Movie Blog: Black Panther: A South African Perspective

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie yet – what are you waiting for?

Go go go! Then come back to read this and share your views with us at DM!

After the death of his father, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda to take his rightful place as king. When a powerful enemy suddenly reappears, T’Challa’s mettle as king — and as Black Panther — gets tested when he’s drawn into a 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.

What a film!

Firstly, my feminist heart fluttered in the early opening scenes when I realized, there was no ‘damsel in distress’ stereotype – something that is abundant in most superhero movies, including those that centre around a female superhero…  There is usually a little damsel moment somewhere because we are so weak, we always need a little assistance from males, right? In Iron Man, Pepper Potts was basically just around to be in trouble. Girls are like that, right? Wrong! Not in Wakanda. Nakia, Okoye, and Shuri are fierce, independent and essential to the future of Wakanda. You really couldn’t have had Black Panther without these characters and it makes the film greater overall. Central, strong, female characters are often lacking in today’s films and thanks to people like Michael Bay & Megan Fox, we’ve gotten used to ‘damsels’. It’s refreshing to not go down that road this time.

Secondly – decolonizing beauty. Brainwashed beauty standards were completely avoided, the women were warriors, the epitome of strength, intelligence, sass, wit and so magical. There was so much sex appeal (e.g. M’Baku) from the cast. The women became more than a symbol to be objectified or saved in Black Panther. They were something to be admired, yes, but also something to be feared and respected.

Also, there was zero whitewashing – one mistake that Hollywood has repeated several times. It’s a mistake we’ve gone on and on about in countless articles. Replacing a person of color or race with the standard, random white person to sell it to American audiences. This has become the norm even though it’s so widely under fire. We often see Asian characters replaced by white people for no good reason. In turn, it seems Netflix has recently struck back at this norm by casting an Asian person as a white person in Full Metal Alchemist – which I found hilarious actually…

Anyway, as a South African, not only was I delighted to see some notable South African faces (John Kani, Connie Chiume & Atandwa Kani ) but also to hear isiXhosa (which is not even the most widely spoken language in SA, but one of our official languages). In addition, the cast were all brilliant actors. I cannot find fault with casting choices… at all! Cannot think of a better person to play Shuri. I have met John Kani, he is a legend and I cannot imagine anyone else playing his role.

One interesting role, Killmonger (played by Michael B Jordan), in my opinion, reeks of the essence that started the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in South Africa. I am not a politics expert, but I watch movies and I know and feel things. The party is also easily seen as the ‘villain’ because of reactionary measures of oppression and racism, which we might not want to admit, is still rife in our country.  Killmonger’s violent behavior and questionable values might lead you to believe that he is the bad guy, but I actually did not want him to die. That was a counter-revolutionary moment in Wakanda.

Another South African element I was excited to hear, is Gqom music, that Shuri listens to while she ideates in her laboratory. Gqom is a truly South African genre that can easily get anyone on the dancefloor. The drums in the were mesmerizing as well and I feel that we should play those at University graduations. Music adds to the magic.

Speaking of magic, usually, when the Ancestors are mentioned, it is usually in jest, in an attempt to belittle Africans. I love how the movie pays respect to the original African beliefs and weaves them into the storyline beautifully. Some films kind of force religion down your throat or make broad assumptions about a culture and it’s religious beliefs. Black Panther managed to sidestep this pitfall rather gracefully. I believe other filmmakers should take a few tips here. This film goes a long way to present everything as realistically and as logically as humanly possible for the fantasy setting. If more filmmakers put this kind of effort into world-building, we’d not be sitting with offensive pieces of crap I don’t care to mention here.

This has been said before, but representation matters. A superhero of color is important to have as a role model. For example, a colleague of mine complained about her little boy having self-esteem issues, so I prescribed a dose of Black Panther. I mean, you were a kid before, you know it can make a difference. Having someone to look up to can do wonders for how you approach situations in your life and even teaches you to be brave and handle things better. Think back to when you were a kid. Remember your childhood heroes? Goku, Captain Planet, Darkwing Duck, Superman, Batman maybe? Do you remember as a child of color how annoying it was having no strong hero of color represented? Nobody for you to relate to? Superheroes are predominantly white and that’s what we had to deal with as kids. Sure, we found something inspiring and learned from our childhood heroes but there was always something lacking, wasn’t there? There wasn’t anyone like me to look up to.They didn’t look like me. I could never be them.

Now, however, Black Panther throws a 360 on that and gives us a great hero who’s paved the way for similar heroes and films to step forward. I mean, did you know there’s a black Batman called Batwing that also needs a feature film? Did you know there’s a Superhero called Spawn and that he’s also black? Do you even remember Blade? Black Panther paved the way for all of it to come to light now and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I can’t help but wonder though, if things went differently in South Africa, whether we could’ve been Wakanda, or if we can drive innovation and fight for social justice to a point where we get close to being Wakanda?

I was out of the country when the movie was released in South Africa, but I loved how my Twitter and Facebook timelines were strewn with glorious photos of people in African fashion, in its magical glory, going to the cinema. The release was surely an event and one that will go down in history as a turning point in the movie world.

P.S.  If you are a regular Marvel movie watcher – you would’ve waited post-credits for the ‘teasers’ for Avengers and the introduction of ‘White Wolf’. If you didn’t wait, go watch it again!

Pseudonym Phoenix
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Pseudonym Phoenix

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My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fiber and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.
Pseudonym Phoenix
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My doctor says that I have a malformed public-duty gland and a natural deficiency in moral fiber and that I am therefore excused from saving Universes.