Words by Nick Slay

Black patrons from around the world come dressed in their best African gear to support Marvel’s Black Panther.

For most African Americans, finding their place in the world is a complicated thing. Most descendants of Africans who were enslaved during middle passage,  don’t have a clear definition of their cultural past. This is due to the nature of the middle passage.  This torturous process was economic in origins but had an underline purpose of destroying any ties the captured African had to the continent (including language, culture, style, and religion.)

Hollywood does not make this easier.

Films often show Africa in a myriad of ways: some positive and some well totally off. While movies like, Eddie Murphy‘s, Coming to America and Ryan Coogler‘s, Black Panther celebrate African culture on a monumental scale, there are more moments where Hollywood whitewashes the African experience. Chief among these examples is Elizabeth Taylor‘s interpretation of “Cleopatra” in the film about the Egyptian queen. While many industry insiders rave about the dollars spent to create Wakanda, it would seem that more money was placed in the lie.  Disney paid $200 million for production of the Black Panther and to the contrast 20th Century Fox in 1963 invested more to create the false image of Cleopatra’s kingdom. To make this film that many consider an epic, they spent a modest budget of $44 million, which if you factored in inflation leaps would equate to $334 million in 2013.

But who is checking for Cleopatra? Most everyone when thinking about Africa in pop culture, think CTA and BP.

As much as these two films are celebrated, they are worlds that simply do not exist. They are an amalgamation of borrowed cultures to create present lands. Regardless of whether or not they exist, this concept of African kingdoms untarnished by colonial rule means a lot to peoples of color around the world. They represent what might of been if fertile lands like the Congo went untouched by the butcher of Belgium, King Leopold who slaughtered millions of Africans or Egyptian statues were left unblemished by European hands. So when creating the fictional lands of Wakanda or Zamunda, a bit of world building was needed. That means borrowing images and cultures across the African continent to recreate something new, almost if an ideal. This created a boldness reflected on Black Twitter for people of African descent to find their finest cultural duds to show out.

 

 

 

If Zamunda opened our eyes to wealth and prosperity Africans and their descendants could have, then Wakanda showed us the beauty of the many tribes of Africa. Each one styled colorfully and proud at the box office. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter, in collaboration with production designer Hannah Beachler, created visuals of tribes people in brightly patterned wax prints, neon-colored lip plates, and regal, elaborate headdresses, all incorporating aspects highlighting vast African cultures and traditions. These are visuals that exist beyond the white and Western imagination then presented unfiltered on a Disney screen no less. For peoples who often struggle to find positive images of self, Black Panther may have finally successfully build on the stepping stone Eddie Murphy masterfully initiated.

Oh did we mention that Eddie Murphy posted then deleted a tweet about a possible Coming To America 2?

We joyously look forward to all this #MelaninPoppin in 2018 and beyond!