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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Black Panther celebrates black culture in all its glory

In a cinema filled with a stunning conglomeration of geles, bubas and rainbows of prints, Oxford’s Afro-Caribbean society gathered to watch the opening of Black Panther, complete with special guests and a Q&A panel.

The colours of the ‘traditional clothing’ dress code for the event at the Curzon cinema in Westgate soon blended with the film itself. The film began, and we woke up in a world of iridescent blossoms, a swirling purple sky, and an unforetold depiction of black beauty.

In Black Skins, White Masks, Frantz Fanon writes that narratives surrounding blackness are often reduced to “tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency… and slave-ships”. Black Panther completely defies and reshapes this image. Blackness is presented unashamedly in all its majesty.

Michael B. Jordan’s character, Eric, intellectually disarms a white academic on the history of several African artefacts, and he does so entirely in African American vernacular.

The dialogue, costume, and technology in Wakanda are not altered to appease the hegemonic ‘Western’ idea of what has been previously characterised as ‘savage’, ‘barbaric’ or ‘third-world’. The appreciation of black culture in Black Panther completely subverts a narrative in film that has for so long undermined black culture. Black viewers are finally able to see themselves empowered and not victims – our excellence and magic is esteemed, not diminished.

“The sunsets there are the most beautiful”, a young Eric is told by his father, in a fairy-tale-like fashion, about Wakanda, the fictional East African country in which Black Panther is predominantly set. Rachel Morrison’s cinematography delivers this truth. From the immense waterfalls and plains, to the technological advancement present in all the architecture, the landscape positively glitters.

Aside from the landscape, the human vision of black beauty also dominates the screen. The makeup of Lupita N’yongo, Danai Gurira and Letitia Wrights keeps us in awe throughout the film, and reflects the traditions unique to black women.

This celebration of both diasporic and African femme beauty culture dismantles the image of attractiveness which has previously dominated popular Western discourse.

While the excellence of black beauty has always existed, it is now with Black Panther that it is recognised in the mainstream.

However, it isn’t simply in their beauty that the women of Wakanda captivate us. Throughout the film, the men surrounding N’yongo and Gurira’s characters, presented with examples of their strength and intelligence, are left speechless, or physically kneel before them.

Okoye is the greatest warrior in Wakanda, Shuri is the mind who developed the most advanced technology in the world, and Nakia is a humanitarian who works tirelessly for those oppressed around the world.

The film is an ode to black women, and in it Afro-Caribbean communities will recognise the women in their own lives.

Black Panther is representative of a greater tradition of afro-futurism, which until now, has been hidden in the margins of culture. Whilst it is a milestone for the long-ignored to suddenly be entering the mainstream, it is important to remember the stories of Octavia E. Butler, the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the writings of Sun Ra. They are the foundation which Black Panther builds its excellency upon.

In his petition to get Marvel to donate 25 per cent of their profits to black communities, Chaz Gormley writes, “[you] have the ability… to not only go see a film about a fictitious country in Africa with advanced technology, but the opportunity to… make such advancements possible, in real life.”

The excellence of Black Panther is only the beginning of a larger revolution in our culture, not just in terms of the representation it provides, but the potential for real social change it contains.

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