In its attempt of capturing the quintessentials of African culture, Black Panther succeeded with a grade of 99.9%. I walked into the movie with such anticipation and trepidation and walked out feeling victorious and well-watered in my dense movie buff spirit. The hype is real. It’s that brilliant and anyone saying anything less is just a sad person. So far Black Panther has grossed $426 million in it’s opening weekend making it THE TOP-GROSSING FILM WITH A BLACK CAST! ( no apologies for writing that in caps) In the US alone it notched $242 million- the second highest behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The biggest debut haul for a black director, Mr. Ryan Coogler , please stand for an applause. This is an action flick which has beaten everyone’s expectation not just in ticket sales but also in the rich display and capturing of diverse African cultures.
Let me tell you briefly about Wakanda. A futuristic East African techpolis giant of extreme technological advancement well hidden in plain sight from colonisers and mad men like Ulysses Klaue , the African country is powered by an extremely powerful metal called Vibranium which is not only an energy source for maglev trains and flying cars but is also a source for 24-hour healing. Black Panther doesn’t disappoint on delivering an eyeful of afro-futuristic action and superhero prowess.
But I am not here to talk about the action which was well beyond my expectations from the wig-throwing Okoye ( General of the Dora Milaje) to the raw non-kungfu-non-hollywood style of fighting during T’Challa’s coronation and between him and his revengeful cousin Erik Killmonger. The culture, ladies and gentlemen. The African culture was so perfectly researched by costume designer for Black Panther, Ruth Carter.
A FEW SPOILERS OH!
It’s all about eco-conscious, tech-forward costuming throughout Black Panther for the inhabitants of Wakanda. An absolute zero-shyness of portraying African clothing as it is. There on the large screen in a Marvel world was Kente, Tie & Dye, Dashiki, Raffia skirts, Agbada, Joromi on Kaftan and I sat up with pride and even whistled a few times in the cinema. T’Chaka all draped up regally in kente cloth as he walked in the ancestral realm with his son was one of my highs.
Ruth Carter in an interview said her goal was outfitting the characters without giving them a ‘costume look’. She achieved that.
The Dora Milaje ( all- female elite bodyguards of the king) are strongly reminiscent of the Dahomey Amazons and were resplendent in red hand-tooled leather and despite what Hollywood says, you don’t need to show skin or wear tight fitting latex to look sexy.
Did Ruth Carter have in mind the Dahomey Amazons? I don’t know. Their tabards were covered richly in beads and strong structural designs .
T’Challa played by Chadwick Boseman, rocked kaftans embroidered spectacularly in Joromi-style.
Angela Basset who played Ramonda wore several majestic Isicholos ( Zulu hats) to communicate her regal position as a queen and a married woman.
The splashes of reds inspired from the East African tribe of Maasai were boldly embedded in most of the character outfits, from the Mining tribe Elder to the Dora Milaje.
Nakia played by Lupita Nyong’o – a Wakandan spy and the king’s love interest – moved effortlessly through each scene in a flowing burka hijab during her mission to rescue Boko Haram kidnapped girls; stylish tie & dye outfits fitted with triangular shapes and colours all the way to wearing one of the Dora Milaje warrior outfits. The casino scene so James Bond-like was an avant-garde for Nakia and Okoye, well constructed dresses which still gave freeway to kick some well deserved bad guy asses.
Check out the thigh splits.
The lip-plated character, an elder of one of the largest tribes in Wakanda was notably looking swag in an Ozwald Boateng emerald coloured suit.
I was being seduced visually with the colours, textures and symbols on every single detail of clothing and accessory. How can I not talk about Shuri played by Letitia Wright, Princess of Wakanda, leader of the Wakandan Design Group , Hater of Tight Corsets & Lover of Technology ? The Q to T’Challa’s Bond? Her outfit was more eco-conscious, lab whites with a fashion forward look.
Music & Dance
Love Kendrick Lamar? Then you will love the curated Kendrick Lamar tunes and other hip-hop, soul and afrobeats on the soundtrack. Redemption and Seasons ( Kendrick with Sjava & Reason) are my two favourites by the way. When Killmonger took over in Wakanda the beats transformed to a heavier bass hip-hop to let you know was in the house. In a brief moment, Ryan Coogler made an important connection to the Black Panther Party and the jamming 90’s hip-hop era by showing a Public Enemy poster hanging in N’Jobu’s apartment in Oakland. Oakland is where the Black Panther Party was founded and also the hometown of Ryan. Sounds of victory and celebratory music were an infusion of drums, horns and African chants. The coronation of T’Challa was encapsulated with Wakandans doing the Maasai jumping dance; there was one flow, one rhythm and one movement. Black Panther score was composed by Grammy®-nominated composer and songwriter Ludwig Göransson who travelled to several African countries, ” One of the instruments that especially caught my attention was the talking drum, which together with West African sabar drums and ceremonial rhythms, became the foundation for the score.”
