“Of course this film is for everyone, but is unapologetically black” proclaimed Clara Amfo on stage whilst she hosted the European premiere for Black Panther.
The Ryan Coogler directed masterpiece displayed black excellence at its finest with the performances of Letitia Wright, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) , Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out), Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira.
This was no standard premiere for the next highly anticipated Marvel blockbuster. It was much more than that. It was a revolutionary night for the black community with the arrival of the first black led cast in a superhero film. A celebration of African culture in a way that portrayed us in a powerful light. As lead actors instead of supporting actors. As powerful icons who are revolutionary. As leaders as opposed to slaves. Furthermore importantly, showcasing the side of Africa that fails to be put in the spotlight.
Wakanda, the main setting of the film is a African nation in the Marvel universe that is in fact the wealthiest nation in the Marvel universe. The dystopian reality opens eyes and plays on misconceived stereotypes present in today’s reality born from the manipulative narrative of Africa as a poverty-stricken continent that is struggling whilst blurring out the reality of the continent’s rich resources that due to colonisation have been robbed.
It’s a film that serves as iconic in its own right, despite being the first superhero film with a black leading cast. Its ability to touch on several truths with its witty tongue in cheek humour. In particular, one reference to the western world’s entitlement to stealing African artefacts and passing them as belongings in museums had the whole cinema applauding in pride.
Recently, The One Show host Jeremy Vine commented that the film was ‘overwhelmingly black’ which received widespread criticism on Twitter. And rightfully so. When a predominantly white leading casted film comes out, it is never described as ‘overwhelmingly white’. Vine’s comments seem to allude to the commonplace narrative that white is seen as ‘normal’, ostracizing other ethnicities from being recognised on the same level playing field despite being a significant part of society.
In one way I couldn’t help but question this was the reason why the PR coverage for the film was in the way that it was. It genuinely surprised me that this highly anticipated Marvel film which had already breaking records by it being selling more advance tickets via Fandango than any superhero film to date was having its continental premiere in Hammersmith as opposed to Odeon Leicester Square which had hosted the European premieres of its fellow Marvel classmates Iron Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Amazing Spider-Man, Ant-Man and Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron.
However, this didn’t dim out the light of excitement and joy that was celebrated that night. Like my mother commented, twenty years ago, a film like this wouldn’t have even been made. It was beautiful to see black excellence fully supported by the black community and paying homage to the culture, many of the guests, including myself dressed in African traditional wear in respect to the Afro-futuristic theme portrayed in the film which positively represented the motherland.
Even though I was slightly disappointed by the fact that the film hadn’t received the recognition I believe it deserved regarding its premiere venue or received as much coverage as I would’ve thought in mainstream media outlets.
The film itself certainly didn’t disappoint. The fight choreography was definitely one of the best I had seen in a film from the Marvel Universe franchise, as well as the storyline that told real truths regarding the injustice treatment of black people in today’s reality in contrast to the power Wakanda has in its dystopian reality.
As well as the moral conflict between retaliating in anger and rising above hatred through maintaining integrity gave a lot of depth and educational lessons to the audience in how there is a way to rise above. Which is to do better, to not let injustice ruin character, to continue to perform with absolute excellence and remain unfazed by society’s ignorance towards your power and influence.
Despite the film’s underappreciated premiere, the film broke box office records in the UK for selling the most tickets in one day. On its opening day it made a whopping £2.67 million making it the highest-grossing single day film at the UK box office this year. However, it also marks a bigger impact on the culture.
The arrival of black superheroes in a major feature film provides the positive representation for children to have strong black figures in pop culture to look up to. I can’t wait til Halloween to see little black kids wearing African inspired superhero costumes embracing their heritage whilst representing power and strength. It’s more than just representation, it’s about embracing the positive aspects of our culture in this modern era.
Too often when Africa is represented in the media it’s almost always alluding to poverty, history of the slave trade and not enough of the beautiful vibrancy and energy African culture represents. The African prints are not just reserved for weddings, international days at school or when it’s a summer trend, to see it woven in modern day superhero costumes to represent strength breathe a display of pride and identity of the motherland. It was beautiful to be at the premiere wearing African prints or embracing my natural hair to fully embrace and celebrate my culture, and no, not because it was a wedding but to celebrate the true authenticity of who I am and the fact that my culture was being finally represented in its true authenticity on the silver screen. Even to see Africa represented in the music video for All The Stars by Kendrick Lamar and SZA which feature on the film’s soundtrack was a delight in seeing the continent in mainstream music, following the theme of the film.
Black Panther is a film that yes, is a contender to be one of the best Marvel films but it creates a shift in an entire culture of putting Africa on the map in the way it deserves to be. Especially in Hollywood, than portraying Africans as slaves or poachers but as superheroes who despite in today’s reality are seen as lesser than are actually full of integrity and honouring tradition whilst being iconic, formidable and powerful. Its release definitely states in its arrival creating a significant shift, especially in a time that is beginning to sees black excellence unapologetically avalanching into the mainstream media industry, which serves as a distinct metaphor of uprising of the black creative media scene in the upcoming years to come.