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“Black Panther”: Pan-Africanism on Screen – by Eleanya Ndukwe, Jr.

Since “Black Panther” premiered in Los Angeles in January, and its theatrical release in the United States on February 16th—actually, if truth be told, even before then—till the day I saw it on the 22nd, there had been conscious efforts to dodge every “review,” “spoiler,” hash-tags with “Wakanda,” “BlackPanther” and likes. Reason: I wanted to go to the movie theatre with an “unadulterated” mind; one not coloured through the prisms of subjective and secondary analyses.

While the anticipation grew to go see “Black Panther” almost to the point of hysteria, my mind had started playing tricks on me about what I’d wear to the “occasion” as this was something out of the ordinary. My attire was definitely going to be heavily influenced by whatever cultural ideology —culture, you bet, wasn’t to be missed—I so desired.

What could be more appealing than the Abiriba cultural attire? I thought. So, out came my Ọkara from the farthest side of my box, Pop’s “Kpọmkpọm,” designed as a two- piece intertwined cultural clothing worn around the waist girdle-like in style came aboard, cuff-links followed suit, tie, my favourite white shirt, perhaps as a symbol of purity and innocence joined the clique, shoe, and the “Nnweyi Ikputu”
were all summoned. I was set—for “Black Panther.”

The excitement was building.
We got to the theatre. Pops mentioned we would be seeing “Black Panther” in “3D.” I couldn’t wait. My anticipation had bubbled over, especially with me in my Abiriba attire and an unmissable ‘heightened’ African swagger to my newly acquired footsteps.

I sat.
And it began!
It was Robin Walker who in his timeless book, “When We Ruled: The Ancient and Medieval History of Black Civilisations,” wrote about the past, historical domination of Africa during the early centuries pre-colonization, while de-bunking the western-propagated agenda of a historically- bereft Africa before the coming of “colonizers,” of which a few of its excerpts can be found here

Thus, laying credence to the works of such educationalists and historians as Chancellor Williams, Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Cheikh Anta Diop; activists as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X; and even literary icons as Amiri Baraka, Chinua Achebe, James Baldwin, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o and others that Africa’s history did not begin with the barbaric invasion and intrusion of colonialism, or trading of Africans but rather, as a certain sage aptly captures it, it was “interrupted” by it.

It is against this backdrop that “Black Panther” takes centre stage as A) A futuristic projection of African dominance in global politics, technology and medicine.
B.) An aesthetic representation of African livelihood and ideologies before colonialism—and some which continue to take hold of its citizens till date.

A lot of negative “reviews” have largely stemmed from the reactions to the character of the villain, Erik Killmonger. But even that, is a depiction of the “Black” man’s struggle in America: the child without a father figure, son left to find his place in a rudder-less world, the forgotten, the broken, the lost! The same way one could argue about how different world history would have read had Africa “colonised” other continents, tribes and regions. The resolution of “Black Panther’s” conflict therefore puts into perspective the fact that ambition—no matter how worthy or Pan-Africanist in quest—is not justifiable on the altar of colonialism, political and economic enslavement of “perceived” weaker nations especially while annihilating one’s own and going as far as abandoning African ideologies.

Alluringly, the richness to a work of art—visual—plays to the aesthetic introductions exhibited. If there was a need for a keen attention to details of African traditions, cultural identities, and ideologies, “Black Panther” nailed it.
And I list a few, among the numerous: Parental guide, spiritual and emotional support of the African as core, deeply embedded trait in the African family tradition stays true to this movie. Queen Ramonda remains eternally present and relevant in offering support, guide, and
even medical interventions to his son via the richest “pharmaceutical” invention known to us: Herbs. Her eternal line to T’Challa “My son, it is your time,” buttresses this point.

Much more, there is the dominant, progressive role played by other female characters from Army General and tactical, patriotic spear-wielding Okoye—whose epic line “Wakanda Forever” resonates—to super spy Nakia to tech genius Shuri taking back to the ideological empowerment format of the African heritage which produced such prominent figures as Queen Anna Nzinga, Queen Amina Sukhera of Zaria, Princess Nandi Zulu, Commander Yaa Asantewa, Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, Miriam Makeba, Queen Tiye, Queen Neithhotep and more. Thus, not pandering to patriarchal entitlements of modern society and so-called civilisation, but understanding the role, importance and relevance of the African Goddess both in the formation of life, politics, and advancement of societal goals. In this regard do we see “ancient” civilisation as acknowledging the woman as the God of creation, survival, and dominance; and reinforcing the need for feminism, gender equality and most importantly in this new age, women empowerment!

