Hollywood and Western cinema at large have long reduced their portrayal of Africa to either backwardness and Safari, bloody conflict and violence, misery and poverty, not to mention disease and hypersex – cue Bloody Diamonds, Black Hawk Down, Hotel Rwanda, Outbreak, and most recently the 2015 Beasts of No Nation.
Even in movies such as Independence Day and Casino Royale Hollywood’s penchant to stereotype Africa as uncivilized made it into some scenes.
The unwritten rule perhaps is that a realistic and positive portrayal of Africa or any afrocentric film, would (ahem) be unrealistic and unbelievable, but most of all unprofitable.
Prior to Black Panther, writes Tom Brueggemann on IndieWire: “the biggest-grossing film with a black ensemble cast was Straight Outta Compton (adjusted: $180 million domestic). The two films with black leads that grossed over $500 million adjusted, Beverly Hills Cop and Men in Black, were more than a quarter century ago. And, there was the eternal concern over overseas performance.”
He adds: “At some level, this fear became self-fulfilling prophecy. Resources weren’t allocated to worthy directors and actors, so nothing could disprove the theory.”
Well, as many including Brueggemann are now reporting, Black Panther will not only be one of the top-grossing films of 2018, it is also set to be one of the most profitable.
This epic movie-of the-year so far, also not only intellectually engages its viewers but puts or should put an end to all form of clichés and the negative pigeonholing of Africa and its people, that has been standard in Hollywood for time immemorial. It is clear that Black Panther makers were determined to get things right.
To many Africans and black Americans Black Panther is therefore more than just Hollywood hit film. It’s a game-changer, or at least it should be – and for many reasons.
“Black Panther is more than just another blockbuster; it is a cultural moment. Wakanda could be a visualisation of that black utopia pan-Africanists have dreamed of,” wrote Steve Rose for his UK Guardian review in which he also quotes Tyree Boyd-Pates, a Los Angeles-based writer on African-American culture who says:
“Black Panther is the beautiful aesthetic climax of just that ideology. That paradigm of black people that exceeds the expectations of white civilisation, that places black people in a place similar in their minds to what they always felt they were robbed of, and connects them back to the motherland in a way no colonial effort could ever undermine.” – New Africa Magazine
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