My black people and I had been eagerly waiting for February 16, 2018 since the trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther and the date for its world premiere were released last year. I’d even prayed that I don’t die before then, that’s how epic this film is to us.
Since then Black twitter had been planning their African futuristic outfits for the premiere and went as far as to warn that we would be loud in the cinemas.
South Africans especially would not be able to contain their excitement due to the presence of local hero, Dr John Kani, his son Atandwa and fellow local actress, Connie Chiume in this blockbuster film.
Kani is responsible for isiXhosa being adopted as the official language of Wakanda, the fictional home of the Black Panther and a country in Africa. Adding to the nostalgic, novel delight is seeing the Basotho blanket of neighbouring Lesotho forming part of the vibrant costumes which also draw from Zulu and Maasai traditional wear.
And then there’s the inclusion of South African artists such as Babes Wodumo; Yugen Blakrok and Sjava in the Black Panther soundtrack, produced by rapper Kendrick Lamar.
One of the main things that Black Panther gets right is the representation of Africa in an authentic way and it’s clear how South Africa had a hand in making that possible. Where a Hollywood film like Coming To America failed in its stereotypical view of the continent that perpetuates the ignorance and the single story of Africa, Black Panther makes up for in its research and consultation. It thus captures subtle nuances without trying too hard and imagines a futuristic African country that is not far-fetched.
Wakanda is a self-reliant, technologically advanced African country that has not been colonized and if you consider the iron mining technologies of Southern Africa’s Iron Age in Mapungubwe, this may not be so hard to imagine.
Kani, who’s been the African mouthpiece for the film leading up to its worldwide release, captures beautifully the impact of the vision of this film below:
“The movie is going to deal with the myth that if the white colonialist did not land in Africa, we’d still be walking in skins with spears chasing each other. It’ll prove we built the pyramids in Egypt….that the Zimbabwe ruins were built by us and that the cradle of human kind is in Southern Africa. So this is one time where African people are shown at their fullest potential – where they’re able to travel to space and back with incredible technology. So for us, there’s a bit of seriousness about this movie.”
And even though in reality there’s no way Africans can go back to a pre-colonial state as Frantz Fanon said, Wakanda represents the Africa of the future and of our dreams.
There’s a global shift that is happening right now spearheaded by creatives that addresses issues of representation, looking at the black experience and how it’s portrayed; to stories of marginalized communities such as the LGBTIQ. This movement can be seen in brilliant films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out; Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight and a series like Oprah and Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar.
Locally there’s the powerful film, Inxeba; the indigenous language plays that the Market Theatre commissions and the black casts we’re starting to see more of in musicals, telling black stories like The Color Purple on right now at the Joburg Theatre and Tsotsi the Musical.
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fits into this movement because it’s about a black superhero. That’s a big deal to any black person, hence this huge excitement globally. There’s so much joy, fulfillment and validation that comes with seeing yourself represented. And this speaks to the power in being seen.
That the Black Panther is black American has helped build a bridge between African Americans and Africans in the continent and the diaspora that brings us closer on a spiritual level. Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album, To Pimp a Butterfly – which made him a voice of a generation due to how lyrically he encapsulates the black American experience – was inspired by his South African tour.
Lamar said that being in South Africa made him realize how black Americans don’t aspire to Africa when being here gave him his “I made it” moment and more. In the film the battle between Black Panther and the villain, Killmonger, plays to that dynamic where it is in fact black America that needs Africa and not the other way round.
It’s a powerful idea that connects us and it’s perhaps no coincidence that Black Panther premiered in Black History Month.
Art has the power to change perceptions. In this case it is perhaps Hollywood’s own perception of Africa that needed to be altered. Black Panther is not just a movie, it’s a cultural, political moment.
I’m going to see it again and a few more times.
- Black Panther is showing at Ster Kinekor cinemas.