The costume designing in “Black Panther” would bring this truth even further. The famous drapes usually gracing Nigerian attires are not missed; the lip and ear plate modifications of the Surma and Mursi body tribes of Ethiopia; the Ndebele neck rings and laces largely
synonymous with the South Africans and Zimbabweans; the Ethiopian and Sudanese tribes-inspired body tattoos; Maasai-inspired ornaments and dressings of the Tanzanian and Kenyan people; the Mgbedike masks of the Igbo, Eastern Nigeria tribe; the Lesotho blankets; the “otjize” paste reminiscent of the Northwestern Himba people of Namibia; the Tuareg scarfs of the North and West Africans;
the Agbada largely worn by those of North and West Africans; the Dogon attires of the Mali people; the tiny, multi-coloured neck beads worn by Kenya’s Turkana people etc.

Just as unique as the costumes are, the languages utilised in “Black Panther” enchant even more. Language as an extensive form of communication/dissemination of information in the movie heightens the consciousness of Pan-Africanism in “Black Panther” using Nsibidi and the Xhosa languages.

Nsibidi is comprised of both logo-graphic symbols, as words and morphemes, and an ideographic set-up, as such, a representation of ideas and concepts known to the indigenous Ejagham (Ekoi) people in present day Cross River State, Calabar, Nigeria. It was adopted by their Efik, Ibibio, Anang and Igbo neighbours (Abiriba, Bende, Igbere,
Edda, Arochukwu, and Afikpo) through the interpersonal relationships bordering on socio-economic integration and by a stretch of political domination cum communal clashes.

According to archaeological findings of ceramic artefacts with such inscriptions on them, Nsibidi dates between at least 4000-5000 BCE; totally devoid of Arabic and Latin precursors. However, some unique Ikom, Nigeria monoliths with Nsibidi writings were found to date back to 2000 BC.
This makes it one of the oldest written languages in world history and emphatically refutes the idea that oral tradition was the only means of communication employed by Africans —Nigerians in this case—before the advent of the British colonising monsters.

As imperialism and slavery took root in Africa, through the Atlantic Slave Trade, Nsibidi was exported by the African slaves to the Caribbean where it developed into the anaforuana and veve symbols and can be found till date in Cuba, Venezuela, Jamaica, Haiti, and even Brazil. While recent history claims that the Nsibidi language and writing is almost going extinct, it has been recognised too that some clans and tribes in Eastern Nigeria, mainly the Efik, Ibibio, Ohafia, Abiriba, Arochukwu, Ebonyi and even Southern reaches of Cameroon still use this esoteric, mystical language as a communication format through the societal fraternity known as Ekpe.

Xhosa—the endearing “click click language,” so named for its ‘click’ consonants’ at pronunciation—is a Bantu language spoken by over 19 million people in Southern Africa. Nations like Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, and Lesotho are heavy users.
Archaeological findings reveal that the Xhosa-speaking people have lived in the Eastern Cape region since the 7th century AD as descendants of the Bantu, originally from present day Cameroon and Nigeria while another record posits that Xhosa has existed since before the 16th century.

Juxtaposing the usage of the Nsibidi and Xhosa languages in “Black Panther” and relative global history, one can note, regrettably, that in colonialism and western imperialism, Africa lost one of the most unifying factors of civilisation—language. Just as we did with spirituality, cultural practices etc. “The white man is very clever…he has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart,” the eternal novelist, essayist and poet Chinua Achebe aptly
captures this vanquishment in his classic “Things Fall Apart.”

