Second Coming: Will Black Panther Affect the World's View of Africa?
The hype train for Black Panther has been crazy. Ever since the character’s announcement and subsequent entrance into the Marvel cinematic universe via Captain America: Civil War, people have wanted to see more of the character.
When the trailers dropped for the upcoming solo film, it greased the fan excitement even more, showing for the first time the fictional nation of Wakanda as both a African and technological paradise. This excites many people because it is the first, marvel movie of the MCU to frontline a non-white character, as well as having a mainly black cast. However that is not what excites me about the film.
This doesn’t excite me because there have been other movies to have Black leads before, most notably the Blade franchise and Spawn. What does excite me is that it looks to be an African movie. Let me be clear, not African-American, but African.
Not that the inspiration of Blacks for America is a lesser thing, but Black Panther is set squarely in Africa. As well as the first comic movie in over a decade to feature a Black hero, it is also going to be the first movie to show not only Africa in a positive and successful light sense the 1988 movie, Coming to America. In that movie, comedian Eddie Murphy plays an African prince of a wealthy African nation who needs to marry. However, he doesn’t want any of the physically ideal and compliant African women of his native country, but someone who interests him personally as well.
So with his friend and advisor, he goes incognito to Queens, New York to-you guessed it-find himself a queen. Now what made Coming to America interesting is similar to what makes Black Panther interesting. It was the first American movie to show not only a successful African nation, but paired and contrasted that with a successful African-American family.
"Nor was the world as hungry for justice, respect, and seeing an image of something other than a White, American savior like it is today"
Since colonial times, Africa has been viewed by outsiders as backward, dangerous: romantic yet savage. And since the latter half of the 20th century, the image has been further viewed with a mixture of one part hell-hole, one part naturally pure, one part poor and drought stricken, and one part religiously fundamentalist.
That there are successful, African countries and cities barely comes to the average person’s mind and they would be hard pressed to name even one. Enter now 2018’s Black Panther.
This movie, while being just a movie about superheroes, is going to be the first time that American cinema dives back into idea of Africa being as successful as any Western nation. So it may challenge our stereotypes of Africa and how we see it on CNN and BBC news. Some may even call bullshit because of how this pairs with the current realities of the region they see on the news. Or that it is just another SJW propaganda film being put out by Hollywood.
There was no global internet in 1986. Though communication had drastically improved, there was no way for the global community to share in a larger vision as there is now. Nor was the world as hungry for justice, respect, and seeing an image of something other than a White, American savior like it is today. I am curious therefore to how Africans will respond to Black Panther.
It maybe fictional, but it’s the best outside representation the continent has had in decades. Yes, they have had major problems and I doubt they would argue that themselves, but they also have successes that the West barely hears or cares to hear about. President Donald Trump recently expressed these stereotypes referring to African countries as “shit-hole countries”. As horrible as the comment is, the fact is he is not alone in that sentiment of Africa.
So I wonder if the movie will motivate Africans to further build their societies and technologies. Will cities like Nairobi and Johannesburg, start to push themselves to rival the likes of Silicon Valley or Tokyo? Will it motivate the people to push their governments to actualize this vision and stop with the petty feuds and violence that have maligned their image since the latter half of 20th century? Time will tell.
The thing with hype trains though is that they don’t last. It is a temporary high that last awhile and then fades or is replaced by the next train. So whatever positive and potential influences Black Panther has on the continent needs to extend beyond just the movie itself. The inspire growth has become its own thing, not looking like how Marvel is depicting it, but having the same results: prosperity and respect. Black Panther is ultimately just a movie, but like Coming to America, it may plant the seed of an idea in peoples’ mind.
© 2018 Jamal Smith