Afro-futurism is a movement that incorporates elements of black history and culture. The purpose is to reclaim black identity through art, literature, and political resistance. It provides an alternate narrative for understanding Black experiences, often by chronicling stories and futuristic societies. The film Black Panther is an excellent example of the literary and musical movement that explores black identity, culture, and struggles through the lens of science fiction. The film takes place in Wakanda that is believed to be a poor place by the rest of the world but is secretly a vibrant part of Africa that is untouched by European colonization. The film takes steps away from what people typically stereotype Africa to be like and instead displays a society rich in Afrocentric perspectives. The film presents cultural aspects of ancient African traditions with the potential of the future where black people can restore their heritage.
Afrofuturism allows people of color to write the story from their point of view without having to be influenced by what the era we live in defines how we are. It allows for not a single story through people that haven’t experienced it, but for people to make their own story. Osborne Macharia is a Kenyan commercial photographer and digital artist that focuses his work on Afrofuturism in culture, identity, and fictional narratives. He is responsible for the artwork for the Black Panther movie. He has been named “The master at creating alternate black universes” because of all the incredible work he does on so many different projects. He bases his work on telling a different narrative about the continent than what people usually assume. His work focuses on embracing the history and present culture in futuristic works we wouldn’t often see. His work removes the negative outlook that people generally display about the continent and instead places positivity that will help people connect with other people of color to see people like them prosper.
References: Magazine, Contexts. “Afrofuturism and Black Panther.” Contexts, contexts.org/articles/afrofuturism-and-black-panther/.
HouseGardenSA. “A Master at Creating Alternate Black Universes.” Condé Nast House & Garden, Condé Nast House & Garden – South Africa’s Finest Decor Magazine, 4 July 2019, www.houseandgarden.co.za/design/a-master-at-creating-alternate-black-universes-28595362.
Before watching Black Panther, it is interesting to know its origins as a comic. With the rise of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, Marvel was under scrutiny of not having any black superheroes. African Americans wanted a superhero they could relate to. In an interview with The Comics Journal, co-creator Jack Kirby stated, “I had a lot of black readers. My first friend was a black! And here I was ignoring them because I was associating with everybody else” (Groth,1). Marvel recognized they needed to correct their faults. Thus, the Black Panther was created.
It is most interesting to note when the Black Panther was created America was undergoing an extreme civil rights movement and racism was a part of everyday society. Creating an African superhero was extremely risky for Marvel. They could have possibly angered thousands of their readers. However, they did what was right and moved forward with the creation of the character. Black Panther was created in 1966 and was featured in Marvel’s Fantastic 4 comic. The superhero was created by comic icons Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. This would be Marvel’s first superhero of African descent. In 1968 Black Panther joined the ranks of the Avengers, Marvel’s elite class of superheros.
The Black Panther name was shared by a political party designed to challenge police brutality on African American people. Although the comic superhero was created before this party, people questioned if the character had any associations with them. Comic legend Stan Lee denied any correlation with the group. However, to further address this issue, Marvel changed the name of the superhero to the Black Leopard. This was short lived and in 1973 the character was named once again the Black Panther. The Black Panther comic has been created off and on ever since its creation and new Black Panther comics are still coming out today.
Groth, Gary. “Jack Kirby Interview.” The Comics Journal, www.tcj.com/jack-kirby-interview/6/.
Sanderson, Peter, and David Roach. “Black Panther.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 26 Apr. 2018, www.britannica.com/topic/Black-Panther-comic-book-character.
Thomas, Roy (August 2011). “Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Interview!”. Alter Ego. TwoMorrows Publishing (104): 38–39.
The Marvel film Black Panther has been widely celebrated since its release in 2018. One well-loved aspect of the movie has been its imagery, particularly the costumes! Oscar nominated Ruth E. Carter has spent over 30 years of her career as a costume designer for African American movies, including Do The Right Thing and Selma. Her work designing the costumes for Black Panther has been the subject of many interviews and articles due to its incredible detail and backstory! Because the storyline for the movie was so secretive, Carter didn’t even have the fully story before she began the 6 moth long pre-production journey of designing the costumes. She decided to take certain aspects of regions of the fictional African nation of Wakanda as inspiration to draw from cultures of actually existing African regions and countries for the costumes. She sent her team on a mission to find and source jewelry, clothes, and accessories from different parts of Africa to use as inspiration for her work. Most of the costume elements, down to even her use of color, was inspired by what they found! The deep and vibrant reds of the costumes for the Dora Milaje, the elite women warriors, were inspired be Maasai warriors, and the beading of their costumes was inspired by the Turkana and Maasia. Their leather harnesses were crafted in South Africa. While the costume for the Black Panther was mostly done by Marvel, as they design all superhero costumes, Carter added the raised, triangular silver motif, which she refers to as “the sacred geometry of Africa.” The wrap W’Kabi wears drew from Lesotho blankets. Queen Ramonda’s crown was based on hats that Zulu women wear. Carter’s inspiration was based in indigenous African culture, but she also wanted the costumes to have a futuristic feel to them. Thus she also drew on the field of Afro-Futurism in her designing! All together, Carter’s work came together to create an incredibly detailed, thorough, and beautiful set of costumes for Black Panther that brings her life work portraying Black history and culture through costume into the future.
Alleyne, Allyssia. “How ‘Black Panther’ Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter Wove an Afrofuturist Fantasy.” CNN, Cable News Network, 21 Feb. 2019, www.cnn.com/style/article/black-panther-costumes-ruth-e-carter/index.html.
“Looking Marvel-Ous: Designing Costumes for ‘Black Panther’.” Public Radio International, 2AD, www.pri.org/stories/2019-02-21/looking-marvel-ous-designing-costumes-black-panther.
Ryzik, Melena. “The Afrofuturistic Designs of ‘Black Panther’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Feb. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/movies/black-panther-afrofuturism-costumes-ruth-carter.html.
Movies are a passion of mine and they have been around for well over a century now. From Gone With the Wind to The Godfather and other movies like Star Wars; these classic films have changed the film-making industry and the world entirely. Then on February 16, 2018, the world witnessed another monumental success in this beautiful culturally colorful movie: Black Panther. With the movie grossing well over $1 billion worldwide, it has been seen as more than just a typical action-packed Marvel movie to most. Tre Johnson, a writer with Vox explains the importance of the movie when he states, “With an all-star collection of the majority-black talent both in front of and behind the camera, Black Panther, under the direction of Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station, Creed), is about more than the latest superhero’s journey; it’s also about black culture’s journey, and it points toward a future where it could be the culture.”(Johnson, 2018) Johnson writes about how the Black Panther’s character, story, and culture has exponentially influenced the black community here in America. Not only has the film’s massive success been recognized by moviegoers, but the Academy Awards as well. The movie’s costume designer Ruth E. Carter became the first African American to win an Oscar for Best Costume Design. Also, Hannah Beachler was the first African American to win an Oscar in the category for Best Production Design. This film has not only changed the way movies are being made, but who makes them and what they stand for. I believe this movie was not only a continuation into the Marvel universe but a statement to all those who are viewing it. The social and cultural impact that the Black Panther has made are continuing to shape the hearts and futures of the next African American generation.
Johnson, Tre. “Black Panther Is a Gorgeous, Groundbreaking Celebration of Black Culture.” Vox, Vox, 23 Feb. 2018, www.vox.com/culture/2018/2/23/17028826/black-panther-wakanda-culture-marvel.