Architecture in Wakanda
As T’Challa entered the invisible world of Wakanda, the spectacular display of cone-like buildings inspired by the Sudano-Sahelian architecture got me like ‘Whoah!!’ So much like the Laranbanga Mosque and the Bobo Dioulasso Grand Mosque in Burkina Faso! The landscape was a blend of traditional and futuristic elements. I saw Bolga baskets hanging from stalls in the city’s market and oh my heart! People walked by stalls as super trains zoomed by. What a world! Here’s our culture and our future in one bubble of technological prowess.
Xhosa is portrayed as the main language of Wakandans; this is a real language by the way-one of the official languages in South Africa. I tried learning Xhosa during a five minute meeting fellow bloggers from South Africa during last year’s Chale Wote and I have to give it up to Chadwick, Lupita, Danai for killing it during the scenes where they spoke the ‘clicking language’. It’s not an easy language to learn at all. I must have spat out some spittle during my 5 minute lessons. They recently actually credited their language lessons to South African stars, Connie Chiume, Atandwa and John Kani . The part where M’ Baku added ‘..oh’ in his sentence was soo Ghanaian!
Zuri played by Forest Whitaker was the African Juju man but adorned in finer garments of Agbada. As he performed rituals for T’Challa he so reminded me of the juju men portrayed in African movies always mixing up some concoction or the other for a betrayed lover.
Zuri didn’t do any dance though. In this case however the potion from the heart-shaped flower enables Black Panther to enter the ancestral realm to speak with his dead father. It’s also the potion which when Black Panther drinks removes the super-powers of the panther so he can battle against any throne challenger. African masks like that worn by Killmonger and M’Baku are unmissable and the placement in the movie was a recognition of their importance in rituals and ceremonies in African culture. In Ghana, display masks in your home and you are bound to hear someone ask if you aren’t afraid. The religious connotations of having a mask in one’s abode is quite heavy even if you are a strong audacious holy-ghost fire Christian. M’Baku’s mask which was that of a howling monkey with bared fangs. Anyone who wears a ceremonial mask inhabits the spirit of the mask. How can one create an East African superpower without any trace of African spirituality? Not possible.
W’ Kabi played by Daniel Kaluuya is just a complex character and although Okoye loved him, his treachery cost him dearly and she chose her country over his poor choice of loyalty. But are we like that as Africans though? Patriotism isn’t that deep even in Ghana, corruption has replaced love for country.
Nakia and T’ Challa are still in love despite being ex’es . How many of us still freeze when we see that ex who got away? LOL! Their love was so evident but the kiss from Tâ€™Challa, I felt was an awkward kiss from a King who wasn’t sure he was going to burnt or accepted. I wonder how many takes it took for that scene. Will Nakia become Queen?
It was an all-out African hairstyles from full bald with the Dora Milaje to ever-changing braid styles on Shuri to Nakia’s bantu-knots and full out afro. Killmonger’s mohawk dreads to flat cornrows was seriously cool but were actually extensions 😀 !
Much elaborate hair inspiration was drawn from the Namibian Himba tribeswomen for the Mining tribe who are responsible for mining vibranium.
So much celebration of natural hair in Black Panther!
My final take…
The representation of Black women to be not only strong but also intelligent and respected was strongly vivid throughout!
All too soon the movie ended on a dramatic yet disappointing final note. I expected more forgiveness and compassion from T’Challa unlike his father. Didn’t he say he wasn’t going to be like him after his second descent into the ancestral realm? I didnt quite get that. You be the best judge.
The beginning felt like the slow stewing of the tomato sauce for Jollof to become amazing and as the plot thickened it turned to a roiling of palm-nut soup filled with all kinds of meat. I was cheering with other cinema goers and laughing with them during funny scenes. M’Baku stole the show with his unpredictable humour. Vegetarian indeed! I walked out of the cinema so victorious and elated to the seventh heaven! As a superhero buff, I had drank deep into the well of Black Panther and I was sated ! A celebration of African heritage like never before!
My favourite scenes from Black Panther? So many! But what cracked me up most? That scene where Okoye stands in the path of the charging monstrous war rhino and it immediately stops and licks her face. The barking at the CIA operative who shouldn’t have lasted as long as he did. The worst part for me? Wakandans rising up and attacking a fellow Wakandan who is no ordinary man oh, a wakandan former king! I didnt get that.
A binge-worthy movie on all counts! Thank you to the director and entire cast for celebrating Africa..WAKANDA FOREVER!