African students, comic fans respond to blockbuster film "Black Panther"

African students, comic fans respond to blockbuster film "Black Panther"

In the relatively short amount of time "Black Panther" has been in theaters, it has already smashed multiple box office records.  According to Forbes, the film had the smallest second-weekend drop for any Marvel film in history and hit the $400 million mark within ten days of its domestic release.  

Fans are raving about the films message of justice and empowerment — for good reason. "Black Panther" is now "the most successful movie ever made that features a predominantly black cast, director and writers," wrote reviewers from Wharton College.

That's why I sat down with some Lee students from Africa to chat about the "Black Panther" and to hear why the movie is significant for them and their culture.

Tiffany Simms: While “Black Panther” is a superhero film, it also explores African migration, black identity, and colonization. Taking this into account, how did you feel about the movie?

Winner Isibor (Nigerian and lived in Ghana): The movie was great. One thing I really loved was that they didn’t just talk about Africa as a place but also talked about resources. Because when people hear about Africa, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, they probably don’t have anything, and they ride on donkeys,” but in the movie, their resources could help the world itself.

Dahunsi Debo (Nigerian): I like how they tied it into real world scenarios—they talked about colonization. I liked that because it’s true. They also showed the true thing that African nations don’t really help African-Americans.

Chike Joseph Okwudiaf (Nigerian and lived in Ghana): It was a really great movie. It showed how Africa would be without colonization, but it made me sad at the same time because I don’t know if we’ll ever reach that kind of potential to be that great. And I don’t know if we’ll ever be on the right balance with African-Americans because we’re very different people, but we’re all black at the same time. The movie touched on really deep areas, touching on reparations and touched on everything that’s happened to Africa.

Winner: The movie shows that we have to relate regardless [of] whether you’re African-American or African.

T: A big aspect of “Black Panther” is Afrofuturism. What did you think about how this was portrayed? What do you think about Afrofuturism?

D: They did [a] good job; I like how they picked from different tribes and also made it futuristic. It made sense. Like in “Harry Potter,” some things are real and some fictional. I like how they picked Masai from Kenya, they showed the guy with the disks. It was fascinating. They did their research rather than just throwing something around—like animal prints.

W: With the costumes, they showed Africa was one. All of this stuff meant a lot to different cultures. And while I thought some was weird and I wasn’t familiar with all of it, I still respected it because it means a lot to them. Some Africans don’t know about each other’s culture.

C: You can see how they tried as much as possible to make Wakanda look like one Africa—like the African continent, all the tribes, inside Wakanda. They tried to represent each in some way or some form. I don’t know detail of every tribe in Africa, but they tried their best and I give them credit for that. I really respect all the research from the producer, who is African-American. Very good research on the accents too. Not all were right, but the majority. I was impressed.

T: We kind of already touched on this, but what did you think about the costume and production design of the film?

D: (thumbs up)

W: Costume was great, showing all African countries in one. Technology used was so good. This movie had leading technology and it was great to be shown from an African-American producer.

C: I was proud. The details and costumes had to represent something in each part of the movie. It showed how proud they were. They didn’t show just Western clothes but were proud of wearing the African. I was happy. Also, it wasn’t typical of how they portray African-Americans with slavery, slavery, slavery. That’s why this movie is different. It’s still talked about, but it was not the main thing—it was the undertone that was deep. We’re just tired of that rhetoric every single time.

T: What do you think about combining and representing different African countries and tribes in the film to ultimately create the one fictional Wakanda?

D: It made people feel happy by picking not just one tribe because people can be happy that just some parts were shown—like my tribe was shown just one time but it still made me feel good and like I mattered. And they may not pick your tribe, but they may pick near you—like I matter somewhere, somehow.

W: People watching this movie, they kind of made Africans feel proud of who they are.

C: It also showed [the] beauty of Pan-Africanism. If you’re black anywhere in the world, you can still resonate with this movie—whether you’re from Nigeria, you’re African-American, or black in London. It’s all different, but we’re always going to be black to other people. But we have different cultures and that’s what the movie showed for me. It’s why I loved it so much.

T: What did you the think about the music in the film and how it incorporated different sounds from throughout Africa, including particular instruments and ceremonial outcalls?

W: For the talking drum, mostly used by the Yoruba people in Nigeria in ceremonies…the tone will be different for every emotion—so it was good for portraying that in a movie. I like that the Swedish guy (Ludwig Göransson) who did the score did his research; for portraying Africa, you need to do deep research. The music was great for every African aspect in it.

C: When I first heard the callouts in the movie, I did not think it was a Swedish guy doing it—I was shocked. I thought it was really good; I thought it was an African guy. That was fascinating. All of the instruments used really matched the scene. It was beautiful to listen to that. The Kendrick Lamar album—I wasn’t really happy because there’s so many talented African artists that are known globally that they didn’t think to include that could have been used. I was happy with the other things, but I think the album itself could have more African artists on it to empower the African artist and to show Africa in it. There were only like two African artists on it and they were both South Africans.

T: What did you think about the portrayal of African people? For some people, this movie meant a lot to them—but some people are basically saying, “Chill, it’s just another superhero movie.” How do you feel?

