Editorial by Kgosi Sikelele
I saw the juggernaut Marvel movie Black Panther this weekend.
The concern for Hollywood executives had always been whether or not an all-Black superhero film could make the kind of money that would not only justify its production costs but also turn a profit.
The Black Panther is well on course to break every earnings record for a movie; it is the definition of a blockbuster.
I should disclose that I am from Southern Africa and found many of the Black Panther’s ideas about African culture revealing, to say the least. Interesting to me was the way the film created a pastiche of a few African cultures and sought to project a viable cultural representation of an alternate Africa. From the Ndebele iconography (South Africa), the red locks of the Masai (Kenya), the antelope skins of the Zulu (South African), the lip plates of the Suri (Ethiopia), the blankets of the Sotho horsemen (Lesotho), it is easy to identify the cultural referents.
In asserting Black Panther’s cultural validity one can discern other salient features of its fictional landscape. African civilizations, like most indigenous cultures have been tribal by nature, and communal. Africa is a massive continent, three times as big as the United States; its cultures are ancient and were at various points in history the pinnacle of human achievement. We have ancient virtues and ancient vices.
Sadly though, it has been all too easy to divide and conquer the African continent.
Whether by Western Colonizers or Arabic Slave merchants Africa’s vast wealth and resources have been exploited by the unscrupulous. In contrast, the vast mineral wealth of Wakanda has been wisely stewarded by its leaders and the people of Wakanda have benefitted universally thereby. The Black Panther’s and thus the people of Wakanda’s great challenge in this film is whether or not to help the world or remain isolated and apart from its iniquities. From an African point of view, this is an interesting perspective for as we all know Africa has been on the receiving end of Western “aid” often with strings attached. So much so, that now Africa sends more money back in debt repayment than it receives in “aid.” By the end of the film, Black Panther realizes that by not helping the world Wakanda has created a problem bigger than it has avoided by remaining in isolation.
The ideas I walked away from the Black Panther with were a reaffirmation of the communal values that I know from my upbringing. Where I come from Healthcare is affordable for everyone, there is free schooling, and the elderly receive a stipend every month. Generally speaking, people and not money are at the center of our value system. Which is for me the seed at the core of the Black Panther’s decision to SHARE the wisdom and wealth of Wakanda. Simply sharing what people need to live healthy and happy lives ensures stability and peace for humanity. Maybe this fictional movie has something our real world could learn from. Wakanda Forever.
Writer Kgozi Sikele, currently residing in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is using a pen name. "Kgozi Sikele" means God Bless.
Published in the Vol. 1 | No. 3 issue of the FWIS. Opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of the Fort Wayne Ink Spot and its publisher.