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Black Panther bringing Afrofuturism into the mainstream marks the start of a revolution

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Black Panther has garnered immense anticipation, fantastic early reviews and most importantly, great excitement as to what its release means for the future of black representation in Hollywood. Part of why it’s drawn such attention is due to its being celebrated as a seminal Afrofuturistic work, and the most visible one thus far.

Put rather simply, Afrofuturism is speculative fiction, written from an Afrocentric perspective. It allows the ramifications of colonialism, racism, and the African diaspora to be explored through a fusion of alternative history, mysticism and magical realism, Egyptian and non-Western mythologies, and science-fiction.

The movement’s proud resurgence in the past few years, embodied in a new generation of recording artists that include Janelle Monáe and Solange, in both their music and fashion, but also in literary fiction, visual art, and other mediums, was retrospectively inevitable.

Ytasha L. Womack points out that “with the diversity of the nation and world increasingly standing in stark contrast to the diversity in futuristic works, it’s no surprise that Afrofuturism emerged”. It places Blackness in the future, something from which it has long been excluded.

Afrofuturism rejects the idea of black pain as a core theme, or the belief held by the entertainment industry that black empowerment projects must focus on their struggle and torment, from slavery to urban poverty, or whatever else is believed to equate representation.

Instead it was born out of the need to empower black people not by what was, but rather by what could be. It shows individuals capable of freedom, happiness, success and excellence, an exposition of what can be, giving inspiration as to what the future can potentially look like.  

It’s why Black Panther goes far beyond just seeing T’Challa emerge from Captain America: Civil War with his own movie, making it the first major comic book adaptation to be made by and for a black demographic since Blade in 1998. Its Afrofuturist design allows it to transcend even the highest-grossing movie franchise in history.

When a fictional Africa is illustrated on screen, it almost always falls prey to ignorant stereotypes that paint the continent as poverty-stricken and war-torn. Black Panther opts instead to highlight the world of Wakanda, the most technologically advanced nation in the world, featuring some of the most evolved technology seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Wakanda represents what Africa could have been, unaffected by Western imperialism, white supremacy, or capitalism. Science-fiction author Nalo Hopkinson applauds Black Panther for its African context: “When we talk about Afrofuturism, the last thing we think of, if at all, are people from the continent… It’s in the damn title.”

“To have something with this broad a reach be positively African and knowledgeably African,” Hopkinson continues of Black Panther, “there is no way to calculate how vital that is, because we are so badly represented… it’s showing us not only as we know ourselves to be, but as we storify ourselves.”

With its setting, characters, and story, and in the current socio-political climate of intolerance and discrimination, the film’s very existence is a resistance. Crucially, ‘Black Panther’ was not an alter ego, but rather the Wakandan title for King T’Challa, meaning that Black Panther was not some mere alternative to a black man, he was him.

It created a vision of black grandeur, a man who was strong and educated, and wholly a product of his African environment, history, and legacy. Black Panther heralds far more than a superhero of colour; it brings with it a revolution intrinsic to its Afrofuturism.

Black Panther is in cinemas now, distributed by The Walt Disney Studios.

 

 

 

 

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