How the new Marvel movie is one of the most South African Hollywood productions ever
By Buntu Ngcuka
If you watched 2016’s Captain America: Civil War in a South African cinema, you would have felt — or heard — the pride and surprise when theatre legend John Kani appeared on screen and started speaking isiXhosa. He played the role of T’Chaka, king of the fictional nation of Wakanda from the Black Panther comics and T’Challa’s father. It turns out that our second most-spoken language has also been adapted as the official language of Wakanda. Either that or Wakanda is low-key a real-life place in the Eastern Cape.
This is just one of the many connections the Marvel universe has to South Africa. Parts of Avengers: Age of Ultron were filmed in the Johannesburg CBD, but it’s the upcoming Black Panther movie that takes the links to a new level that’s turning even the most anti-comic folks into geeked-out fans. Linguistics aside, the South African influence is also evident in the visuals and costumes. The trailer for Black Panther featured Angela Bassett, Lupita Nyong’o, Letitia Wright and several other actors as warriors wearing Basotho blankets.
A far cry from Louis Vuitton’s appropriation in their 2017 menswear collection, the looks served in the scenes looked and felt regal, which is testament to the film’s director Ryan Coogler and legendary costume designer Ruth E. Carter’s vision. (Carter is also responsible for some of the most iconic looks in movies like Selma, The Butler and several of Spike Lee’s films too since 1988’s School Daze.) Bassett (who plays T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda) also sports a crown inspired by is’qholo that’s usually worn by married Zulu women. But the sartorial inspiration doesn’t stop there — there are also looks inspired by countries and tribes all over the continent, a nod to the various clans that make up Wakanda.
The Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s all-female bodyguards wear armour and clothes like the red robes worn by Maasai women. The breathtaking scene from the trailer with a man wearing a lip plate and a tailored green suit? That plate is traditional wear for some tribes in Ethiopia. There are masks similar to those worn by Dogon people of Mali and houses built and painted like those of the Ndebele people.
Bringing it back on the homefront, the soundtrack is something to marvel at too. Apart from major acts like Kendrick Lamar (who executive produced the album), SZA, 2 Chainz, Anderson .Paak, The Weeknd and James Blake and newcomers Khalid and Jorja Smith, it also features our very own Babes Wodumo, Reason, Sjava and Saudi. You’d be forgiven for thinking the video for the first single “All the Stars” was shot here. Kendrick performs the song surrounded by amapantsula dancing in Chuck Taylors in a setup that looks like a township in the middle of the night.
What the movie has set in motion when it comes to the representation of black people is exciting. John Kani told Times Live: “I knew we would introduce a different African. An African that is a global figure. The African that cares and an African that gives. The African that contributes to world peace.” We’re also at a place where Afrofuturism is more accessible than ever, probably because it’s a much-needed escape from the tension around race relations and misrepresentation in the age of being woke. It’s a joyous occasion, so get your black-on-black regalia out and show some love to what’s probably the most South African Hollywood movie ever.