The dust seems to have settled since the release of Marvel Studio’s Black Panther, but the love I have for this record-breaking film certainly has not. Black Panther signifies a new Era for black superheroes on the big screen, where previously there have been minimal. As Black Panther was now available to buy on DVD, I decided to sit down and rewatch the film, and re-evaluate this blog post I drafted at least 3 months ago. Black Panther, made me want to snatch my own wig.
I walked into work after watching black panther with a visible ‘dip’. The same ‘dip’ that a swagged out Obama carried into office. The same dip that the T’challa carried into the royal chambers. NO ONE could come at me sideways about this film.
I was beyond proud and excited to talk about this film. However, when I walked to work I noticed a starking difference in how the film was regarded by my co-workers. The singular reason I can really think of for this was that none of my co-workers are black. Now, this is not a racial onslaught to melanin deficient individuals. Simply put, it is an observation. Black panther to those who are not black does not signify or represent anything but a new superhero film which marvel executed well. It is at that moment I realized they did not necessarily laugh at the same things I did, or related to the banter in “what are those???”
There are multiple concepts that this film touches upon and the first most visible stereotype this film smashes starts with the visuals. Africa is constantly portrayed by western media as desolate and poverty-stricken, so much so that that I am no longer offended when someone who is white asks “do you have houses in Ghana or mud huts?” they are visible astonished when I proclaim that the houses are more like mansions and compound houses are normalcy. The houses here in England are pitiful in comparison. To see a mainstream film with a technology in Africa that far surpass’ that of current day western civilisation is breathtaking and represents what might have been a potential for the continent if not for the interruption of colonisation and slavery which left various countries ransacked of their valuable resources such as gold, diamond, and oils to name a few. It represents a hopeful vision for what the future might be, and maybe a shift in people’s frame of reference for the continent. It is not that much of a stark contrast to modern-day Africa, shown just below by the stunning visuals in Cape Town.
One of the most important and controversial topics this film introduced right at the beginning was the issue of colonization. The treasures that are still held under the British rule despite the way each was acquired. It reminded me of a joke by Trevor Noah in regards to the commonwealth games. He joked that, despite the wealth built by the British empire through stealing and pillaging from countries that were colonized by this such as South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, Ghana, India would win their stolen gold piece by piece. There is so much of African history, world history that is not in their countries of origin. This deprives members of each nation access to their heritage without any reparations to the countries who have suffered under this rule.
For me, Black Panther, gives a sense of my original home, a familiarity. Whilst, I was not born in my homeland Ghana, visiting the country many times has given me a nostalgia that was re-ignited during the film. The sandy roads, the hustle, and bustle of markets, as well as the street stalls selling hand-woven bags, were all incorporated. Where this especially stood out was in the detail for the costume design. When I saw the avɔ dadá kente clothe that T’chaka, T’chala’s father was wearing after his trial for kingship I swelled with pride that a part of my heritage and culture was in a Hollywood film.
Not only was this the case for my culture, but also for several different cultures were touched upon and woven into the film with great care to respect and represent each country. Ruth E Cater is the costume designer who brought out creative flair and genius. T’challa himself is often depicted in Nigerian tailoring, the queen of Wakanda’s headpieces are inspired by Zulu women in South Africa. Last but not least we can not forget the beautiful neck adornments of the Dora Milaje inspired by the Masai women of Kenya.
(Image credit to @Ron.Ackins – https://www.deviantart.com/ronackins)
In addition to this, there was a diversity in the accents to represent different dialects and languages. Not everyone was cast with the rough and harsh west African accents. You had to the soft and rhythmic Swahili-like accent from Shuri, Lupita Nyongo’s home accent from Kenya, the west African harshness of M’baku’s accent and of course no one can forget T’challa’s portrayal by Chadwick Boseman who I have to say, he did his best but sounded slightly Jamaican. Though subtle, the film also broke the stereotype of a brash, large and threatening black male by introducing a comedic banter through M’baku. I’m sure, given the current climate of police brutality in America, along with Black live matter activities. This portrayal was a welcome change from the stereotypical narrative that Hollywood leans towards.
Black panther poses a question to first generation black British, black Americans and those who identify as Black but not necessarily African. “What does it mean to be African?” “Will I be welcomed in my homeland?” As a first generation Black women myself I have an awareness of my Ghanaian roots and I am fortunate in that regard. I can speak some of my native language (Ewe); I class myself as bilingual, I live with my grandmother and have visited my homeland many times during my childhood. However, there is an intersectional aspect of my culture and identity. Killmonger who cannot be put in a simple category as ‘villain’ represents a large part of the present and maybe even past African Americans who have no sense of their home country or for some who do not even identify with the concept of being African. It is a culture and language they have never known. The history of most starts when slaves landed as captives on the shores of America. Killmonger was a voice all too familiar crying out from black twitter and the ‘woke’ melaninated people who have stood by and seen the atrocities against their own skin-folk.
At the heart of this villain vs Hero story is the dichotomy of tradition vs modernity. T’challa is torn between upholding a tradition through the monarchy, which is maintaining the long-kept secret regarding Wakanda and it’s vibranium resources and the new modern ideas put forth by Nakia and killmonger to reveal the truth and help their skin folk. This runs in parallel to the African diaspora, and the increase of the younger generation throwing caution to wind along with their pre-disposed perceptions of the continent and returning to the homeland in order to invest and build with the people native to each country. This represents a beautiful turning point in the cultural narrative. In my own experience, my own cousin has created a monumental app that allows improved access to health care in Ghana, where postal codes are not utilized similarly to that of western culture ( find out more at – https://snoocode.com/who-we-are/).
One thing I definitely loved, with a capital L, was the representation of a completely melanated cast. Representation!! Is something I love to see, it would have been very easy to insert light skinned casting, reflecting the ever-present notion of colorism that many refuse to believe exists. This film honestly, highlighted so many issues with a subtleness so perfectly executed that I could watch it ten times over. Not only was the action fast-paced, the comedy, the history, the representation opened not only minds but also opened black people up to the idea of cosplay for the first time, but also allowed access to another universe. In short, Black Panther is, in my humble opinion a testament to how far we have come and shows a realism of how far we – as a people can go.