This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the “What are those?” meme’s legacy. Read the other side of the story tomorrow.
In Marvel’s “Black Panther,” Wakandan superhero T’Challa faces several equally important dilemmas: How will he run his extremely isolated but technologically advanced country without being thrown off the side of a waterfall by Michael B. Jordan? How will he manage to string words together in front of Lupita Nyong’o?
And, of course, should he or shouldn’t he wear mandals?
The Black Panther learns a harsh lesson about his footwear during a tour of the tech-filled laboratory of his sister Shuri (Letitia Wright) early on in the movie. While showing off her impressive science experiments, she gestures to the hideous sandals on T’Challa’s feet and delivers the lark.
“What are those?” she yells, imitating an ultra-popular 2015 meme familiar to those who were paying attention.
“The idea with Shuri is that she rarely leaves Wakanda,” director Ryan Coogler told HuffPost of the moment. “She’s connected to the outside world through the internet, through youth culture on the internet,” he added, insisting that the character’s reference to a three-year-old viral video served a very practical purpose.
Besides helping to make evident Shuri’s vast knowledge of memes, the joke garners one of first big laughs in the film ― and it’s something Wright is still having fun with.
The creator of the meme, however, is another story. Busco, aka Brandon Moore, says he’s “sick as fuck” about the whole situation.
“When I saw [the scene], my girl was trying to record it” in the theater, he told HuffPost in an interview this month. “I slapped the phone out of her hand, because I was like, ‘I don’t want to fucking be a part of this.’”
“For real,” he added. “Every time I see that shit, I get depressed.”
Originally filmed back in 2015, the infamous video captures the moment Busco approached a police officer, Sergeant Sean Fenner, mid-arrest to comment on his particular choice of boots. “Officer, I’ve got one question for you,” Busco declares from behind his camera phone. “What are thooose?” he bellows, as he zooms in on Fenner’s feet.
Back then, Busco was just filming the arrest of his friend Myesha, who was detained after an incident involving public intoxication. When he irreverently yelled his now-famous tagline, he had no idea what viral meme fame lie ahead of him ― or lack thereof.
Busco simply posted the unedited video to Instagram on June 14, 2015, and from there, the phrase took off.
A user called A-RODney King uploaded Busco’s video to Vine a few days later (that post is now approaching 40 million loops and more than 200,000 re-vines), and other Vine users followed suit, earning millions of loops on imitation posts.
Even Michael Jordan was sucked into the meme’s popularity when a kid interrupted a question-and-answer session at his Flight School summer camp in August 2015, asking the NBA legend, yep, “What are those?”
In the few years since, Sgt. Fenner has embraced the meme. Now that he’s thinking about retirement, he told HuffPost that he’s proud of the memory and its inclusion in “Black Panther.”
Back in 2015, Busco seemed to feel similarly. In an interview with Vice, he claimed he didn’t care that no one knew he was the meme’s creator. “Everything I do, I do for the people anyway,” he said.
But things have changed since.
Following the premiere of “Black Panther,” Busco told HuffPost that he now resents the fact that no one knows he’s the face behind the “What are those?” camera. Primarily, he regrets that he never legally safeguarded his creation by pursuing a copyright.
“I be depressed every time knowing I didn’t full court press on an opportunity that I created,” he told HuffPost, adding that he has no plans to do so now.
The father of five says he’s still making art; he has plans to release a comedy DVD and is otherwise running a “nonprofit fundraising catering business” called Busco Bussdown, which he promotes on his Instagram account. But, to this day, he reels every time he sees a “What are those?” reference.
Busco got frank (and sometimes explicit) in our full interview, which you can read below:
When did you first start getting sick of the meme?
When I started seeing this shit everywhere and I wasn’t getting [recognition] because I didn’t do it right.
Did you get anything out of it?
I actually got a deal. I did a contract with the people that did Vine. They monetize it for the YouTube shit, the monetizing shit. I was getting a check off the YouTube shit, but people talking about copyrighting, I should do this, that…
If you could do it over, what would you do differently?
I would’ve put my watermark on the video. I would’ve put my face on the video when I did it. I would’ve copyrighted it. I would’ve done a whole lot of shit different.
But like I said, I didn’t expect for it to do all of that. I didn’t know it was gonna do all that. So I didn’t know. It took off right underneath my feet. I didn’t know. And then like two weeks after I did it, I went to jail, so I really couldn’t do nothing, you know?
Jail affected your chance to take advantage of it?
Exactly. It did. For the most part, it did. If I had been home, I would’ve started sweating my page with hella videos … but it is what it is … I ain’t gonna cry about it.
After you got out, how did you feel about it? Was it too late to act on it?
Me, personally, I was just so embarrassed. Not necessarily embarrassed, but just hurt that I didn’t handle my business when I was supposed to, when it first took off. It’s just like … motherfuckers slinging T-shirts and socks and all kind of shit. I can’t even celebrate the stupid thing. I didn’t do what I was supposed to do when everybody getting paid off this shit, and I’m not.
You eventually tweeted that you were tired of everyone saying, “What are those?” Was that because you weren’t getting credit?
Me, I’m a real humble person, so when that shit happen, everybody, like my childhood friends, everybody in the neighborhood was like, “Oh, you’re a celebrity. You’re a celebrity.” Like, no, I’m not. I’m a regular person. I just got lucky and it went viral. It was like, I’m tired of this shit.
People were treating me different. Family was treating me different, thinking I made it. This is social media. I didn’t make shit … it got fake after a while, motherfuckers laughing at my jokes even if it ain’t funny.
If you did something that went viral today, what would you do?
The funny thing with me is the shit that I think is going viral and I put my watermark and my shit on there before I put it out [doesn’t go viral, but] the shit I don’t think is funny ― it go viral. I just went viral again on WorldStarHipHop [in a prank video] with my Uncle Popeye.
Instagram took my original video off my page because I guess [that’s] how it works on the internet now — I know this now — whoever watermarks it first, it’s theirs. Since I didn’t watermark it, [WorldstarHipHop] got to take it from me.
[In a statement to HuffPost, Instagram wrote, “We mistakenly removed the video. We worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified.”]
Even Michael Jordan has heard “What are those?” Do you enjoy at all that you started this?
It’s a mixed feeling. Like, I feel good I created something that’ll be with the world forever, but then I feel bad because I didn’t handle my business part correctly. I don’t know nothing about no motherfucking trademarking. I’m a n***a from the streets. I don’t know the proper way to go about doing the shit right with that shit. I had to take it on the chin, man.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.