Black Panther Film: What is in it For Africans?

Published on 14th March 2018

“Claim no Easy Victories” – Cabral

You might have been mistaken when you read this title “Problems with the New Black Panther film” that you were going to get a cinematic critique with Easter eggs and spoilers. No, this article is not actually about the film. As for the cinematic film we can praise many things. Because when is the last time you saw a positive film about Africans? When was the last time a film had in a country (fictional or otherwise) that was not being saved by Europeans, slaughtering each other, dying of HIV, under siege by a tyrannical Idi Amin type character? Honestly Black Panther shows us an African country east of Ethiopia that has African people empowered and dressed in African attire and flying spaceships. There is no way the film could go wrong with that kind of opening. It is interesting that this film was created by White people, who in this instance seem to understand what an African future should look like. But then again the film was “Black on Black” violence and internal strife which is a very common stereotype we seem to never escape. (I want to forgive that as the primary message of unity of all Africans was louder).

What you do with something truly determines the value of the thing. If after Black Panther, we are still afraid to be African and wear African clothes, then Marvel took our money and we are just fools. If all our children know is Wakanda, but still never heard about Kush, Songhai and Axum, then we really are stupid and deserve to be exploited. Because, unfortunately, despite all of this hype, have our people (in the main) taken a deeper interest in African culture and history? Do people now know the fictional people in the film were based on real cultures like the Mursi of Ethiopia? Then it is a wasted opportunity. Did the film cause people to go and look at the Black Panther Party which shares the same name? Are we going to step beyond Marvel and do for self or has our WILL TO DO been traded for greater dependency?

Not Our Victory Yet

But sorry. Black Panther is not a “Black” film since the money from sales does not go to any “Black” people. It is a film of significance only because Hollywood has been so racist in the past. It is a film of cultural significance only because our cultures are so neglected and unrepresented especially by us Africans. You actually cannot blame a capitalist company like Marvel for seeing a gap in the market and targeting Africans with this film–it is a good business move on their part. Like how we got thrown Obama to make us feel the illusion of inclusion. It was all strategic, just like this film–and it works because we are too lazy to create and support our own stories and products. We will run and dance while Marvel collects the profits from our community during Black History Month.

Between Marvel and Disney, all the Black faces stop with actors, director and script. To sum up this short article, the blame is almost exclusively with African people for why in 2018 we still need the White hunter to tell African stories, real or otherwise.

So What’s Your Problem?

Until the lion owns the story of the hunt, the hunter will always profit

Some of us are proud to see a Black Panther film; a film depicting African culture in a positive light. But it is our job to ask some hard questions. Yes the revolution will be televised by African people or exploited by “the other.”

People involved in the film, some of them (like every Black themed Hollywood film in recent years 12 years a slave, on and on) include owners and hired help. The few “black faces” are only there to help mask this fact. There is not one Black Face on the owner’s board of Marvel or Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. It does not stop there, what about the Help? What about that film on Bob Marley, what about 99% of the content on Africa from docs to Cry Freedom? How can 99% of the African story be owned by “the other” in 2018?

Not Our History

Forget about your kids learning about Axum and Timbuktu we now have a new historical landmark– WAKANDA. All our real rich history has been replaced with Stan Lee’s mythical Black Empire. When I see athletes doing the BP salute, I think we are taking this thing way further than it deserves–in a worrying way. Kids cannot quote Malcolm X but they are quoting T’Challa one died for us–one did not. Have we really been that deprived of historical achievement that we need to latch on to fiction like a dog onto the last bone on Earth? Is our real history so void that fiction is our new claim. If you do not think this is a problem, hit the back button now because nothing after this you are ready for.

