It’s fair to say that we here at Of Africa have been anticipating Black Panther for a while. We enthusiastically joined the hype train and frequently name checked the two African Queens starring in the movie, Danai Gurira, and Lupita Nyong’o. And while we are on the subject, allow me to shout out British newcomer Letitia Wright from Guyana and German actress Florence Kasumba originally from Uganda.
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#WelcomeToWakanda: The upcoming #Marvel #film #BlackPanther is set in #Wakanda a fictional #African country. "Usually, when we see movies with large black casts, it’s a movie about #slavery. Not to discredit the impact of films that remind us of our #history, however in the long term, these movies do not help black youth to envision a future for themselves where possibilities are limitless." #RepresentationMatters The film also stars talented women #OfAfrica Danai Gurira 🇿🇼 as Okoye and Lupita Nyong'o 🇰🇪 as Nakia. • • #ofafricamag #innovation #zimbabwe #zimbabwean #263chat #kenya #kenyan #blackpanthersolit #melaninpoppin #movie #america #wakanda #entertainmentweekly #danaigurira #walkingdead #lupitanyongo
As someone now living on the continent but who has many African friends and family in the diaspora, Black Panther has become part of our global conversation. There were questions about when it was premiering in different countries, what outfits people were wearing and who people were watching the movie with. By the time I lined up to watch the film in Nairobi, Kenya, at the infamous Westgate Shopping Mall Cinemas, the anticipation for the film was at fever pitch. My cousin whispered to me that it was as though new life had been imbued into a space that had struggled over the years to regain some of its clientele after a horrific tragedy plagued it in 2013.
The venue was packed and the air buzzed with excitement, it was heartwarming to see children giddily jumping on their toes and teenagers whispering about different snippets of gossip that they had read on the internet about actors and characters. And of course, as a Nairobi crowd, it is fair to say there was celebratory pride about Lupita’s starring role in this massive Hollywood film.
The film opens with heart pulsing action and manages to keep that pace up until the end. The villains are as interesting as the heroes and the visual effects are almost arresting in their beauty. The strange choice of nondescript ‘African accent’ that the characters from Wakanda inconsistently use was admittedly distracting and I may have giggled a little at some of the attempts. At the end of the day, it is a Marvel superhero movie and anyone expecting a heavy handed political message, based on the misguided overreactions of some people or simply the number of terrific think pieces that have been created, will be sorely disappointed. But it is, at its core, a joyous movie.
After watching the film, I have heard people say “I want to go to Wakanda.” As a Kenyan who has lived most of her life abroad, I identify instead with Killmonger, played boldly by Michael B. Jordan, and his own search for belonging. As an African, the mythical Wakanda symbolizes our homes on this continent: always more vibrant than expected, consistently underestimated, richly diverse in cultures and peoples and jaw droppingly beautiful.
The revolution of Black Panther is not found in an incendiary or divisive plot. It is not found in a heavy handed political message. Though, in my opinion, in the fight for equality, the arts must always make room for those things. The revolution of Black Panther occured in its celebration of Blackness and Africanness, in its empowered and complex female characters and in its simplicity of a story that says ‘yes there is a black superhero and he is from an African country’.
I found myself almost jealous of all the young Africans in the diaspora who will get to watch this movie and have it become part of the fabric of their youth, especially as I remembered growing up in Brussels, often the ‘Only Black Girl’ (TM) and all of the messy social politics that go into having that identity. And I thought of my conversation with Pamela Ohene-Nyako, the founder of Afrolitt, for Of Africa months ago where she said something that has been running around in my mind ever since.
“I hope that Black people can be creative without it always being out of resistance. You know what I mean? People always rejoice with Black music and Black art that were actually born out of struggle and pain. But what would our art be if it was not always out of resistance? I sometimes think that we don’t have that space of doing art just for art. Or building platforms. Or creating just for the sake of it.”
– Pamela Ohene-Nyako
In many ways, Black Panther is a celebration of black people “creating just for the sake of it”. Wakanda proudly answers the question, “What would our art be if it is not always out of resistance?” Pretty great, it turns out.