Reviewing Marvel Studio’s Black Panther film for contemporary Africa

According to the Anthropology of Black Panther, “the fictional kingdom of Wakanda is portrayed as a hidden utopia. Wakanda’s technological advancement is conveyed through images of a soaring, other-worldly city-scape and futuristic technological wonders. This imagery overturns a long history of portraying Africa as lagging behind the West. Wakanda’s magnificent allure, however, is not solely located in skyscrapers and maglev transportation. The film is rich with traditional African images, symbols, and social forms.”

These were the same views held by the public dialogue on Black Panther and Contemporary Pan-Africanism, on Monday, 26 August 2019. The conversation, was in partnership between UJ’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation (IPATC) in collaboration with the Institute for Global African Affairs (IGAA), UJ Library and the UJ Film School.

The audience learned within the first few minutes of the film that this movie is a thrilling work of action adventure. It showcased certain stereotypes about Africa’s primitiveness, feudal hierarchy, male chauvinism and the perception that Africa is backward whilst also highlighting the role of women and gender equality at play.

In a panel discussion, Prof Tshilidzi Marwala, UJ’s Vice-Chancellor & Principal, said young people should lead and influence global events. “This Wakanda kingdom depends on one technology, the vibranium, and it is this technology that protects it from hostile forces. Any nation that depends on a single technology for its protection is in trouble. As we reflect on this movie, let us think about how we are going to overthrow the concept that makes African countries consumers of technology rather than producers.”

“This movie brings a painful reality of betrayal in our community that persist until today. Perhaps, I should reflect this time about slavery where our brothers and sisters were sent to the Americas. Why did this happen, to the extent that it did? Firstly, it was because we had not mastered the necessary technology to defend ourselves. Secondly, it was because we were divided into small ethnic formations. With unity, slavery would not have happened to the extent that it did. Unfortunately, disunity and ethnic chauvinism in all their manifestations are still the demons that we still need to defeat,” explained Prof Marwala.

During the dialogue, members of the panel included Prof Dilip Menon, Centre of Indian Studies in Africa and Prof Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director: Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation, contemplated that this latest big-screen superhero story is a subversive and uproarious action-adventure, in which African stereotypes are upended and history is rewritten.

“The configuration of our nation states is such that the “national question” still needs to be resolved. How do we achieve this? Firstly, we need to connect with one another both in Africa and in the diaspora.”

The panel concluded by saying: “we need to work hard to ensure that we bring education, not certification into our communities. We need to connect Africa and the diaspora to increase the size of the market we offer to the world and, thereby, improve our well-being. We need to open up to other communities to learn what makes their communities work. We need to move away from factionalism and narrow nationalism and form a strong Pan-African block to increase our market size. We need to create technology, not dream about technologies that will never exist. We need to increase Africa and the diaspora trade. All these will be possible only if we educate our people and therefore “seek ye education first and the rest shall follow.”

Prof Tshilidzi Marwala


prof dilip menon
Prof Prof Dilip Menon
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