Black Panther is one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2018, and the hype is intensifying with just two weeks to go before it hits screens. The reality of a Marvel movie with a black-led superhero cast hit home last night when the stars shone on the red carpet in Los Angeles for the Black Panther world premiere. Although not explicitly stated, the theme for the red carpet was clearly Afrofuturistic, a nod to the film’s setting in the fictional, technologically advanced state of Wakanda.
The all-star cast includes Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Guria, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Sterling K. Brown, as well as South African father-and-son team Dr John Kani and Atandwa Kani, and South African actress Connie Chiume – all of whom attended the premiere. Traditional African garb was heavily referenced and celebrated on the red carpet, from subtle beaded accessories to a head-to-toe shweshwe ensemble.
However, if you streamed the red-carpet event, you would have heard drums beating in the background. I personally found this a contradiction of what Black Panther set out to do in its narrative of a technologically advanced African country. The film is deemed a game-changer because of the way it challenges the rural, tribal stereotypes perpetuated by American portrayals of our continent for so long, whereas the use of drum music goes back to that kind of portrayal. My small critique is not a rejection of the inherent role drums play in African sound – it’s an observation of one of those annoying American reductionist interpretations of African culture, which I sincerely hope we won’t be seeing in the actual movie.
If John Kani’s red-carpet comments are anything to go by, then we can certainly still hold on to our optimism about this. Dr Kani plays King T’Chaka in the film, and establishes isiXhosa as the official language of Wakanda. He said in an interview on the red carpet, ‘This blockbuster is another African input into Hollywood […] This movie is going to deal with the myth that if the white colonialist did not land in Africa, we’d still be walking in skins and chasing each other. This movie will prove we built the Pyramids in Egypt, it will prove the libraries of Timbuktu, and that the history of mankind is in Africa.’
He added, ‘This is one time that African people are shown their fullest potential when they are able to travel from space and back with incredible technology, so for us there’s a little seriousness about this movie.’
John Kani’s words speak to a lot of black people across the world who are looking forward to (read: absolutely amped for) another rare, positive representation of people of colour in Hollywood.
Keeping with the theme of celebrating ‘the African that is a global figure‘, Dr Kani and Atandwa Kani hobnobbed on the red carpet with Hollywood elites dressed in Maxhosa by Laduma Ngxokolo.
Award-winning actress Connie Chiume also proudly represented South Africa in regal traditional attire on the red carpet.
Among other A-listers who attended the Black Panther world premiere was Janelle Monae, whose discography is an ode to Afrofuturism – her albums The archAndroid and The Electric Lady both explore race, class, and feminism through a sci-fi lens.
There were many more cast-members and Hollywood stars who, like Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter, drew inspiration from the traditional dress of the Maasai, Tuareg, Turkana, Xhosa, Zulu, Suri and Dinka peoples.