Black Panther and the Commodification of Africa


An old adage attributed to Kenya’s founding president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta assert the following:

“When the missionaries arrived (in Africa), Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us how to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible.”

Nothing epitomizes the above better than Africa’s new found passion, say, exuberance for the movie Black Panther. unbeknown to most of us, as we shut our eyes to let the admiration (of the movie) settle in,  Hollywood has succeeded in a ruthless commodification and commercialization of Africanism. Or perhaps, put differently, the movie has reawakened African pride in Africanism. But why?

A movie is an powerful platform that can alter the narrative of a given society for generations. In the African traditional society, children were taught about their community through narratives in the form of folktales, proverbs, music, and storytelling. It is for this reason that we must interrogate the narrative inherent in Black Panther and how it shapes the African path to a future of self reliance.

Black Panther, while made up of an entire black cast (which is a good thing), does not create an iota of consciousness, within Africans,  rooted in traditions and culture. In the end, the movie is an important learning aid for Americans, and not Africans. The central threads that sew  movie together are ethnicity and tribalism; yet, as we express this reawakening of African psyche, the reality is that we have thrown out our traditions and ways of Africa as thought by our forefathers, and embraced a kind of civilization that thinks everything African is sub standard.

At the same time, African women do not need an imagination of greatness anchored in a futuristic movie for them to be any better. African women have occupied positions of power. They have broken the  Clintonian highest-hardest glass ceiling: Wangu wa Makeri, Mekatiliti wa Menza, Sirleaf Johnson among many others come to mind. This does not in any way that women are invisible in a patriarchal African society.

Black Panther imagines a kingdom in Africa that was never colonized. Within Africa, Ethiopia and Liberia were never colonized. Put it a different way, South Africa attained independence many years  after the African scramble. Is South Africa not one of the most advanced countries in Africa! Did colonialism or lack of it influence the destiny of African countries, or have Africans contributed in many ways, to the continents subjugation!

Part of Black Panther’s narrative opposes Africa’s exploitation by the West. It is ironic that the movie does exactly that-exploit Africa’s traditions and culture for a selfish end. Most of the actors in a leading role, do not fluently speak in the beautiful African accent?  Ever heard an African trying so hard to speak in a borrowed American or British accent? That is what the movie does, and it is horrible to hear. And it seems, we are okay with it. Only a few months ago, Samuel Jackson said Daniel Kaluuya should not have been given the leading role in the movie Get Out because he has not lived the African American life.

Martin Luther King Jr, while celebrating the independence of Ghana in Accra, observed the following:

“You also know that for years and for centuries, Africa has been one of the most exploited continents in the history of the world. It’s been the “Dark Continent.” It’s been the continent that has suffered all of the pain and the affliction that could be mustered up by other nations. And it is that continent which has experienced slavery, which has experienced all of the lowest standards that we can think about, and its been brought into being by the exploitation inflicted upon it by other nations.”

For a movie that is huge on a futuristic Africa, the least Black Panther should have extended to Africa is filming a  few scenes in Africa.  This would have gone a long way to showing the world that Africa, in truth and reality, as opposed to fiction, is a continent of beauty and marvel. Instead, the filmmakers used Getty images for the African scenes. Hollywood made a magical Africa and got around shooting there, while borrowing from various tribes and cultures without mentioning anything.