Chatter travelled through the air as I sat on a cushioned chair. I watched the screen flicker with trailer after trailer. An omnipresent hand snapped his fingers. The room descended into darkness. Wakanda has arrived.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Marvel’s Black Panther follows the story of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). He rules the fictional world of Wakanda, and his kingship is tested as he strives to protect his country. Wakanda may be imaginary, and yet it is embedded with cultural truths, historical references and an unbounded display of a thriving country within Central Africa. One prominent thread that runs through this movie is the idea of what Africa could have been, if it were not colonised, assaulted and drain of its resources primarily by the West. Wakanda is unspoiled and unaltered. From dazzling waterfalls and picturesque mountains to vibranimum-fuelled technology, Coogler depicts a nation so in-tune with its culture and light-years ahead of its European counterparts. Through a carefully constructed narrative, he shows Africa in all its splendour. Wakanda is not modernised in-spite of its African-ness. It is powerful and glorious because it embraces every facet of its culture and natural properties. Thus, Wakanda soars like an eagle as it lives in secret from the rest of the world. However, N’Jadaka/ Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) and his misplaced motives put forth important questions about unity between Africa and the black diaspora.
One element which cannot go unnoticed is the women of Black Panther. Lack of black female presentation and colourism is a reoccurring issue in Hollywood. When matters of beauty are concerned, dark-skin black women are side-lined, portrayed as overwhelming undesirable and stereotyped by media outlets. As much as we like to say that the world has come a long way, there are still mountains, rivers, and bridges that need traversing. Black Panther begins this journey and it is nuanced and refreshing. The Dora Milaje are guardians of the royal family and they have so much loyalty for their nation. Okoye (Danai Gurira) is the general, and she exudes courage, soulfulness, strength and skill. She is supported by an army of strong women including Florence Kasumba. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is T’Challa’s former lover and spy. She is brave, free-spirited and smart; Shuri (Letitia Wright) is princess of Wakanda and the brains behind the country’s technology. Ramonda (Angela Bassett) is the queen of Wakanda. She is wise and all-round brilliant. In short, these women are the epitome of fearlessness and beauty. It is not very often that I see dark-skin women owing the screen. They rock traditional attire with natural or African-inspired hairstyles. This movie has an ensemble of predominately dark-skin black actresses who are not props; they are not there to future the plot of their white or fair-skin counterparts. These women are characters within their own right. They are unapologetically black and unapologetically human. Most of all, the movie’s main love interest has dark-skin and natural hair, and that deserves an applause.
Black Panther celebrates Africa’s uniqueness with pride. It shows Africa as more than a field of treasure for others to scramble and reap the rewards. This continent of rich resources is not doomed, and Africa’s greater rapid progress is not dependent on foreign intervention exclusively. As a prosperous nation, Wakanda proves that Africa can be its own saviour.