Howard Bryant presents the idea of the heritage as a responsibility that is, as the name implies, passed down generation by generation. Looking at the novel, it’s made clear in the way Bryant writes, that the heritage is in fact the social responsibility of successful individuals, in this case black athletes, to take the initiative to represent and take action for the rest of the black population using their influence, and be proud doing so. Throughout the novel, Bryant analyzes several examples of those that upheld the heritage as expected, as well as others that abandoned the heritage. Colin Kaepernick was introduced as one who openly embraced the heritage. With his iconic kneel and outspoken political activism, the former San Francisco 49’ers quarterback sought social reform to give black people the reputation they deserve according to the “fundamental American ideals of justice and fairness” (Howard 5).
On the other hand, Bryant discusses OJ Simpson’s greenwashing, with his controversial “I’m not black. I’m OJ” quote, essentially rejecting his duty of the heritage for success and fame. With these two polarizing perspectives, either work for the heritage and be successful or separate from the heritage and gain wealth and fame, the purpose of the novel The Heritage, becomes clear as Bryant seemingly seeks to explore the significance of the duality of the idea. With this being said, there are many cases where Bryant’s assertion doesn’t hold true. Two in particular are Adonis Creed’s story in Creed, and Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp a Butterfly, where in both cases the idea of the heritage doesn’t hinder but rather support success.
To start, one of the main catalysts of racism was, and possibly still is, the film industry. Movies became art, and told stories that were just as deep and symbolic, if not more, than any form of literature, and thus were just as influential. When a movie becomes incredibly successful, they become a cultural icon, which is exactly what is seen with the classic Rocky series, and how that legacy carries over to the more recent Creed movies.
Put simply, the idea of black power, and the collection of Black Lives Matter movement works all represent Bryant’s concept of the heritage. Whether it be a character in a movie or a whole musical album, the notion of any kind of support of black power draws back to heritage’s ideal of “the responsibility to speak for the people who had not made it” (Bryant x). Thus, with the character of Apollo Creed from Rocky, it’s evident how the black boxer can be representative of the heritage.
As the undisputed heavyweight world champion, Creed plays his role in the movie as essentially the embodiment of success and confidence. In the ring, he acts pompous and theatrical, always certain that he will walk away as the victor, and it is in this way that the character exuberates an air of black power with his actions. In fact, Rocky fondly references him as a “…great. Perfect fighter. Ain’t nobody ever better” in Creed demonstrating the reverence and dominance that Apollo held with his career. This symbolism is even more prominent when considered along with Creed’s ties to his real life counterpart, Muhammad Ali, and his impact towards empowering black culture. Therefore, through Apollo Creed’s status throughout the movie, it is evident that he stands as a portrayal for black power, and the heritage by joint.
Given Apollo Creed’s significance, Adonis Creed’s role in Creed becomes especially interesting. Adonis, Apollo’s illegitimate son, has a peculiar relationship with his father’s legacy. While he wants to step into his father’s footsteps of becoming a boxing legend, he wants to do so on his own accord. As a result, to forge his path as a boxer, he starts by essentially rejecting his namesake of Creed, which in turn symbolizes his rejection of the heritage. As a boxer under the surname of Johnson, Adonis struggles to take off. No one wants to train him despite his 15-0 record in Tijuana, and even after Rocky takes him in Adonis is still a relatively disrespected and unknown fighter.
During these first stages, Adonis adamantly reject any kind of connection with his father’s name, to the point where after being called “Baby Creed” by his girlfriend, Bianca’s labelmate, Adonis is outraged and attacks his group. However, it isn’t until after he embraces his namesake that he ultimately begins to find success and fame. This acceptance culminates in the iconic “Running to Rocky” scene, where Adonis is shown acknowledging who he is through the support of the entire neighbourhood. His change of perspective is highlighted one last time when presented with Apollo’s boxing trunks, to which Adonis tears up as he takes it, rather than act hostile at the comparison.
Seeing as how the name of “Creed” is representative of the heritage, Adonis’ story in Creed, is essentially the story regarding the importance of accepting the heritage to one’s success. As mentioned prior, Adonis wasn’t successful until he finally embraced his name, his father’s legacy, and his heritage, in which he ended up earning the title of world heavyweight champion. However, because Creed is a movie, and there is a very clear dramatization throughout. Adonis’ relationship with the heritage is about the viewpoint of the director, Ryan Coogler, who has directed a multitude of films with a strong focus on black culture, and his thoughts on the significance that the heritage has to success.
This element of black power that’s inserted into the movie shows the pride you need to associate with the heritage, which is also shown in the complex relationship Adonis has with his legacy. While he was initially hostile to the idea of taking up his father’s name, he reveals that he is “…afraid of taking on the name and losing. They’ll call me a fraud”, to illustrate the respect he holds for it, rather than a previously assumed hate for the name. Coogley paints the heritage as something that must be held in high regard and accepted as an aid to one’s success rather than a hindrance.