C: Watching the movie went very fast—a rollercoaster of emotions, thrilling to watch. But I felt proud being an African, and it made me realize Africa is not just my country, Nigeria. Originally, I wanted more Nigerian actors—but I realized there’s so much more. As Africans, we need to realize Africa is really big, and we should see the other countries in it and be proud of Africa. The movie showed Africa for me like it represented us, but I can’t say it represented my country. But I can say it represented Africa as a whole, so it was very exciting to watch it. The majority of comic book and superheroes flicks do not always represent certain groups so it is good to have one that really represents us on a bigger scale.

W: It is a movie full of emotions. In this movie, we were shown to be able to stand up to others who normally demonize us. … People call us monkeys—and I like that we can say we are not that, but we are regular people like you and can do what you do or actually better. It’s not just another superhero movie: it touches on every aspect of life, colonization, demonizing other people, families fighting—shows what really happens in life. It’s totally different from every other superhero movie. There’s always a villain and superhero, but there’s family and culture too. I love that.

T: Is there anything else you may like to add or wanted to talk about that I hadn’t mentioned?

C: To add to the last one, the movie showed what Africa would have been without colonization—we would have been a good nation as a whole. All African countries are great without colonization, if they didn’t come steal our resources and culture. We would have been a better continent, but it shows there's huge potential if we can work together and use what we have well. There is also an opportunity for African-Americans to come here and find a place where they are treated right and also help build a great continent.

W: (*mild spoiler*) When T’Challa went to say we have the resources that can help you—I like that because they didn’t portray the resources to be used as weapons. It can actually be used to help and heal. Africa is not just a place where you can go and take their things, but Africa is something you can learn from. Even in the museum, you can still learn from it and let it resonate in you.

Later, I got together with some devoted comic fans after they saw “Black Panther.”

T: Although Black Panther is new to some, especially a new hero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Black Panther has existed in comics for decades. How long have you been a fan of Black Panther comics?

Alejandro Hutchinson: Not as long as most, since I'm mostly a gamer and watcher of everything Marvel- or comic-related.

Vanelissa Vanna Cadet: I started reading Black Panther comics as a kid…not in order, which I should've done, but I’m going back to do it now.

Mary Elizabeth Price: I’ve been a fan of Black Panther for a few years now. I like his overall arc—the fact that he had so much power and wealth, yet his nation stayed true to their roots and traditions.

T: They actually tried to make a Black Panther movie in the '90s. Do you feel like the film is overdue considering Black Panther has been in the comics since the '60s? Why do you feel like it took so long?

M: Well, the MCU has only been successful for ten years now, I believe. The last films have been tests to see what works and what doesn’t—a.k.a. the new “Thor,” “Doctor Strange,” this.

V: I do not think that this movie was overdue…even though Black Panther has been around for so long. I think that because we were able to do it now, we had the social leverage of [black] people being involved and in control of so much. This movie couldn't have come at a more pivotal time. A movie based on an area that this nation's current president labelled as s***hole...mass blackness in all forms of media.

A: I don't think that they would have captured the full essence of Black Panther with how things were in the past because likely it would have been heavily white-washed, with the low saturation of black actors back then, and it might have ended up like a Green Lantern movie where it doesn't age well and everyone makes fun of it. So I think that it was good that it didn't come out when it did for the fact that you want to be proud of this movie in the future.

T: How do you feel the movie represented the character and comics overall?

M: I think it represented it well! We saw T’Challa’s ability to be a king [despite] his faults because no one is perfect! (*spoiler*) My gripe was the fact Klaw is dead. The failed mission to South Korea almost felt like too much of a failure. I feel like if you have these three BA warriors there, things would have gone smoother—at least a clean exit.

A: There were a lot of mirrored comic moments that hit hard, but the thing that I liked that they changed most was (*spoilers ahead*) making Killmonger a relevant fight for T'Challa—instead of a guy that he could just kill without accepting his challenge—by making them related by blood.

V: In the comics, Killmonger isn't related to T'Challa at all. He just appears as a random man that wants to take the throne to harness the power of the heart-shaped herb, but the fact that Killmonger was made T'Challa's unknown cousin, whose father was killed by T'Challa's father, brought a sense of unity and reason as to why Killmonger would behave this way. That was probably my favorite aspect of the movie. That actually gave us a reason as to why he would want to usurp the throne. It also gave us the plan of what he was going to do when he took the throne, and honestly, I struggled at being mad at Killmonger because what he was trying to do actually made sense and could be beneficial: aiding those who are less fortunate with the vast resources that you withhold and are hiding. Killmonger's point was so pivotal that T'Challa and the Wakandans actually listened and acted, which is what they had not been doing since the dawn of the nation. And can we just point out how amazing Michael B. Jordan portrayed this character? Like holy crap, he prepared well and did some amazing method acting. I want to personally thank Ryan Coogler and his crew because they perfected this excellence.

T: Is there anything you would like to add or talk about that I hadn’t mentioned?

V: The soundtrack is absolute fire!

T: (laughs)

V: That is all.

A: I just can’t wait to see what else they do with Black Panther’s abilities.

Conversations were edited for length and clarity.

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