As Africans, we need to share common recognition that all of us stand to lose if we fail to transform our continent
– Thabo Mbeki
No other continent has endured such unspeakably bizzarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.
– Barbara Kingsolver
I know what you might be thinking, “Here we go, another article about what if Nigeria, Ghana, Congo etc., never got colonised.” Well, this article has a sliver of that but it is also so much more about other things.
I have watched the Black Panther twice now and I will go for a third viewing soon. I enjoyed it that much. It had so many layers, symbolisms, memorable performances, quotes and so on. Each viewing revealed another gem that either made me think, smile or nod in respect to the cleverness of the writers and director. After the second viewing, the phrase ‘The revolution must be televised’ kept echoing in my mind after I left the cinema. This movie was for me, a model presentation of what an African nation with globally sought offer resources could be: self reliant, culturally proud, confident, progressive and R&D conscious, whether or not it was colonised.
Wakanda, the fictional African nation portrayed in Black Panther practiced isolationism with enviable results. It seems very idealistic but there are elements of this fictional nation that can be studied and somewhat applied to governance. Wakanda has a precious metal which they mined, processed and utilised to provide energy, powered and advance their technology beyond other first world countries’ technological status. Knowing fully well that this metal could bring untold level of threats to their nation, Wakanda decides to guard it’s resources using a deceptive, safe and clever global PR strategy, which their citizens benefit tremendously from. Of course this strategy was aided by futuristic technology but the principle behind the strategy speaks volumes of the country’s will to be self-sufficient.
I would imagine that the concept of an African nation being rich with precious minerals was definitely not hard to conceive by the Black Panther creators as it is based on facts. But the advancement and self reliance of Wakanda could perhaps be considered a result of the creators’ of this fictional nation constantly questioning the irony of many African nations’ economic and global status despite their globally in demand natural resources and population.
Another observation is the fine blend of traditional and innovation or technology. I feel this was one of the alluring elements of this fictional nation. Africa is a continent with abundant cultural wealth. Nigeria alone has hundreds of tribes with very diverse cultures across the board. Sadly, there is still a stack divide between Nigeria tradition and modernization. Growing up in Nigeria, my friends and I did not think much of our traditional heritage and we gravitated towards western values and hip hop music hence why most of us sound like we either grew up in Los Angeles or New York, all thanks to Tupac and the likes of the Diddy of course.
So why did we move so far away from what many African Americans crave to be a part of? The answer is simply this: my friends and I did not find our traditions exciting enough and we felt it did not make us look cool. These are simple and in my opinion, shallow reasons but in its simplicity lies a perfect solution that our parents and us missed for years. The world is changing and traditional cultures need to embrace this and find ways to keep their future generations connected to their heritage. Most people do not want to be part of a culture that appears subservient or non-progressive. It is when a culture moves away from this that it becomes more appealing. I am not advocating that African traditions need to change but the entrance to the world of African cultures need to and they are. Our traditions are beginning to have a more inviting storefront, thanks to the likes of creative African fashion designers coming out with innovative Afrocentric designs, restaurateurs showcasing African cuisine in high-end restaurants with exquisite African aesthetics and many more examples. But we can still learn a lot from the concept of Wakanda: A country, so deep in tradition but so far ahead in modernisation.
The concept shows how seamless the transition of culture and innovation could be. We are slowly seeing Africans and people of African heritage across the globe boldly embracing African culture, be it in the way they dress, their aesthetic choices, the names they choose for their children and various projects and businesses they embark on. The Black Panther premieres provided an easy platform for various generations to showcase their pride in African heritage. From young girls dressed as the Dora Milajes to young men and women dressed in traditional African attire.
I can guarantee that after watching this movie, some people will ask what happened to countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, just to name a few? The answer lies in an unhealthy mix of strategic mental and political sabotage from colonialists, greed and short sightedness, an insatiable desire for power from African leaders and their subordinates and above all, a tremendous lack of foresight.
The irony of the Black Panther story is that it took a fictional character and world created by non-Africans to inspire a generation of people of African heritage. In addition to that, the Hollywood machine green lit Black Panther and bet big on it by spending about 200 million dollars, more than other Marvel tent poles such as Thor Ragnarok. Of course, there were African American executives behind the development and production of the film but the Black Panther movie was written decades ago by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, two white Jewish males and decades later, the film adaptation was paid for by Hollywood for purely commercial reasons and I must say that I admire that they believed enough to spend that much on it. But I repeat, what we need to consider as well is that Hollywood is now responsible for giving a large group of people i.e. everyone from Africa or of African heritage, a sense of pride and hope. My previous article stated how cinema could be used as an effective tool for perception management. Well this is a perfect case. Africa needs to contribute immensely to the global cinematic space and tell stories that will further inspire her people to engineer ground breaking ideas with the resilience and structures to execute it without relying on foreign assistance or validation. African nations cannot keep waiting for her pride and dormant potential to be galvanised externally.
I thought Black Panther the movie was a great cinematic experience and I would encourage everyone one interested in an action adventure character driven movie to watch it. Ryan Coogler is slowly becoming a master of character driven stories and his commercial success can only mean he will be crafting even greater cinematic stories in the future. I am keen to see what he will be doing next. And I won’t be surprised if he pivots to telling Afrocentric epic stories like Queen Amina, Bai Bureh, Shango etc., because from media reports, Ryan Coogler and Michael B Jordan are keen on making a film about wealthiest man that ever lived, Mansa Musa of Mali. I hope they do succeed as this will be another great wake up call to financiers of Nollywood, Ghallywood etc., to consider other stories that have the potential to travel beyond the African demographic.
In the meantime, if you are a lover of great music and stunning visual artistry, then the music video below is for you. It is by Kendrick Lamar and it is the official soundtrack for the Black Panther movie. It is densely layered with dozen symbols and narratives that cut across some parts of Africa. Those of you familiar with West African folklore will notice some deities in there as well. Enjoy!