In stark contrast to Adonis Creed and his journey to embrace the heritage, Kendrick Lamar openly upholds his responsibility to the heritage from the start. What this means is that not only does he acknowledge his heritage, but he also actively represents for and stands up for his people and made a successful career for himself by doing so. This is especially true in the ways that Kendrick speaks about his hometown of Compton, Los Angeles, and the struggles and circumstances that the people there go through. Kendrick Lamar acts as the spokesperson for these people, namely in his hit album, To Pimp a Butterfly. First, in his song “Blacker the Berry”, Kendrick discusses the racial injustices that he’s seen and experienced, whether it be inflicted from society, police, or even himself. He says “Six in the morn’, fire in the street, Burn, baby, burn, that’s all I wanna see, And sometimes I get off watchin’ you die in vain” in reference to the riots that have seemingly become almost routine in the neighborhood. Seeing as how these riots are generally caused by issues lying in racism and prejudice, Kendrick is criticizing the physical destruction that black discrimination is causing.
Through another lens, “Blacker the Berry” explores another view of black culture and people. In the first verse, “You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture, You’re fuckin’ evil, I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey, You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me, And this is more than confession..” With this, Kendrick aims to separate how the white population greatly appreciates black culture, which has been notoriously taken and copied time and time again, and how the white population rejects the black population. By saying “terminate my culture”, he implies that the things that characterized black people in good ways, hence “proud monkey”, are constantly being taken adapted, effectively eliminating its African American cultural significance. As stated earlier, “Blacker the Berry” seeks to criticize the social injustices that black people are generally subject to. From physical harm to cultural damage, Kendrick Lamar tries to bring attention to these circumstances in an effort to defend his people as part of his responsibility to the heritage.
On another front, however, where in “Blacker the Berry”, Kendrick openly voiced his observations and opinions to speak up for black people, he uses “Alright” to talk a sense of reassurement to black people. At first glance, the song seems to be focused on the prevalence of police brutality, which is further evidenced by the intro cinematic and visuals presented in its music video. However, as the funky beat kicks in and Kendrick’s chorus of “we gon’ be alright” is repeatedly chanted, “Alright” becomes an optimistic “message of hope”, as stated by Kendrick himself, and a call to action for black people to remain faithful and united. Solidarity is a massive theme in the song, and thus a driving force in Kendrick’s purpose. In the music video, during the actual song, the audience is shown a large variety of different scenes with each depicting either Kendrick Lamar himself or other black people in notably urban areas. In the scenes involving other people, it is important to realize that in each one, no person is left alone in the shot.
These scenes always have multiple people dedicated to one thing and supporting each other, which can be seen in the forms of crowds enlivening Kendrick’s rapping, groups of 3 or 4 cheerfully dancing together in coordination, or children running in the same direction. Along with the harmonizing voices that make up the core of the song’s beat, the song strives to portray the idea of unity. In addition, Kendrick is illustrated to be flying throughout the video, and being admired by observers while doing so. The flying can be attributed towards the minor religious implications regarding the song’s background, and represents God empowering Kendrick, and makes reference to how “many Christians believe that God has a plan and if you’re actively a part of that plan, everything will ultimately be ok”, as an annotation on Genius states. This symbolism coupled with the depictions of camaraderie suggests “Alright” is promoting how solidarity is “God’s plan” and that said solidarity will elevate black people’s comfort in society, similar to how Kendrick is literally elevated in the video and the rap game.
In conclusion, through Ryan Coogler’s portrayal of Adonis Creed and his path to fame, with the politically driven, yet dominantly successful career, Bryant’s perspective on the concept of the heritage becomes even more significant. The novel’s views about the heritage’s place in society holds the belief that the whole “black lives matter” movement resulted from “an issue that required solidarity, sympathy, and action” (Bryant 16), in the same ways that Kendrick Lamar heavily promotes solidarity and sympathy in “Alright” and “Blacker the Berry”, whereas Coogler as advocating the action of embracing race and taking initiative with Creed. However, Bryant also proposes the idea that “the Heritage was…at worst, toxic”, especially given OJ Simpson’s view on how “…being African American was the central impediment to his success in America” (82) while Michael Jordan, who avoided the Heritage, “would become America’s first black billionaire athlete” (90).
Looking at the presented artifacts potentially disproves Bryant’s claim, or at the very least expands the situation. Kendrick Lamar is seen basing his entire work off of supporting black people and criticizing racial flaws in the U.S., yet went on to win album of the year from a multitude of publications as well as hitting certified platinum. In Creed’s case, the Heritage appears again, and symbolically propels Adonis to holding an eventual heavyweight title. Therefore, while both artifacts corroborate Bryant’s argument regarding racial issues, they also end up furthering and complicating the correlation between embracing ethnicity and success, as well as confirming that one can build a reputable and lucrative career while upholding the responsibility of the heritage.