Ahead of the global premiere of ‘Black Panther’, I asked on Twitter if the global buzz of the movie could impact on Africa in anyway. Some people thought my question was trivial because the movie is about a fictitious African country, with a cast comprising mostly of African-Americans and Africans in the diaspora. But have the opinions of people changed regarding my questions.
Following the premiere of Black Panther across Africa? Although I am yet to see the Marvel blockbuster myself, I am already picking up on positive sentiments about Africa from the movie, as my friends across the continent, who have watched it, share their opinions.
What will #BlackPanther make the world think of Africa now?
— Ameyaw Debrah #BBNaija (@ameyaw112) February 4, 2018
From the use of Nigerian names to the use of Ghanaian artifacts, Black Panther seems to have connected with many viewers beyond the exciting action sequences and superhuman powers. But what did Black Panther mean to the African actors and actors of African decent who are in the film? In a chat with Danai Gurira, John Kani and Connie Chiume, l learned the many symbolisms that lie within Black Panther either intended or not intended.
For Danai Jekesai Gurira, an American actress and playwright of Zimbabwean ancestry, best known for her role as Michonne on The Walking Dead, her role as Okoye in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise was one she loved.
“I really loved working on the project and it feels great that people around the world understand and enjoy the film. There were some things about it that were easy for me because I am a big lover of the continent. A country like Wakanda was easy to love – a model of what an African nation could be; a nation that has never been colonized, very colorful and self-developed.”
With her character being the leader of the Dora Milaje, the cadre of strong fierce women who serve as the personal security force to the King and royal family of Wakanda, Gurira couldn’t overlook how the portrayal of such strong women could empower African women through the movie.
According to her, Okoye was very good at combat so she had to know how to look and play that role well, and that was a bit of challenge and hard work for her in the beginning. Being the only one from the diaspora in the group I chatted with, I tried to put Danai Gurira in the tight corner of picking her choice of actors for an all-African version of the Black Panther movie, of which she answered:
“I can’t do that. What I love about the film is that all these people in the film are Africans. The beauty of Africa is that even though people were taken out of the continent or they moved out of it, when you see them walking in the streets in any part of the world, you can tell they are Africans. They all have Africa within them.”
Veteran South African actor, director and playwright, Dr John Kani sees his return after his introduction as King T’Chaka in ‘Captain America: Civil War’ as an opportunity to shine further on the global cinematic stage.
“As an actor, you are always looking for that one big shot that might catapult you to the highest level of the film industry in the world. This opportunity gives us that. It also gives us the opportunity to do on the scale of the blockbusters of Hollywood, an African story with an African hero,” he said.“In ‘Captain America,’ it was a way of introducing to the Avengers, the Black Panther. So I knew then that we would do a follow up; and me doing Black Panther was a continuation of that. I did a lot of research about Wakanda, the Black Panther comic and history, and I knew how I was going to portray this great king of Africa. This time we even introduced the Xhosa language of South Africa as the official language of Wakanda,” Kani said, in comparing his roles in Black Panther to that of Captain America.
Dr Kani and his son, Atandwa Kani both played the role King T’Chaka, with the latter playing the role of a younger King T’Chaka. “We played the same role so we couldn’t be on set at the same time. Atandwa has worked in the US and so he knew the likes of Lupita Nyong’o and Dania Gurira. So it was more like ‘guys meet the old man; he’s my dad’ on set,” John Kani recounts. South African actress, Connie Chiume also saw the diversity on the set of Black Panther as a reunion for Africans, which portrays the continent’s immense talents.
“We worked with African people from across the board in the diaspora; people from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. And although some find themselves in Europe, US and the Caribbean, we all know they are originally from Africa. It was like a family reunion for professionals meeting to tell a story, which portrays Africa in such a positive manner.” Although her role as the mining elder was small, Chiume believes it symbolized power and importance.
“It was very exciting because the mining elder, although we don’t see her most of the time is a very powerful woman. She is the leader of the mines, which means anything that has to do with mining, which is the source of wealth in Wakanda, is under her care. She sits in the counsel where the matters of Wakanda are decided, so for me that was a very powerful role. My role didn’t say much but it was very powerful.” John Kani like the others also appreciated how the Black Panther movie, through its characters, projects women in the forefront of the African society.
“In this environment the generals in the army, the leaders of the army, the ministers of mining, and the minsters of rural development are all women. So there is a sharing of power and it makes a very strong statement about gender recognition,” he explained.
But for Dr Kani, many other things stood out for him from the Black Panther film. “What I loved most was the recognition of the existence of ancestors in the culture of an African. It is very difficult to talk to a European about the value and importance of ancestors, but we as Africans know that there is a connection between the living and those that have passed on. And we recognize that in our dreams. In our visions, our great grandfathers do visit to give advice, to give warnings, or even to compliment. We even slaughter animals to please and appease the ancestors. People mistake these things as pagan rituals. There is nothing pagan about them; they are the existing culture of the African. That’s what makes us Africans.” I ended my chat with the cast of Black Panther by revisiting the question I asked many days ago ‘How would the global buzz of Black Panther impact on Africa?’
Connie Chiume anticipates that the impact would be more on the continent’s film sector “I think it is going to impact the industry of Africa. Although two male African-Americans wrote the movie, look at how they have portrayed women, and put them on a pedestal. Look at how much effort they have taken to research about Africa and do the right thing. So we are hoping that by this realization of our power, our originality, and the kind of intellectual knowledge we have always had, that something is going to be imparted onto the next generation.”
“And on the business side, we are hoping that the investors would start investing in our movies because this movie has proven that Africans have got the ability, and the talent both in front and behind the camera,” she adds. For John Kani, the impact transcends even into the politics of Africa… “In Africa, we are in are in desperate need of role models; leaders that are credible and sensitive to the needs of the people; leaders that are custodians of the culture of the people. When a little child from Africa watches this movie, he will identify that there is a hero; a hero that is globally acknowledged as The Black Panther, a hero that looks like him, and even speaks an African language. Now the African child will see this movie and say that hero looks like me, and therefore I am a hero in this little village somewhere near Timbuktu”
Marvel Studios’ “Black Panther” follows T’Challa who, after the death of his father, the King of Wakanda, returns home to the isolated, technologically advanced African nation to succeed to the throne and take his rightful place as king. But when a powerful old enemy reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king—and Black Panther—is tested when he is drawn into a formidable conflict that puts the fate of Wakanda and the entire world at risk. Faced with treachery and danger, the young king must rally his allies and release the full power of Black Panther to defeat his foes and secure the safety of his people and their way of life.
“Black Panther” stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, with Angela Bassett, with Forest Whitaker, and Andy Serkis.
The film is directed by Ryan Coogler and produced by Kevin Feige with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Nate Moore, Jeffrey Chernov and Stan Lee serving as executive producers. Ryan Coogler & Joe Robert Cole wrote the screenplay.