2 What is Afrofuturism?
3 Black Panther (2018)
3.1 Construction of female characters
3.2 Representation of female power
3.3 Black Panther’s Afrofuturistic Frame
4 Interaction between Afrofuturism and Black Feminist thought
4.1 What is Black Feminism?
4.2 Women of Wakanda and the new consciousness
Stan Lee creates Black Panther, a character who not only “has long represented genuine change in the comic book industry”, but also in the film industry where “a step forward by men and woman who crafted these modern day morality tales” (Holland 12) are well recognizable. With the film adaptation of the Black Panther character, the phenomenon of Afrofuturism attracted great attention in the field of science fiction (cf. Strong and Chaplin 58). Black Panther is one of the most influential Afro-futuristic works of the time which uses science fiction elements to express African culture and with an almost exclusively Black cast, it became the pride of all African Americans (cf. Strong and Chaplin 58). The film shows not only a proud Africa but also proud strong women. While bringing the audience closer to African culture, Black Panther deals with important issues such as race and gender distribution. Therefore, this paper will focus on the importance of the role of women in Black Panther (2018) in the field of Afrofuturism and Black Feminism. The first chapter takes a closer look at the phenomenon of Afrofuturism. The following chapter introduces the film Black Panther. After a brief presentation of the film the focus will lie on the analyses of its female characters. The main part of the thesis is concerned with finding out how Afrofuturism interacts with Black feminist thoughts.
2. What is Afrofuturism?
The term Afrofuturism is composed of two significant words: Afro and Futurism.
1) Afro can be defined as follows: “word-forming element meaning ‘African,’ from Latin Afr-, stem of Afer, Afri ‘African’…or directly from African.” (Harper)
2) The term Futurism “comes from the Italian word ‘futuro’, from the Latin ‘futurum’” and means future (Futurismus- Grundidee). Jane Rye explains that Futurism is not an "art movement” in the usual sense, but rather “an ideology, a way of approaching modern life” (cf. Rye 11).
These two terms may at first appear contradictory. On the one hand there is Africa as a reference point, which is negatively associated in many contexts such as colonization and slavery and a world with limited or hardly any possibilities (Herrnleben). On the other hand, metaphorically there is a world that offers many possibilities for new things and at the same time sets itself the main task, which Rye calls “rebellion against the past” (Rye 11), to be ultimately referred to futurism’s characteristics. Engels refers to a regaining of the African future in which Afrofuturism uses black experiences as an element (cf. Burger and Engels 4). Everett draws a dichotomous way of thinking and considers Afrofuturism both as “a theoretical concept and as a creative practice”(Everett 254- 274). In relation to the film Black Panther, she practically enlarges the word and introduces the term “Afrohumanism” in the same context. (ibid. 254- 274)
3. Black Panther 2018
The film Black Panther is “[…]one of the most commercially and critically successful movies of 2018” (Eckhardt 1). Based on the comics of the same name by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby it is about the superhero character T’Challa who is “known as the first Black superhero to appear in American mainstream comics” (Todd Steven Burroughs), and who becomes king of the fictional state of Wakanda after his father’s death. Wakanda is a highly developed country located in Africa and, thanks to its technology and the energy of the mineral vibranium, it exists hidden from the rest of mankind. T'Challa protects Wakanda from his enemies with the help of his younger sister Shuri and a group of female warriors called Dora Milage.
3.1 Construction of female characters
The film features a variety of female characters who are at the centre of the plot. The main characters are the Queen mother (Ramonda), the younger sister (Shuri) of T'Challa, the agent and former girlfriend of T'Challa namely Nakia and the Okoye as General of the army Dora Milage. In order to gain a broader understanding, it is important to understand the original manifestations of these women:
1. DORA MILAGE
In his analysis Black Panther, Black Writers, White Audience: Christopher Priest and/vs. Reginald Hudlin Todd Steven Burroughs compares the work of two important comic book authors. Since Black Panther characters serve as the basis for their work, Christopher Priest and Reginald Hudlin introduces these charters in sometimes new forms or manifestations. The team of Dora Milage, which consists of only female characters, was first created by Christopher Priest as part of a new movement called ‘retroactive continuity’(Todd Steven Burroughs). Retroactive Continuity can be defined as follows:
“Narrative continuity imposed on a fictional work or series by the introduction of new information which alters the interpretation of previously described events, (now) typically in order to facilitate a dramatic plot shift or account for an inconsistency.” (Retroactive continuity: Meaning & definition for UK English)
The interpretation of Dora Milage by Huldin is as follows:
“The Dora Milaje are now almost completely bald, and look and act like soldiers, not runway models. They are also unnamed, speak English, and refer to each other only as ‘sister’.” (Todd Steven Burroughs)
The women of Dora Milage also appear in the film according to these descriptions. The military team is led by Okoye as can be seen from the following scene when she orders one of her soldiers to bring Nakia to the River Province to prepare her for the ceremony (Black Panther 00:14:06- 00:14:10).
