By Caroline Petersen
This article is exclusive to the online Edition 1 of VARSITY Newspaper.
Black Panther’s release in early 2018 has gotten Africans on the continent, as well as diasporic Africans, in a really hype mood. To see Africa represented as a futuristic, advanced, and well-oiled machine with intelligent and strong womxn and a kind king is enough to make any lover of Africa shed a happy tear. Black Panther has become a global pop culture phenomenon with many viewers, critics, and academics engaging with its important themes and representations.
The film has much to be applauded, especially in their representation of Africa and Africans in the fictional (but we wish was real), secret country of Wakanda. The film takes pride in the natural state of Africans and explores the question of ‘what would Africa look like if colonialism and Western interference had never taken place?’ Lupita Nyong’o speaks volumes when explaining why there are no black folk with straightened hair in the film. Nyong’o explains, “Before the advent of the white man, people on the continent were doing all sorts of things with their hair. The idea of extensions and all that is not new; but the shaming or rejecting of kinks and curls is new. That did come with the white man. And so in the story, Wakanda is a country that’s never been colonized so they embrace themselves. They have their own sense of what is beautiful”. Wakanda answers our questions of what Africa really would be like if colonization never happened: thriving, technologically advanced, beautiful, and proud.
Excited viewers of Black Panther have now taken it upon themselves to create their own Wakanda – they cannot physically; so ideologically will have to do. When attending the film, delighted fans have posted photos doing the ‘Wakanda Forever’ symbol proudly across their chests. Many black Africans have arrived to the cinema in traditional dress and have taken photos alongside the Black Panther posters. There have been tweets critically engaging with the content, parents getting their kids to re-enact scenes, and schools taking their students to the film as an educational outing. It’s safe to say that ‘Wakanda Forever’ is not just a slogan in the film; but has become a mood, an aspiration, and a symbol of unity.
However, even in our celebrations, we must be mindful and cautious of cultural appropriation. Black Panther gives recognition and applauds many beautiful and historic African tribes, and cultures from across the continent. The lip plates or dhebi a tugoin
seen in Nakia’s clan are traditionally seen from the Surma and Mursi tribes of Ethopia. Queen Ramonda’s hat should be familiar to South Africans as it’s traditional for married Zulu womxn to wear them for ceremonial celebrations. The badass female warriors of Wakanda, led by the powerful Okoye, take inspiration from the Maasai people of East Africa in their warrior uniforms. Kabi and his tribe who protect Wakanda’s border wear blankets similar Lesotho’s Basotho blankets. From the culture and dress to the dances and colloquialisms – everything in Black Panther has been thoroughly research to accurately represent the rich history and culture alive in Africa. Therefore, it’s important that nothing in the film is taken as a joke or a silly costume to wear this year at Halloween. Important histories and cultural contexts are attached to every garment and so it’s best to just admire from afar if one does not partake or is involved in the culture personally.
It’s possible to be proudly African, celebrate Black Panther, and still not steal from other people’s cultures. Black Panther promotes cultural appreciation over cultural appropriation, so be mindful how you choose to celebrate this cinematic victory for Africa. One thing is for sure, the best is yet to come with Africa and our future in film. Wakanda Forever!