UGlobe Decolonization Group:
What’s Black Panther Got To Do With It?
What does a blockbuster action fantasy film, based on a fictional superhero created in 1966 have to do with a Research group on Decolonization and Decoloniality, founded at Utrecht University in 2018 and funded by UGlobe? On a blazing sunny afternoon in Utrecht’s charming t’Hoogte theatre about 50 students, researchers, and lecturers found out.
The event answered the question decisively. After the screening, which was breathtaking, funny, and moving, the audience gathered to hear from panelists Leana Boven (MA student Gender Studies, Utrecht University), Faysal Ibrahim (International Law, Film Studies, President of Caribbean Students Association, Maastricht University College), and Albert Mhangami (Second Year Law, European Law School), Frank Gerits (History of International Relations) and Rachel Gillett (Cultural History) moderated the discussion.
Each of the panelists gave an overview of why they felt the film mattered for society. Leana Boven first saw the film with a group of proud Afro-Dutch students. She noted the joy and excitement at that event. Faysal Ibrahim and Albert also discussed the powerful positive impact of seeing “Africa” on screen. Each of the panelists emphasized how “seeing ourselves” on screen, in a major, mainstream, blockbuster was moving. They said that the range of roles and the sheer number of black actors was a breakthrough for the representation of Africa, Africans, and the global black diaspora. Albert told us how his Grandmother, who doesn’t speak a word of English, attended the film at a packed-out cinema in Zimbabwe. There, the film was booked solid, three showings a day, for six weeks. She went, he said, and had some reservations, but she felt it was almost a duty to go to this “African” film.
This generated the first substantive discussion. Frank Gerits and Rachel Gillett introduced the question of whether the film was African, or American. Dr. Gillett noted that the film opens in Oakland, California, home of the Black Panther Party (not to be confused with the superhero.) Oakland is a district in Los Angeles, the site of two major twentieth century uprisings against racism and police brutality. The anti-hero in the story is radicalized in the urban LA environment. The hip hop star and recent Pulitzer prize winner, Kendrick Lamar, who references Compton, Los Angeles, in his work, curated the film’s soundtrack and the film was a phenomenon in America.
The panelists and dr. Gerits rebutted this with reference to the rich visual imagery drawn from African communities, the matriarchal warrior culture. They spoke about the resonance of CIA operatives staging takeovers with the history of decolonization in Africa. The panelists drew comparisons between the persecution of Patrice Lumumba, the role of the CIA in Latin America, and the CIA training and tactics of anti-hero Killmonger. In seeking to launch a world revolution using the strategies and rationale of the colonizer was he a triumphal figure or a rebel corrupted by the tools of the colonizer?
One brave soul in the audience asked if the panel felt white audiences could relate to the film? Responses ranged from yes, to why does that matter, to whether is that question asked of other films? A provocative but important exchange.
From there the conversation ranged widely. Does the feminism in the film go far enough? Does it reference Madagascan matriarchal structures. Was the violent revolution of Killmonger or the legalistic reform of T’Challa was more appealing? Are you Killmonger or T’Challa? asked Dr. Gillett. Responses varied.
The event was funded by Uglobe and the Cultural history Section of the Utrecht University Department of History and Art History. We thank them. To read more about Black Panther and decolonization read this!