Moving the Illusion Forward

Yes white Hollywood is listening: No longer do African actors die horrible deaths in the first minute of the title sequence. Once upon a time it used to be African actors and all White crew. Now they have not given us one share at Marvel but they now have the Black director who is hired by a white producer to do a film that many of us rush to support thinking we are supporting our image of self.  We should be happy that there is an African action hero based in Africa and I hope it restores some pride in African everything including African Clothes like what Ocacia Designer Clothing. But do not for one second forget, because it is because we forget, that we have a party in someone else’s house and call it victory. It is not ours. And the millions of dollars it generates will help put Stan Lee’s great grandchildren through Uni. The African American director and actors are not getting 5% of what that film is worth. But without their talent the film would not be possible. We will sit down and wait for White generosity to make the next big African themed film. Forever on the outside of our own stories.

Their System of Control

We can only wonder why no one is making anything African like this until Europeans pave the way. You can see African artists all over the world with comic heroes, paintings of Mansa Musa and Askia, yet none of these stories any African government or person of wealth and influence has attempted to make these films. We know that Danny Glover and many others have tried to push for big epic films of historical African characters only to be stymied by White Hollywood’s need for White faces. But beyond white faces what they really want to secure is White ownership. So unless they can own it, they will not touch it. So even if Africans can make a film of Mansa Musa or Menelik’s defeat of the wicked Italians at the battle of Adwa– who will distribute it?  The best film in the world without distribution is no film at all. Will Cannes touch it? Will Sundance dance behind it? Not without having their friends with the title deeds in their hands. So with Clint and Robert’s names the critical acclaim by Rotten Tomatoes and New York Times will not happen.

The Buzz

If you heard of “Black” non-support well it only applies to African owned stuff of deep value. Marvel and cohorts have reported no such issues. It was the same Hollywood that poisoned our image (and profited from it, that is now selling us a better image of our African selves). But what will all of this do for us? Now in theory it should have a positive effect.

 

Can you imagine an African American boy watching this film and then being proud, for the first time, to being called African. WOW that would be good. Imagine people realizing how beautiful we look in African clothes and rushing to buy Ocacia Designer Clothing WOW that would be good. Imagine people now on our site reading more about African Kingdoms–WOW. Imagine more books selling by African authors after people seen the film. But we know our people too well, it is like the film the Matrix: I mean they practically explained so much, and yet it made no difference to most. This is not going to have the Cosby show effect, where Africans realize we too can make stories about ourselves, like everyone else. Every single race; the Chinese, the Turks, the Indians, have their own action heroes–and they own these stories. Yet here we are in 2018 going over the moon about a film about us–not made by us.

Hard Talk            

On another level; what White people do with their money is white people business. If white people want to write one thousand lies about Africa and make a thousand African stories into film and make 1 trillion dollars off of us–it is their BUSINESS. Because as people with hands that work and brains that can think you can also do the same. White people are not gods with special superhuman ability. They have not been able to package an Indian superhero into their world dominations plans. They have no hope against Chinese cinema: Chinese completely make their own action films for their own people. So nothing is stopping us from making a Black Panther type film, or any action based African story like 300 or Troy. Nothing is stopping you from opening a Levi Jean factory. And if you have some great issue with finance then go and own banks then you can deal with so-called capitalism. Do not dare talk about “We use to own…” that is then, go do it again like all great people. If we are so worried about how your history is represented then go and write the books, go and create a Slavery society or shhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Because failure to do means you are exploited. It is part of the deal. No planting= no harvest.

Talented African have tried to make films, create African action heroes and met Black non-support. The very same people who want to spit and hiss at Marvel’s Black Panther film do not own 500 Years Later or Motherland, they own and support everything white.  So why are they so worried about this Black Panther film? They wear Levi or Chinese jeans– not Ocacia jeans. They use Mark’s social network to scream “It is owned by Whites let us boycott it,” well so is Facebook and everything else you use to live in a modern way. Leave the complaining to us who do the work and support each other. Because had 500 Years Later and Motherland and Black Candle been supported those filmmakers would now be in a position to make an epic African empowering feature film.

Real Panthers Stand Up!

