening of the movie, which he said is “fabulous.” He expects the release will create a major payday for everyone involved.

“From everything we’re seeing – all of the sold-out movie theaters, pop-up bars, pop-up art shows and pop-up screenings, it seems like this is going to be a record-breaking weekend for Marvel, and maybe the movie industry,” Holland said. “It’s going to be amazing to see the final numbers.”