Updated: Jun 17, 2021
The term Afrofuturism hadn’t truly made it to mainstream entertainment before the release of Black Panther in 2018. We finally had a black superhero at the forefront in the Marvel cinematic universe & it was a cultural movement with a majority black cast and director. The film drew inspiration from Afrofuturism concepts that had never been seen on the big screen.
The term Afrofuturism hadn’t truly made it to mainstream entertainment before the release of Black Panther in 2018. We finally had a black superhero at the forefront in the Marvel cinematic universe & it was a cultural movement with a majority black cast and director. The film drew inspiration from Afrofuturism concepts that had never been seen on the big screen. But what is Afrofuturism? In 1996 the essay “Black to the Future”, Mark Dery explored why there was little black representation in sci-fi. He coined the term & dug into the work by various African-American sci-fi writers like Octavia Butler. Dery wrote, "Can a community whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?" Though he was the first to use the expression “Afrofuturism,” black science-fiction already existed with the common Afrofuturism theme of black people using advanced technology to become leaders & innovators. An example is “Princess Steel” by W.E.B Du Bois, in which a black sociologist invents a device that can see across time and space.
Fast forward to 2018, when most people who were not familiar with the Black Panther comic books got introduced to The Kingdom of Wakanda, the progressive, highly technical civilization in the heart of Africa that was never been colonized. One of the most beautiful attributes of Wakanda, is how it is undamaged by European conquest, influences & the slave trade. The rest of the world believes Wakanda to be a poor third world country, but it’s secretly an abundantly wealthy country with vast resources (vibranium), that the outside world couldn’t even imagine. The leaders of Wakanda have for generations ensured that Wakanda isn’t exploited like other African countries.
Ryan Coogler, the director said, “I think that views of Africa and African culture, almost as a direct result of colonisation, are oftentimes very limited in terms of time. It’s explored only in certain chunks of time. And I think, because the continent of Africa and humanity on that continent is so old, you know, that that’s a horrible disservice to the people that come from those cultures. So, I think Afrofuturism is kind of a response to that.” With its positive portrayal of Africa & black people that stretched beyond the stereotypical famine, disease, poverty, civil war and violence, the film made people connect to Pan-Africanism and ask questions like “what if slavery never happened?” & “what can we do to create our Wakanda?”
An answer to the first question is heavily connected to African spirituality. If countries in Africa had never been influenced by European, or Middle Eastern civilizations, their spiritual practices would most likely have remained untouched. In the film, T’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, drinks a purple elixir that helps him astral project to the ancestral plane in order to converse with his father and see other ancestral Black Panthers before him. This was particularly impactful to many black people in the diaspora who feel a disconnect from their family lineage due to the Transatlantic slave trade.
Whether you’re a comic book fan or not, the impact of this film cannot be denied. That’s that Wakanda effect.