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Posted February 6, 2018 by Angelo Trinos in Movies/TV
 
 

BLACK PANTHER: Bringing Afrofuturism to a Mainstream Audience

Those who saw the adrenaline-fueled trailers of Marvel’s latest entry into its cinematic universe – Black Panthermay have been surprised to see the technologically advanced yet tribal landscapes of Wakanda, since the sight of futuristic hovercrafts being operated by warriors donning animal-themed regalia may be a bit jarring to some. This aesthetic choice was anything but accidental, and it stems from more than merely staying loyal to the imaginative comics the movie is based on.

Black Panther represents more than just seeing King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) from Captain America: Civil War get his own movie, since it’s the first major comic book movie since Blade to be made for and by a predominantly black demographic. T’Challa’s solo effort is also the biggest celebration of an art movement known as Afrofuturism seen in recent memory, a cultural philosophy that’s been around for quite some time but has largely been ignored up until recently.

AFRICA IS NOW

Simply put, Afrofuturism is speculative fiction written from a distinctly African perspective. The prevailing ramifications of colonialism, systematic racism and the African diaspora/mass exodus are examined through a combination of alternate history, magical realism and Science-Fiction – only now from the point of view of those who were once regarded as slaves by a bunch of guys on boats who erroneously thought they were God’s gift to humanity.

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Themes of alienation and the reclamation of one’s past are key components of Afrofuturism, a reflection of the time when Africans were forcibly taken away from their homelands to become slaves in a country unfamiliar to them. Afrofuturism also tackles the ideas of gender identity and feminism, with the philosophy proving to be an irreplaceable platform for black women to voice their thoughts and stories about being a black woman in a society where they are a minority in more ways than one.

Like how the Blaxploitation movement of the ‘70s aimed to empower the black man against a prejudiced social order symbolized by “The Man” through landmark films like Shaft, Afrofuturism aims to empower black people not just to rage against current social injustices, but to be proud of who they are and of what they could become. The goal of this philosophy that applies to all forms of arts, geopolitics and even sciences like metaphysics is to help black people come to terms with Africa’s turbulent history while also helping them to embrace their ancestors’ cultures and traditions. For the Afrofuturist, history – especially in regards to race – must always be a part of one’s identity.

WAKANDAN AFROFUTURISM

The tenements of Afrofuturism are strong in Black Panther, from the way the characters look, what their motivations could be and the implied politics of Wakanda.

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The characters’ tribal yet futuristic looks showcase a strong sense of African culture, showing a proud fusion of technology and African traditions rarely seen in mainstream Sci-Fi media. The central conflict teased has Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) wanting to break away from Wakanda’s self-imposed isolation, while T’Challa struggles between upholding secretive traditions and entering the uncertain, global future heralded by the rise of superpowers and the many cataclysmic events in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Themes of black identity and historical relevance are strong in Black Panther, further strengthening the importance of the Afrofuturist thought in the movie’s narrative.

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But in what could be seen as the story’s – and by extension, the filmmakers’ – reaction to actual African history, Wakanda is a technologically advanced but secretive country that poses as a Third World nation to the rest of the globe. This is done to throw-off aspiring neo-colonialists and opportunists like Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) from the country’s riches like Vibranium – the metal that made Captain America’s (Chris Evans) shield – and to avoid exploitation by larger First World nations. Though fictional, the Afrofuturist geopolitics of Wakanda could be an interesting examination and/or entry-point to the study of real-world African politics, nations and their relation to the global community.

While we’ll have to wait and see the actual movie before coming to more conclusions and to see how the story actually plays out, the implications of what T’Challa, Wakanda and its people represent as reflections of African history and the continent’s potential future are more relevant than anyone could have anticipated. Regardless of the film’s final quality, Black Panther will prove to be an important part of Afrofuturist theories and black peoples’ lives for years to come.

Sources:

  • Frank, Priscilla.; “Your Brief and Far-Out Guide to Afrofuturism;” The Hufftington Post; April 25, 2016.
  • La Ferla, Ruth. “Afrofuturism: The Next Generation;” The New York Times; December 12, 2016.
  • Thrasher, Steven W.; “Afrofutursim: Reimagining Science and the Future from a Black Perspective;” The Guardian; December 7, 2015.
  • “Afrofuturism;” TV Tropes; accessed on February 2, 2018
  • “Afrofuturism;” Wikipedia; accessed on February 2, 2018

Angelo Trinos