An Afrocentric Discussion of Black Panther
Junious Ricardo Stanton
On Saturday afternoon on March 10 the Molefi Kete Asante Institute and Afrocentricity International held a discussion on the Black Panther movie at their headquarters 5535 Germantown Avenue. The multi-generation audience consisted of students, intellectuals, retirees and working folks.
The program included watching trailers of the film, listening to written critiques of the film, how propaganda is used and an open discussion regarding the positive and negative aspects of the superhero movie which has grossed over one billion dollars world wide in just four weeks.
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante the founder of the Afrocentricty movement, whose institute owns and operates the building where the program was held, began the program by reading critiques of the film by Maulana Karenga and himself. Nabeelah Bey also distributed her critique of the film. Dr Ama Mazamu began the open discussion about the film.
Dr. Mazamu began the dialogue by asking the audience to share what they liked about the film and what they thought were its most positive aspects. Comments ranged from how the film provided awesome visuals and optics about a fictional African nation in a manner never seen before in Hollywood productions. Several attendees mentioned the impact the film was having on pop culture, how it is generating interest in things African such as culture, history, fashions, natural hair styles and providing a catalyst for envisioning Africans beyond the stultifying Hollywood depictions of us by our oppressors. The portrayal of the women in the film, the talented actresses, richly hued strong females who did not acquiesce to Hollywood stereotypical behavior was also mentioned by several members of the audience. A few mentioned the film was spurring forums and discussions like this one that are fostering media literacy and analysis. Several expressed their pleasure the film is so successful.
When Dr. Mazamu asked about the negative aspects of the film, there were numerous opinions and observations shared and expressed by the attendees. One criticism was the film was not a true depiction of African governance; some disagreed with the film’s portrayal of leadership succession. They said the film was not consistent with Africa’s history. Several people felt the T’Challa character was weak. Several mentioned how despite her brilliance the Shuri character was disrespectful to her brother in one scene.
The most passionate conversation centered around the films messages, how it depicted: nationalism, self-determination, the role of Africans in the global liberation struggle particularly which point of view was more correct: Prince N’Jobu’s of King T’Chake. Prince N’Jobu was one of many spies Wakanda sent out to monitor what is going on around the world who was living in Oakland California (the home of the real life Black Panther Party) who witnessed the suffering of Black people around the world and wants to intervene using Wakandan technology, or King T’Chaka who wants to keep Wakanda inaccessible and uninvolved. During a fight King T’Chaka kills his brother N’Jobu who has a son Erik living in Oakland. T’Chaka returns to Wakanda but doesn’t bring N’Jobu’s body to Wakanda denying him a funeral and leaving his son abandoned. The unresolved options are presented to a second generation. Erik the son of N’Jobu has the same view as his father while T’Challa favors the policy of T’Chaka.
All the men are complex but the attendees expressed concerns regarding how N’Jobu and Erik’s interventionist/liberation views were presented in the film. It was noted both men were killed by family members: N’Jobu by his brother T’Chaka and Erik by his cousin T’Challa. Some saw this as not just anti-liberation, anti-nationalist propaganda but also a metaphor for the high levels of fratricide we are experiencing in our communities in this country.
Another hot button issue was the CIA agent Everett Ross character, one of only two whites in the film. It was pointed out to be successful Marvel needed the two white characters to attract white movie goers and they especially needed one of them to be a “good guy”. Almost everyone took exception to the fact the “good guy” was a CIA agent given the havoc the US CIA has wrecked on the continent of Africa. Someone asked how was it possible the CIA agent could fly advanced Wakandan airships?
It was a lively, respectful and extremely informative discussion. We realized Marvel Studio and Disney are not in the business of glorifying Africans, or telling our story. Their goal is to make money and continue building their cinematic universe with the help of a block buster film like Black Panther.
The final take away was African people must make and market our own films and tell our stories by tapping into the deep and rich reservoir of African history and culture for real models and lessons we can use to empower and elevate our people.