Every other person I meet wants to identify themselves as Wakandan after watching Black Panther. In around 7 weeks after the movie’s world premiere, it has netted sales of over a billion dollars. People are excited about having a black superhero clearly, and the positive way Africa has been shown.
One of the reasons the movie has resonated well with most Africans within and beyond the continent is the movie’s depiction of the continent and its wholesome inclusion. Time and again, you will see movies that have been shot in Africa, but they don’t always depict Africa in good light. More often than not, they end up displaying the hunger-stricken, poverty-blanketed continent. They forget –or intentionally overlook, the rich culture and the awe-striking sites. Black Panther knew where to strike the nail, they did not just show Africans as advanced beings with equal opportunities as anyone in any other part of the globe, they also used true African culture in almost every scene. Here is what you can pick out from the movie’s cultural base.
Xhosa, the people, and the language
The Xhosa are a Bantu ethnic group from Southern Africa though they can be prevalently found in Southern, Eastern and Central Africa. The language spoken by the Xhosa is also called Xhosa and is recognized as a national language in Zimbabwe.
The fictional country of Wakanda also uses this language as their ethnic language, but their language also borrows from other African ethnic languages such as Swahili.
Danai Gurira fits her role as leader of the Dora Milanje like a glove. The Dora Milanje are an all-female royal protection unit. They are beautiful, they are African, but more than that, they are fearsome. They are also very loyal and will fight to the death to protect the king of Wakanda. They are an extrapolation of the Dahomey warriors from West Africa’s Benin. They can be traced to around the 17th Century and historians say they were formidable warriors who waged war against Western colonizers specifically the French. The westerners called them the ‘Dahomey Amazons.’
It would have been a real shame if the Kenyan culture would’ve been left out. I know this view is subjective, and one may argue we had Lupita Nyong’o in a major role, but still…
One of the scenes where Maasai culture could clearly be captioned was at the first battle between T’Chala and the leader of the Jabari tribe. Maasai warriors could be seen standing guard behind one of the female elders. The red shuka is distinct from their attire, and though in the aforementioned scene they did not have their trademark spears, you can still tell it’s the Maasai.
Maasai ornaments, especially neckpieces were also used throughout the movie.
One of the most eye-catching cultures in the movie is a man in the throne room with a plate on his lip (that old man was stylish too!) The movie borrowed that from the Mursi community of Ethiopia. However, the plate is usually inserted in young girls and women, and not men. From their teenage years, Mursi girls are pierced on the lower lip and a small plate is inserted until the lip heals. Once healed, the women can either choose to remove the plate and stay without one, or they can increase the size of the piercing by inserting a bigger plate. Many of them choose the latter.
Isicolo Head Piece
Angela Basset is an amazing actress who once again shows her wit and camera wisdom as she plays Queen Ramonda and T’Chala’s mother. She enters her first scene with a huge head disc ornament on her head. The disc is called an isicolo and is adapted from South Africa’s Zulu community.
The Isicolo is worn by married women, with the diameter of the disc varying from one subtribe to another. Some isicolos can measure up to a meter in diameter.
The Basotho are a tribe in Lesotho, one of the few countries that experience winter seasons in Africa. In the movie, the tribe led by David Kaluuya assimilates the Basotho and disguises themselves as humble farmers while they are formidable warriors. One of the key points of resemblance is the blanket used by the movie’s tribe to mask their weapons. The Basotho use similar blankets, but unlike in the movie, they use them to keep warm during the cold season.
Wakandan text may look like it’s all novel and made up, but it draws a lot from the Nsibidi in Nigeria. Though the Nsibidi language has almost been phased out through colonization, the movie still picked it up and executed it with perfection.
Golden Neck rings
The Dora Milanje have distinct neck rings that cover the whole neck. The concept was picked up from the Ndebele community, who are prevalently found in South Africa.
One of the female elders from the movie has distinct locks that are puffed at the end. The movie picked this up from the ovaHimba community which is located in the Namibian deserts. The ovaHimba use otjize paste while twisting their hair. The paste is made from butter, red ochre, fat and herbal aromatics.
Towards the end of the movie, King T’Chala is seen with a stylish Kente Scarf. The scarf is inspired by Ghana’s kente and the fabric is known to originate from Akan, in Ashanti, Ghana. Though the scarf has found its way to the masses, it was originally reserved for the region’s royalty and was worn on special occasions.
In one of the early scenes, Killmonger steals a long-horned mask from a London museum. The mask is adapted from the Igbo community in Nigeria and the name of the mask, Mgbedike translates to ‘time of the brave.’
The movie did have some inconsistencies too, one of them being an improper mix of different languages. For instance, when M’Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe, challenges T’chala for kingship and the title of the Black Panther, there are a few instances when he has a distinct Nigerian accent –the trademark ‘oo’ at the end of a word, but the word Jabari is Swahili.
When you put all factors into play, Black Panther was the first big movie to depict Africa in a positive light and we can only hope other movies will follow suit.