At this point I’m not even sure if there is a need to put any spoiler alerts in this post – we’ve all seen the epicness that is Black Panther by now (if you haven’t on a serious note, look away now).
Since it’s release, Black Panther has initiated a number of conversations about race, culture and identity and I am honestly so here for it. Why? Because amongst all the Twitter rants and threads, thought pieces and articles what we are doing is having conversations amongst ourselves. I believe engagement amongst Africans and the African diaspora (Afro-Latinos, Caribbeans, African Americans, African Europeans) is so important for our development and with the help of social media, it is becoming more and more of an occurrence. The Black Panther movie is just one of the most powerful catalysts for this type of engagement so far.
The purpose of this post is really just to put my thoughts and feelings on some of the debate I’ve seen online in writing. Overall, I believe the feelings of pride and empowerment in its many forms that the Black Panther movie has brought about are justified, positive and something to be embraced.
African traditional wear as ‘cosplay’
One of the main features of the Black Panther phenomenon has been the wave of African pride, particularly amongst African Americans. This has seen cinema-goers across the globe dawning African traditional wear. Plainly the Black Panther movie has become synonymous with African pride. We’ve all seen the images of cinema-goers doing the absolute MOST – from Dashikis and African drums to Coming to America costumes and Egusi Soup in the cinema (the MOST).
Opinions about this trend have been divisive. On one side many people (Africans in particular) are not impressed and feel the wearing of their traditional cultural wear has been reduced to nothing but ‘cosplay’ and that such trends are similar to the scenes of any other Marvel movie. This is understandable. The narrative around Africa and its cultures have not always been this complimentary. In fact, many first-generation Africans who grew up in the West often recall being bullied for their backgrounds and it is common knowledge that amongst the African diaspora embracing one’s connection to Africa has historically been met with reluctance, to say the least, and even straight up denial of one’s African roots. So for it to take a fictional African country created by Hollywood to ignite one’s pride I can see why this would be problematic…
Firstly though, in my opinion, any film with a mostly black cast (and black director) that is not about slavery, struggle or gang violence is something to get hyped about! Representation of the kind displayed in Black Panther is something to get hyped about! I think this is particularly relevant within the African American context. Living in the world that we do, every one of us as Africans will continually take a journey of enlightenment about one’s identity and self-worth. It is important that we understand that this journey will be different for everyone depending on the context of one’s environment. It’s great if you are an individual that has held African pride from a young age but this will not be the case for many. For many African American’s, for example, African pride has been ignited recently by racial tensions and issues surrounding police brutality and indeed the Black Panther movie.
Sharing and learning
My next point is this: if you are truly for the genuine portrayal of your culture and cultural wear, what are you doing to ensure this? I’m of the belief that making Twitter rants about your dislike for traditional wear at Black Panther screenings on its own no matter how valid your opinion is plainly redundant if we are not doing our part in the sharing and creation of positive narratives about our African identities.
I particularly loved this thread by @thediasporicblues on African tribes and cultures featured in Black Panther. That thread has received millions of hits and has been shared across all social media platforms – that’s millions of people possibly learning something new about the nuances of African cultures and traditional wear (I certainly did).
Part of the reason I created this platform was to share knowledge about the continent. After the UK, my largest audience is from the USA. I’d like to think there is an audience of African Americans who read my content and are learning about African cultures and opportunities from the perspective of a British Ghanaian. I think it’s important to make the most of the variety of perspectives and rich culture within the African diaspora which is ripe for sharing and learning.
Even as first generation Africans with strong ties to our countries and tribes and even villages – what we know and understand about our cultures and the cultures of our fellow Africans is nothing but a drop in the ocean. We have still so much to learn about ourselves and about each other. Therefore who are we to look down on others with limited knowledge?
The evolution of culture
When I was discussing this debate with a good friend of mine she raised a very interesting point about our use of traditional African wear as young Africans. For example, as second generation Africans living in the UK when we decide to wear ‘traditional’ clothing, we adopt modern and arguably ‘westernised’ styles to fit our dual identities. By the same argument, older Africans could attest that our portrayal of traditional wear is wrong since it does not fit their standard of what traditional wear is.
I think Black panther and particularly Killmonger’s character is a lesson for us all as Africans – our culture is our wealth and keeping that in our pockets only stifles our development and leads to division. #WAKANDAFOREVER
What are your thoughts? Comment below!