As with the language culture being a unique trait of mother-land Africans, so is art. Africans are first recognised and portrayed on the basis of their unique art ideologies.
These identities are portrayed through the traditional garbs, rhythmic fusion of murals covering backgrounds across most scenes, exploring the richness of African art, its place in pre colonial times, continuous relevance and consciousness. Speaking of “Art,” “Black Panther” zeroes in on the failures of Africa while highlighting the massive exploitations perpetrated by the West. For instance, the scene where Killmonger appears in a London art gallery depicts the Art plunders that have become the bane of African Art the world over. I wrote about this problem some time ago and can be found here

Critically, one must factor in the notion of rejecting “immigrants” into “Wakanda” as pandering to racism. As such, would Africa be a dominant continent for all forms of civilisation if she rejected/rejects migration, border crossings and voyages from “foreigners?” This, “Black Panther” credibly dealt with, with T’Challa acknowledging the role to be played by his “nation” in treating an ailing CIA agent Ross while waging war against his cousin Killmonger. Subliminal in tone, but equally forceful in portrayal is how it depicts the effects of the madness of current global crises of wars, persecutions, and terrorisms
vis-à-vis migration, asylum requests and the need for borders of nation-states to be opened to refugees or refusing to give aides through the sheer boundless possibilities of the symbolic resource “Vibranium”—representing the massive, vast, limitless potentials of Africa ‘s numerous natural resources.

Does this justify and fulfil the promises of its needs or merits? T’Challa answers in one of the credits scenes: “Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows….We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters of this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all
know the truth: more connects us than separates us. … We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

Perhaps as a rebuttal to the foreign policies of the major world powers in their respective foreign policies or at least, an allegory for the recognition of the self-acclaimed “greatest nation on earth’s” failure, T’Challa advises, “In times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers.”
It might interest you to replace “barriers” with “walls,” for better and easier relativity.

If building “bridges” is T’Challa’s goals, then on its metaphoric base dwells the platform on which the greatest act of dehumanization, the Atlantic slave trade, transpired— the ocean. Africans were traded across the American continent as lesser animals to face even greater acts of inhumanity for the sake of racism. African ancestors bled, had their bodies torn limb from limb, raped, slaughtered, lynched for the bloodthirsty spite of their western plunderers. Some entertained hope—no matter how infinitesimal—of a future where they would be treated or at least regarded as equal, or maybe more than lesser animals. They kept the faith.

But a few select souls would rather embrace death as their ultimate redemption than be sold into slavery. Those were the Igbos, of present day South-eastern Nigeria. It was May 1803. At the Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia, they seized their ship, overpowered and drowned their captors, and as a verified account of the tragic event recounts, led by their spiritual leader with
raised vocals on a war-like song of courage; of defiance; of homecoming, marched to the sea, hand in hand, forever in brotherhood’s solidarity, they committed one of the largest mass suicides in America’s history of slavery. The historic site is known today as Igbo Landing.

Erik Killmonger seems to allude to this historic happenstance in his final moment when he quips, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ships, ‘cause they knew death was better than bondage.”
Constant recurrence in “Black Panther” is the minor theme of communication between the living and the dead—a major African ideology about the place of deep connection between those still in the physical realm and their ancestors. For guidance. For inspiration. For peace. Thus, Killmonger finds peace in reconnecting with his ancestors which had eluded him in life, but not in death.

Not to forget though, the directorial prowess and tight-knit script written by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole; the cast starring Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Andy Serkis, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke; and the awe-laden, Pan-African-inspiring costumes designed by the super creative Ruth E.
Carter more than delivered. My number is on a few personalities from the “Black Panther” cast and crew to win next year’s major awards.

In the end, “Black Panther” is one of those classics that cannot be exhausted in one “review” as every scene, sequence, character’s arc, major and minor themes all build on to something bigger. Something almost unexplainable.
Something complete justice would arguably never be done to by way of exposé.

This is my opinion. Whatever you make of “Black Panther,” there is no denying the fact that, in this Information Age, the consciousness for Pan-Africanism is taking a more forceful root and “Black Panther” has only added to this movement.
Shamefully, the only failure I can perceive of “Black Panther” is perhaps the irrepressible tragic feeling that it may not be enough to arouse the slumbering political “leaders” littered all over Africa who clearly lack the political will to bring the “futuristic” potentials of “Wakanda” to fruition.

But like Somali-Canadian artiste K’naan expresses hope in his audacious “Waving Flag,” I patiently wait for that fateful day, when I will be able to say assuredly, like Okoye, “We are Home!”

P.S.: all pictures featured on this piece were sourced from different websites on the internet. Therefore, all copyright laws are duly acknowledged with no intent, whatsoever, to infringe on the creative rights of the original owners.

#WakandaForever #BlackPanther #Africa #TheNewMind

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