IN recent times, Africa is a continent associated with poverty, Aids, illiteracy, human rights violations and war. Some of the world’s notorious dictators ruled countries in Africa, such as Charles Taylor (Liberia), Omar al-Bashir (Sudan), Idi Amin (Uganda) and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe). Rich in natural resources, Africa remains to be the world’s poorest though there have been signs that it’ll leap forward in this century.
Public interest about Africa, its people and cultures seems to have risen in the past few weeks for an unlikely reason.
Not because the parliament of South Africa on Feb. 27 voted in favor of a motion initiating the process of amending the country’s Constitution to allow for the confiscation of white-owned land without compensation. Not because of the Feb. 23 terrorist bombing in Somalia that killed 45 people. Not because of the dissolution on March 1 of the main opposition party in Equatorial Guinea and the conviction of 21 opposition supporters to 26 years in prison for sedition and 10 years for breach of authority.
The reason: People have flocked in theaters in many parts of the world because of a Marvel film, Black Panther, that features an almost 100 percent black cast. Directed by African-American Ryan Coogler and starring Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa/Black Panther.
So far it has grossed over $763 million worldwide and interest has not waned. The action film not only has stunning visuals and fascinating costume design, but it also has a solid story line that subtly touches on the history of Africa from the European colonization, the exploitation of its natural resources, the slavery of its people and the superiority complex of the white men.
T’Challa is the ruler of Wakanda, a fictional African kingdom with a rich resource of vibranium, an alien mineral that absorbs all sonic vibrations. Because of this, the hidden nation has become prosperous and is far advanced in technology.
But a mad scientist Ulysses Klaw knows the secret and seeks out the rare mineral. A family feud adds a layer to the suspense and action.
The diverse culture of Africa is shown through the costumes worn by the characters and in one grand sequence during the coronation of T’Challa.
Danai Gurira, who spent her childhood in Zimbabwe and plays the role of woman-warrior Okoye, said of the film, “You just never see these things, so it’s very special to those of us who grew up on the continent, and those of us who knew how distorted or very misrepresented Africans can be.”
Black Panther is not just a film as far as Africa is concerned. It is a manifesto of what Africa can be. It challenges the African people and its leaders, so it can claim that this century belongs to Africa.