The “Black Panther” Movie and Its Relationship to Real Problems

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March 18, 2018 By Mario Salas

By Mario Marcel Salas


          The blockbuster hit movie “Black Panther” has some real life lessons for Africans and blacks across the globe. In the movie, African women are a real source of power for the leader of the Kingdom of Wakanda. The prince in the movie, T’ Challa, needs the wisdom and strength of the African women around him, and they provide it in a way that is unforgettable. This is a positive and needed idea, for in many African countries, and ours included, women are still treated as objects or people of a lower status. The film encourages, in direct and subtle ways, the liberation of women on the African continent so that they may take their rightful place with dignity in the global movement to free women from ageless discrimination.

          Africa is an extremely complex continent where thousands of languages (3,000 by some counts) are spoken and cultures differ greatly. The lessons of the “Black Panther” movie indicate that ethnic differences must be put aside if the continent is to prosper. What is often ignored is that Europe itself went through a period of tribal warfare over cultural and religious differences. In areas of Africa where many cultures live in close proximately to one another there is a strong case to be made that unity is key for Africa as a whole to move forward. The producers of the movie apparently had unity in mind as they used as least ten different traditional dresses from ten different tribes for the characters and their dress. One of the tribes used was the Dogon people of West Africa. In an article by Chris Giles on CNN, he quotes Ruth E. Carter, a world renowned fashion designer when she says, “They were a big inspiration for me because they were like astronomers and they lived in this mountainous area of Africa," Carter is known for costume designs in the movies Malcolm X and Selma. In “Black Panther” she put her own spin on these cultures and costumes by making them futuristic.  

          The Dogon people of Mali (West Africa), are inhabitants that live northwest of Ghana and in mountainous areas. They were able to stay free from Islamic slavery but were subdued by brutal French colonialism. According to Wikipedia, and several other primary source documents, “The Dogon are strongly oriented toward harmony, which is reflected in many of their rituals. For instance, in one of their most important rituals, the women praise the men, the men thank the women, the young express appreciation for the old, and the old recognize the contributions of the young.”  Furthermore, and according to Dr. Kathy Forti, “According to one of their oldest legends, a race called the ‘Nommos’ visited the Earth from the star Sirius . . . . . The Dogon learned from the Nommos that there was a companion star . . . where the Nommos came from. They landed on Earth in an ‘ark’ that made a spinning decent  . . . .” We can see much of the movie is rooted in these African belief systems.        

           All of this wonderful imagery and cultural awareness in the film comes against the backdrop of President’s Donald Trump’s racist remarks about African countries, calling them “shithole countries.” African people and countries were infuriated, especially since it was European colonialism and imperialism that destroyed African culture and created many of the tribal divisions we see today. Donald Trump tried to erase the horror of past rotten European policies that enslaved millions and drew lines on maps in Africa to divide people. The movie is mostly fiction with a heavy reliance on reality. Interestingly, Black Panther was developed from the creators of Marvel Comics, which I devoured as a child. The realism of the movie comes in the form of renewed racism in this country since Trump was elected and the fight back by civil and human rights groups. There has been a great increase in the number of hate groups, thanks to Trump, operating across the USA, which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) now numbers 954.

          The movement against racism in the United States is a complex issue as well. American  institutions and the historical development of this country was based black slavery and white supremacy. Hidden figures and hidden histories are still a major problem in teaching American history. The stories, accomplishments, inventions, and the building of America by people of color are still being excluded from mainstream education in public schools, colleges, and universities.  In every book, across all of the disciplines, major omissions of contributions of black, brown, and other people of color is severely lacking. The development of a black super hero, though fictional, allows us  the opportunity to review and incorporate in our learning those real heroes across the world that are fighting against racism and social injustice in Africa, and the United States. We are inspired by the movie to know more about Fannie Lou Hamer, Nelson Mandela, Fred Shuttlesworth, Ella Baker,  SNCC, the original Black Panthers, Amilcar Cabral, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Daisy Bates, Yaa Asantewaa,  Patrice Lumumba, Robert Williams, Kwame Nkrumah, and so many other real life super heroes.

Written by

Mario Salas