Ahead of Black Panther 2’s release in November and the recent release of the new trailer, the Big Ideas team have been reflecting on the conversations and the insights offered during our Black Panther day in 2020. During our Revive Week programme in 2020 Big Ideas hosted a ‘Black Panther day’ where Dr Yewande Okuleye and Dr John Kani presented their thoughts on this revolutionary and important film. As we get increasingly excited for the long awaited Wakanda Forever, their insights are still relevant.
Dr Okuleye is a historian and curator who is passionate about creating, conversing and sharing our culture and heritage in a way that enriches our connections with people, places, ideas and history. She is an academic scholar and delivers public engagement that highlights forgotten history. For Black Panther day, she presented her thoughts on the film in a talk entitled Wakanda and Me.
She describes how the characters and fictional world of Wakanda provide Black people with a type of escapism they usually don’t have the luxury of indulging in. She described how Wakanda’s hidden status means that the population was able to function “without the violent intervention of colonialism and racism.” Wakanda is untouched, a visual representation of what happens to Black excellence when it is uninterrupted.
Dr Okuleye also discussed the role of women in the film – “The focus on Wakanda for me is all about the women!” The female characters are not ‘strong Black women’ because they have had to be, they just are. As Dr Okuleye notes, Black Panther represents a world where the othered and persecuted are in charge of their own destiny, and encourages those watching to grab the vibranium steering wheel with both hands.
For ‘Black Panther day’ Big Ideas also invited Dr John Kani to talk. Dr John Kani is a South African actor, Tony award winning playwright and veteran activist of the South African anti-apartheid movement. He was also cast by Marvel in the role of T’Chaka, the original Black Panther. It was such a pleasure to hear him deliver a talk on the significance of the film and how he felt being a part of it.
Dr John Kani commemorating the South African Labour corp for the Big Ideas project ‘The Unremembered’ in 2018. Read more here.
His insights were invaluable as he spoke about Wakanda and how it mined the most powerful mineral and avoided colonialism. He spoke about how Black Panther showed that Africa and Black talent is not just there to “feed the west.” He told us how much it meant to his community to see a film like Black Panther that celebrates African culture. He described how people in South Africa traveled from far in taxis and buses to see the film “It was like the whole village had come to watch the film.” He overheard one young child say “he looks like me, I too can be a hero.”
Big Ideas cannot wait for this film and though it will of course not be the film it should have been without number 1 on the call sheet, the world of Wakanda is indeed forever. We look forward to a day where a film simply showing Black excellence is not revolutionary, important and think-piece worthy – until then, we have Wakanda.