A Guide to Black Cinema – Part 6: ‘Wakanda Forever’

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Guide to Black Cinema – Part 6: Wakanda Forever

“Just because something works, doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”

 

 

Last night I was privy to a screening of Marvel Studios’ newest feature, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, the long-awaited sequel to 2018’s game-changing blockbuster, Black Panther. The new film depicts the fictionalised African nation of Wakanda suffering a bout of mourning since the death of their king, T’Challa, whilst the secret oceanic Mayan nation of Talocan surfaces to challenge the Wakandans indefinitely.

 

It’s an understatement to say I was excited for this film. I initially noted the original movie was a gamechanger and that’s not only in terms of how it world-built and layered itself into the ever-expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe, but more specifically in what it brought to the overarching format of Black cinema and how much influence this film has had on Black storytelling in popular media. Now, I lied when I said I would never bring up this moment in award’s show history again, but, oh well, here we are… at the 91st Academy Awards, white-on-Black movie, Green Book, not only robbed Spike Lee’s deserving BlacKkKlansman of the win, but also stole the title from another notable nominee – yes, you guessed it – Black Panther.

 

The Black science fiction blockbuster still, to this day, remains the only Marvel movie, nay superhero movie, to be awarded a nomination for Best Picture at the highly prestigious Oscars. And before you say anything, no, I don’t think Black Panther should have won (but it sure as hell should have had a better chance than Green Book). Black Panther is not immune to the constant pitfalls of a Marvel Studios production, what with shoddy visual effects and questionable narrative decisions. And despite those being understandable criticisms that even I strongly agree with, I don’t think any of them are truly important when discussing why Black Panther is quite possibly the most influential superhero movie of our age and, hence, deserving of its honouree nomination by the Academy.

 

See, Black Panther and its sequel are notable for their popularisation and acclaimed use of the typically unknown genre of Afrofuturism, an art movement that depicts broad sci-fi fantasy concepts and futurism-based philosophies from the perspective of Black creators and artists-of-colour. The term Afrofuturism was coined in 1993 by American Cultural critic, Mark Dery. However, Afrofuturism had long been entrenched in the global cultures of African diaspora, like with fiction writers, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler, artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and musicians like Sun Ra. The common thread of these artists and writers led to innovative, cosmic and advanced illustrations of futures where Black people and P.O.C.’s safely exist and, most commonly, thrive.

 

So, can you see where Black Panther then fits into all this?

 

For Black people, Black Panther and the world it crafts is an absolute dream – a dream of the future – where not only is an African nation one of the world’s leading superpowers, but it thrives off highly-advanced and futuristic technology. Black Panther and its sequel are sci-fi fantasies spotlighting themes of futurism and hope for Black people globally. Black Panther makes it important to note that Afrofuturism isn’t just badass Black superheroes and hidden cities powered by cosmic stones. No. Afrofuturism is also a means for Black people to perceive and predict hopeful and liberating futures where they not only safely exist but also, of course, are thriving.

 

And sometimes the best way to predict your future and see where the world is leading is to dig deeper into the past…

 

Afrofuturism and the artists who follow this movement are known to primarily pull inspiration from legacy, heritage and past generational traumas. The art movement is just as much backwards thinking as it is forwards. It not only engrains itself in African culture for those across the globe facing a disconnect from their ethnic identity, but then empowers that African culture with sci-fi tropes commonly associated with white characters and their survival of apocalyptic events and dystopian worlds. The struggles white sci-fi characters face in these otherworldly fictions are real struggles felt by Black people in their day-to-day; it is easy to see Black people in these fictions because we have faced these struggles in our past and present. Afrofuturism makes it not only important that, like white people have been in fiction for decades, Black people too have a place in the world’s future as does our marginalised cultures. Importantly, Black Panther works African rituals, tools and hierarchies into its sci-fi elements as to show the everlasting immortality of African tradition and its ability to meld smoothly into the world of tomorrow.

 

Black Panther as a film series also works primarily to highlight themes on legacy, heritage and generational trauma, beyond just the Afrofuturism cultural aesthetic. The original film and its sequel are, more than anything, films highly concerned with legacy and the passing of mantles, from T’Chaka to T’Challa to Shuri. And sure, T’Challa passing his Black Panther mantle to Shuri was only a narrative point due to Chadwick Boseman’s tragic real-life passing, but Wakanda Forever works this storyline in with ease. This passing of a superhero role from one Black individual to another aligns perfectly with themes of Afrofuturism; it ensures there is an inherent means of hope found in the everlasting exchange of Black power. Legacy is used to prove Black power lives – that the Black Panther lives. Heritage and generational trauma is meanwhile used in Black Panther to remind the characters of where they come from and how much their past and family lineage impacts their forming of an identity and their future decision-making. T’Challa, Shuri and their cousin, Killmonger, all fall victim to the values, sins and sufferings of their parents, forcing them to forge their own paths whilst also absorbing and acting on the good merits of their lineage. Afrofuturism summarises that the bright future ahead for Black and P.O.C.’s is only attainable when we can make peace with our traumatic pasts and keep moving forward whilst being fuelled by the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

So… you’re probably wondering what I thought of Wakanda Forever, aren’t you? Well, I thought it was pretty great. Despite technical mishaps and pacing issues, it built perfectly off the original and continued its themes swimmingly. I loved the film’s inclusion of Talocan and its representation of Mayan culture, reminding audiences Black cinema isn’t exclusive to those of African descent and various P.O.C.’s are also crucially in need of the spotlight. But most of all, I highly appreciated the film’s honouree send off to Boseman and how his death was compassionately worked into the script… because that’s what Afrofuturism is.

 

We have talked so much about the hideous past of Black cinema in Hollywood and the few auteurs like Spike Lee and Donald Glover bringing the artform into the present with genres like Afro-surrealism to cover it, but here, now, staring into Black cinema’s future with Wakanda Forever is special. When Boseman died, director, Ryan Coogler, could have just recast and kept the original script. But he didn’t. He rewrote it. He took traumatic, tragic events of the past and reworked it into something new. He depicted a future beyond said tragedy – a future built off legacy, heritage and trauma – and he made both a respectful tribute to his friend and colleague and an exciting depiction of a future worth fighting for.

 

You see, the world keeps turning no matter what. Horrible things happen every day. Being Black is unreal, both in a good and bad way, but Black cinema is an avenue to express it all. It’s crucial to our development, understanding and coping of an unjust, odd little world. We dabble so much in our troublesome past to make sense of a muggy present in order to view an exciting future more clearly. And that future is for all of us. For every broken, disconnected person who views Wakanda as a synecdoche of Africa, their culture and their identity. Wakanda is, of course, forever.

 

 

Read Parts 1 – 5  of Nahum’s series Here

 

 

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Comments

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