#BlackPanther breaks box office records across Africa

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Connie Chiume, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira and John Kani arrive at the South African premiere of Marvel Studios ‘Black Panther’ on Friday, February 16, 2018, at Montecasino, Johannesburg. Picture: Walt Disney/Dominic Barnardt

‘BLACK PANTHER’, WHICH FOLLOWS T’CHALLA (CHADWICK BOSEMAN) RETURNING HOME TO THE ISOLATED, TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED AFRICAN NATION OF WAKANDA TO BECOME KING, ROARED INTO CINEMAS ACROSS THE CONTINENT THIS PAST WEEKEND AND, IN DOING SO, LIT UP THE BOX OFFICE. 

Cinemas across the continent played host to guests dressing up, dancing and singing as the next chapter in the Marvel Cinematic Universe played out with a distinctly celebratory African story.

The film, which has become a cultural phenomenon both at home and across the globe, took in over R16.8 million at the South African Box Office with nearly 200k attendances for the 3-day opening weekend 16-18 February. 

This debut ranks as the third biggest industry opening weekend ever in South Africa (and the second biggest industry opening weekend ever, excluding previews) as well as the biggest opening for a Marvel Studios film ever in South Africa. In addition, ‘Black Panther’ scored the highest Saturday Box Office of all time in South Africa, with takings of over R6.9 million on 17 February.

Elsewhere on the continent, ‘Black Panther’ has become the biggest industry opening weekend of all time in both East and West Africa, with the film continually trending on social media in the run-up to the release and over the weekend.

This past Friday, Johannesburg played host to the Official South African Premiere of ‘Black Panther’, and welcomed Lupita Nypong’o (Nakia), Danai Gurira (Okoye), local veteran actors Dr. John Kani (King T-Chaka) and Connie Chiume (Mining Tribe Elder) from the film, as well as South African personalities and celebrities taking to the blue carpet. 

The 700 guests were treated to a special recorded message from Director Ryan Coogler and Black Panther/T-Challa himself, Chadwick Boseman. 

Danai Gurira, who turned 40 just two days before, was serenaded by the packed auditorium as they sang Happy Birthday in Wakanda’s official language, isiXhosa. Local artist Loyiso Mkize also presented his specially-commissioned artwork on the night, entirely inspired by Black Panther.

Representation in film has been something of a sore spot for many people of colour across the world. 

While the Marvel universe of comics has been rather diverse over the years, their current foray into producing the first black superhero, by black people, is something that has caused something akin to mass hysteria across the African diaspora. 

One of my main concerns when I heard of the film was that it would wander down the cringe-worthy path of ignorant but well-meaning black people who are interacting with the motherland again. 

The kind of ignorance that would require that we answer questions like: “Do we have lions roaming around in Rosebank? 

Thankfully, it was not an overload of this. 

The Black Panther tells the story of young king T’Challa, or the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) who takes over as leader of mysterious African state Wakanda, after his father T’Chaka (John Kani) is killed. 

Contrary to popular belief, Wakanda is a technologically advanced, modern haven that’s rich in the mineral vibranium, which puts them at risk of being exposed for the rest of the world to see. 

Firstly, I loved everything about the sci-fi nature of Black Panther. From the smart watches that allow everyone to communicate with one another to the killer fight scenes that put together some well choreographed moves with special effects. 

The settings are also aesthetically beautiful shots of the African soil. 

My favourite scene involves the army of the W’Kabi’s tribe using their blankets to form a force field to protect them against their opponents’ blows. 

The cast is a combination of some of the finest black actors and actresses that the world has to offer. I enjoyed seeing Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker share scenes with Lupita Nyong’o and Chadwick Boseman – an intergenerational mix. I also loved seeing South Africans John Kani, Atandwa Kani and Connie Chiume in action in the film.

The film could not have come at a better time. And it does something incredibly important: it allows black artists the opportunity to be front and centre in the telling of stories about black people. I mean, sure, ultimately Marvel, Disney and the other giant conglomerates involved will get the props, but where it matters most – the director, the wardrobe, the soundtrack – there are black people. 

And the script pulls no punches. Colonialism is put on blast, so is slavery, so is the condition of black Americans and other black people of the diaspora. Our issues are reflected in that film. 

The story’s villain, Erik Killmonger, is the villain because he wants to save black people around the world. This is an inversion of everything we have come to know about the abilities and position of black people. For the first time in like, forever, black is normal. Everything else, the other. 

Did I mention the soundtrack of the film is dope as hell? I mean imagine doing the vosho in your seat because the queen of gqom Babes Wodumo’s Wololo is playing in Shuri’s lab. Oh Maigot! 

All in all, Black Pather may be just a little over hyped, but who can blame the millions of black people around the world who can see a reflection of themselves on the big screen. And it’s a beautiful one at that. 

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