Will Black Panther change media representations of Africa?
YES.Black Panther is part of a wider movement across the arts inspired by Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism emerged in the late 90’s and it is, in essence, a cultural movement reimagining what Africa could be or would have been without colonial interference. Afrofuturism has been the underlying philosophy inspiring a wide range of works, such as the art of Basquiat, black science fiction, as well as musicians such as Ibeyi, Oshun, Beyoncé and notably Janelle Monáe. Black Panther is a resounding ode to Afrofuturism by encapsulating practically all the different forms of art, both as a body of work in its own right, but also as a cultural inspiration. It has already inspired a global conversation across not only social media, but also in the press, due to its dazzling commercial success: as it stands, it has already surpassed the $1bn mark at the global box office and is one of the highest-grossing films of all time. That Black Panther has already changed the media representation of Africa and its diaspora, in my opinion, is not up for debate. Whether or not it will result in a fairer, less condescending, ‘Heart of Darkness’-type media coverage of the Africa we know today is less certain, but it is at least a resounding call for us all to revisit what Africa is, what it could be, and therefore how we represent it in the media going forward. ● Funmi Adebayo, Africa Credit
NO.This question again? Frankly I believe it’s time for Africans to stop concerning ourselves with what the West could potentially think of us. There’s no point worrying about whether Black Panther will actually improve how Africa is viewed abroad. Our continent has plenty of artists, writers, journalists, businesspeople, and tech leaders who are advancing our prospects further as a continent. I believe the response to Black Panther reveals how deeply our perceptions of Africa and Africanness are still tied to the West. While the film has highlighted the importance of representation and depicted a fictional African country free of colonialism and imperialism, it’s unhelpful to attach grand political expectations to what’s simply an enjoyable and well-made work of art. Despite caving in to the communal joy experienced by Africans on the continent and in the diaspora, I find it somewhat absurd that Black Panther has been tasked with inspiring radical change in America and changing the perception of Africa abroad. To me, it suggests that we’ve forgotten the work required to institute systemic changes around race and class. It also shows how much we’ve forgotten what sacrifices our forefathers and foremothers went through in order to make the world more bearable to inhabit. Yes, Black Panther is a phenomenal film which deserves to be celebrated. But at the end of the day, we remember that it takes more than a film with teachable themes to create a new world order. ● Khanya K. Mtshali, Freelance writer
NO.The much-needed revolution in media representations about Africa will not be brought to you by Disney. Marvel’s Black Panther is not powerful enough to uproot the Western media’s historic representation of Africa as teeming with strife, disease, and hunger. The outpouring of pride and optimism about Wakanda – the fictional never-colonized, resource-rich, technologically advanced nation at the heart of the film – is a testament not only to what movie-goers saw unfold on screen, but to the steady diet of anti-African disaster-centered media representations they consumed before they ever bought a ticket. Wakanda shines bright in the light of its contrast to one dimensional media representations of Africa. These representations are so normative that Wakanda can use them as part of its disguise: the country hides in plain sight under the cloak of African underdevelopment. Is this progress? To quote Malcolm X: “You don’t stick a knife in a man’s back nine inches and then pull it out six inches and say you’re making progress”. Wakanda is fiction but complex, diverse and dynamic media representations of present day Africa are very real, and not so hard to find. Truly changing media representations of Africa requires critically engaging and amplifying news content generated by Africans; watching films produced by African powerhouse cinema industries; and diving into African social media. It is there, not Wakanda, that one will find diasporic consciousness, technological advances, strong women, critical news coverage, ongoing debates around self-determination and inspiring visions for the future. ●Robyn C. Spencer, Historian & Author
From the April 2018 print edition of The Africa Report