For a long time in the history of the world, discrimination has existed against black people. In recent years, the level of discrimination seemed to ratchet up in western countries. Politics in many western nations, especially the campaign and election of Donald Trump to the US presidency, have seen a rise in racially charged rhetoric. Prejudiced speech, and controversial decisions seem to have unmasked the once-veiled racism present in nations that present themselves as tolerant and democratic.
As a result, people are becoming more concerned about racial discourse. Needless to say, we live in a world where the prevailing attitudes on race are reflected in everything from politics to pop culture.
Until now, the majority of films seemed to be filled with messages that fail to challenge white supremacy, gender roles, and the experiences of people of color.
The release of the film Black Panther seems to herald a change in that status quo. Produced by Marvel Studios and directed by Ryan Coogler, the film depicts a fictional East African country that was never colonized. This country, known as Wakanda, is an advanced technological civilization hidden away from the world in an effort to protect itself from those seeking to loot its store of vibranium, a fictional metal with the power to absorb vibrations.
The film is unique as it challenges the stereotypes that are often attributed to black people, and Africans in particular. It celebrates and uplifts African identity in a way no other film has done before. African Americans and Africans alike expressed their positive feedback on social media.
Michelle Obama posted a tweet about the film, writing, “Congrats to the entire #blackpanther team! Because of you, young people will finally see superheroes that look like them on the big screen. I loved this movie and I know it will inspire people of all backgrounds to dig deep and find the courage to be heroes of their own stories.”
Wakanda’s people speak a South African language, have a West African leader and Pan-Africanism is woven into the fabric of the movie’s plot. The Ghanaian King Suits, South African Zulu headdresses, the Ethiopian Mursi and Surma Lip Plates, Zimbabwean neck rings, Lesothoan blankets and Chadian religious dresses were expressly selected by the film’s costume designer to represent different parts of Africa.
Furthermore, many people found Ethiopian symbols in the film. The one theatre in the country that shows Hollywood movies has seen a huge turnout, to the point where most shows are sold out hours before they begin. According to a report by the Associated Press, “In Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Black Panther has been selling out its five-times-a-day screenings at the only theatre showing the film.”
The response to the film could be seen as a highlight to the increasing awareness of people of the unity of the country, as demonstrated by the recent celebrations of the 122nd anniversary of the battle of Adwa. At a time when people are expressing contempt for people of other ethnicities and races, the reception of the film on social media reached beyond public figures to people all over the world. It seems to indicate a readiness for a change in the kind of media that is produced for mass consumption, from Euro-centric to inclusive.
The message seems to be that people of colour must be the architects of change in a world where their cultures, and people have been stolen, abused and misrepresented. With all its beauty, diversity and originality, this movie appraises black people in political and social fronts and inspires Africans to ending their inner quarrels and come to the leading position deliver the world from the chaos. And more than that, it encourages people to take advantage of the hidden resources that are at their disposal, the way Wakanda took advantage of its stores of vibranium. The translation of the messages of the film to the real world remains to be seen, however, the response to its release (and the over USD900 million it grossed at the box office) seems to point to a turning tide regarding the perception of Africans and people of colour.
Moreover, during a time of global economic change, it points to the acceptance of African or Afro-centric products in the international community. It would be a good time to take advantage of this acceptance to strengthen African exports and improve transcontinental trade linkages. The future members of the private sector are the ones who are watching the film in such great numbers. The continent should position itself to take advantage.
6th Year . March 16 – April 15 2018 . No.59