The movie is based on the beautiful, verdant fictional African nation of Wakanda, where the protagonist and his people come from.
Wakanda, free from the negative consequences of colonial rule, has bountiful resources, including the all-powerful vibranium which is used to build indestructible weapons. Wakandans maintain their traditions yet they are technologically innovative in ways that ensure the prosperity and survival of the people. This “Afrofuturistic” portrayal constitutes the first point of interest as it rebuts the all too common Hollywood portrayal of African nations as backward, poor and mismanaged.
Black Panther’s portrayal of women as strong, empowered leaders who are revered and respected by their community, is the next point of interest. The army of T’Challa (King of Wakanda and Black Panther) is an all-female, well-trained legion of warriors known as the Dora Milaje.
They are led by General Okoye who is played by Zimbabwean-American actress Danai Gurira. While this does remind viewers of the Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s all-female, elite cadre of personal bodyguards who were hand-picked, extensively trained in the use of firearms, and martial arts, it has also been linked to the Ahosi of Dahomey.
The Ahosi Dahomey, also known as the N’Nonmiton, were 17th-century, fearless female warriors appointed by King Wegbaja of Dahomey, (present day Benin) to protect him.
Other strong female leads include Wakandan spy Nakia, played by Kenya’s Lupita Nyong’o, Queen Mother (Angela Bassett) and technology genius Letitia Wright.
The movie also touches on the Black Lives Matter movement, as the lead nemesis, Erik Killmonger,who descends from Wakanda royalty, seeks to use the resources and advanced technology of Wakanda to uplift marginalised black people in the rest of the world, particularly in his place of birth - the US.
An impassioned speech about the discrimination, marginalisation, ill treatment and prejudice endured by many African-Americans is given by Killmonger, ultimately making some audience members sympathetic to his cause.
However, to do this, Killmonger resolves to defeat T’Challa in tribal combat to sit on the throne of Wakanda and control its resources and technology. Killmonger succeeds and begins his aggressive reign. He violates their traditions, instils fear and behaves like a dictator.
His time on the throne is reminiscent of the history of Liberia where African-Americans, known as Americo-Liberians, returned to Liberia in 1847 and ruled over and oppressed the local Liberians until 1980. Like the Liberians, the Wakandans, and King T’Challa, were able to rid themselves of their oppressor.
Drawing on several African cultures, the movie reflects on the importance of ancestry and legacy as both T’Challa and Killmonger consult with their ancestors upon ascension to the throne. Coupled with that is the rich array of African attire - the vivid colours and various tribal symbols simultaneously reflect the continent's similarity and diversity, reminding audiences of its authenticity and beauty.
Black Panther is the first Marvel movie to have a predominantly black cast, with a number of African actors, and a black director, American Ryan Coogler.
It showcases black talent and serves as an inspiration to young black children who have only ever known white superheroes.
One of the few white characters is an Afrikaans arms dealer known as Ulysses Klau. Aware of its use in the construction of powerful weapons, Klau steals a sample of Wakanda’s precious vibranium and seeks to sell it to the highest bidder.
Could this be a reference to the 2017 arrest of Dutch arms dealer Guus Kouwenhoven in Cape Town?
Forbes reported that the movie grossed $242million in the US in its first four days, constituting the second-highest opening and “the biggest ever debut for a black director”.
The movie has also done well outside of the US, making $427m in the same period, according to Vanity Fair, effectively debunking the prejudicial Hollywood myth that black casts do not perform as well internationally.
A seemingly simple story about a superhero has broken records, potentially lifted the glass ceiling hovering over the heads of black actors and directors and put Africa and its infinite beauty in the spotlight. What better time than now.
* Mudukuti is an international criminal justice lawyer at the Wayamo Foundation.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.