Anyone stating “it is just a fun film” needs to be sent to sit at the kiddy table. Nothing created by the hands of powerful men/women is innocent. The last point of note is what about the real Black Panthers? And whiles the Black Panthers comic hero predates by a few months the BPP the word “real” denotes what is real to us as an African people. Fiction is fiction, no one died in the making of the film. The ones who fought a real struggle for people’s justice are ours, they are real to our lives. Will their names be remembered by the youth, or will (per Google) every time you search Black Panther a clown in a suit shows up? You see there is good and there is bad in these things and people in a conscious state are capable of discussing these things beyond the emotion of seeing a “Black” version of an action hero created by the multimillion dollar Marvel franchise.

But that is not the end of it, far worse is now that African see a film with an African hero will it inspire us to make our own? NO! We will let White Hollywood do the work. Because the issue of ownership does not bother us. We are happy to see people build malls for us to shop in, make makeup and skin products for us, books for us, films for us and we just consume these things. The great issue of ownership is not important.

Black Panther film will never in a million years teach us to be our own masters of story. It is teaching us wait on Whites and maybe they will hire us to make Mansa Musa and Askia; Just ask them nicely and they will give us the job. Credit where credit is due, I am happy to see a positive African superpower on screen. But there is something more important than that, and that is our own agency. And in the war we seemed to lose our pride to own our own stories and the world we live in.

Film Review

I finally found time to see BP, overall powerful and needed message: there was good and there was bad as can be expected. The overall sentiment was it was a good story, a nice try with poor to average elements and execution (music, acting, script, and especially  directing were lacking). A more talented director and skilled writer would have got better jelling. Costume got a high score, the Maasai adaption did work well. But I could forgive the technical elements because this film never claimed to be high cinema, so why judge it by that criteria? It is not Inception or Silence of the Lambs, it is not high art like Daughters of the Dust, it is certainly not on the level of Nolan directing Batman (and even that had in silly mistakes).

I was happy to see more story that exhausting spiderman CGI, What a relief. They could have done away with that cookie cutter high street car chase, it unbalanced the film, and seemed forced into the film just to meet the Marvel superhero cookie template. The internal story of Wakanda had more than enough power, if fully developed, to carry the entire film. The White actor (was a good actor, actually all the villains were) and all that fluff was not needed. The final battle scene was poorly scripted and even more poorly choreographed, and directed.  DP work and CGi were okay. Editing work was nothing to write home about. Music score, SFX, were horrendous and a missed opportunity, again a more qualified person would have closed out this opportunity.

But my next greatest concern is not the film but us as a people and what will we take from it. And I am not hopeful. I saw a lot of attempts to represent the cultures of Africa they tried–it is popcorn cinema which puts Africans in a positive light. And the message of the film came through loud and clear. My fear is did we really hear it? I think we did not. It is like the Matrix I came out with “WOW did you see that paradigm shift,” the next guy comes out “did you see neo dodge the bullet.” So my message is (we do not own it, it is not our victory) but it is an opportunity, what do you plan to do with it?

P.s Let me ask you guys something. Take all the money we spent to see the Black Panther film (even the money we spent on popcorn) who collected it all– us or them? I mean even the petrol you put in your car to take your family to see the film. Now I am not saying do not go and see the film, I love films as a filmmaker and I am going to see BP as soon as time allows. But how much money did we spend globally on a film owned by Whites? Now how much does it cost to make our OWN Action hero film? Do you see where I am going? So as a people we have the fiscal capacity to do for self– but we don’t.

By Alik Shahadah

Alik Shahadah is a master of the Documentary format and progressive African scholar. Shahadah uses film for social revolution. A multi-award winning recipient including the rare UNESCO award for his critically acclaimed film on slavery 500 Years Later. He is best known for authoring works, which deal with African history, social justice, environmental issues, education and world peace. He states his primary motivation for making these films was being frustrated with "Tarzan's voice" as the central narrator in African stories. He noted that while scholarship challenges these issues, the common knowledge of the majority is generally unaltered, writing alone is not enough, the ultimate tool for re-education on a mass level is film.

Courtesy: African Holocaust


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