In Priest Comic book “Nikki” (known as Nakia in film) is “[…] another former lover of T'Challa's” who “has been mistakenly killed by a renegade Dora Milage […]” (Todd Steven Burroughs). In the film, Nakia is not killed by Dora Milage, but saved thanks to Okoye, so T'Challa can invite her to the ceremony in which he will be crowned king. In the same scene, Nakia’s role as an agent becomes clear when she asks why he ruins her “mission” (Black Panther 00:10:50- 00:11:14). The fact that she is T'Challa’s former girlfriend is consistent with the plot in the movie. At the beginning of the film, there is no precise information about the relationship between T'Challa and Nakia. The assumption that Nakia is a former girlfriend of T'Challa is left to the perception of the audience until Shuri says the following:
Shuri: “You´re sure it’s a good idea to take your ex on a mission?” (Black Panther 00:38:07)
The following two scenes, which lead the viewers to suspect that Nakia may have had a relationship with T'Challa in the past, are taken into consideration. The first example is the conversation between T'Challa and Okoye in the spaceship:
Okoye: “Just don’t freeze when you see her.” (Black Panther 00:08:11)
Okoye's warning in this case is even premonition, suggests that there is a relationship between the two or that due to a relationship in the past he should not become emotionally weak in front of Nakia and therefore should not metaphorically “freeze” (Black Panther 00:08:06- 00:10:58). Furthermore, in the scene where Nakia enters Wakanda and expresses her condolences to Queen Mother she reacts as follows:
Ramonda: “Thank you, Nakia. It is so good to have you back with us.” (Black Panther 00:14:05)
This reaction implies that Nakia has been to Wakanda before, and that she may have been in a relationship with T'Challa, therefore the mother is happy to see them together again.
3. QUEEN MOTHER (Ramonda)
In the comics, Ramonda is the second wife of T’Chaka, the mother of Shuri, and the stepmother and surrogate mother of T'Challa (cf. Todd Steven Burroughs). There is no evidence in the movie about her role as a stepmother, she is portrayed as the mother of T'Challa and Shuri. The Queen Mother always participates in important conversations and ceremonies and is always at the side of her children. Ramonda impresses especially through her interesting costumes that are on the one hand avant-garde and on the other hand appealing to the African tradition.
Shuri is the daughter of Queen Mother and the younger sister of T'Challa. As the princess of Wakanda she is one of the main and key characters in the film. Due to her great technical knowledge, she is considered the legendary female protagonist of science. In this field, she is taking important steps forward by working with Vibranium, “a source of rare, ultradurable metal that absorbs energy and vibration” (Rise of the black panther #1) and redesigns with it also the new black panther suit for T'Challa (Black Panther 00:40:09- 00:40:31). Shuri as an important female figure who can show her strength not only in science but also in the fight e.g., against Kilmmonger (Black Panther 01:48:32), underlines the power of women in the film.
3.2 Representation of female power
“How a movie character is written or portrayed influences a viewer's impression, which can in turn influence people's stereotypes on gender norms” (Sap). The gender distribution in Black Panther (2018) is clearly not stereotyped. Black Panther expresses a lot of power, especially with its non-stereotyping female characters: Dora Milage, Okoye, Shuri, the Queen Mother and Nakia. In the following, I will analyse these women in more detail as female power figures of Black Panther (2018). The subject of the analysis is the film Black Panther (2018). Starting with Okoye, the Royal Guard has a lot of power not only with her female soldiers, who forms the Dora Milage, but also with her own skills and views. A) The Royal Guard as a loyal warrior:
“Loyalty has an important social function. Only by an individual’s willingness, in cooperation with others, to invest intellectual and moral resources generously and wholeheartedly in something beyond a narrow personal circle has it been possible for communities of various kinds to emerge and continue to exist.” (Loyalty)
According to this definition Okoye's loyalty to T'Challa thus also to the throne (Black Panther 01:23:19 /01:54:39) can be regarded as a sign of great power which leads to Wakanda's survival and resilience. She proves her physical performance and strength in every fight for instance, in the fight against Killmonger, in which W'Kabi finally kneels and gives up. W'Kabi’s resignation shows the strength of women, because even before he kneels, all three women are lit up in the fight accompanied by traditional background music, which marks their origin. W'Kabi only after then kneels in front of Okoye and thus gives up the fight (Black Panther 01:52:22- 01:55:10). B) Master Scientist of Wakanda: ‘Knowledge is power’ (Rodrígez García) the identification coined by Francis Bacon, is reflected in Shuri’s character. With her broad knowledge of technology and her work with Vibranium, she proves that her knowledge is not only meaningful in theory but also plays a decisive role in implementation. The “knowledge” is one of her “powers” which she presents throughout the entire film. The fact that T'Challa's vibranium suit is made by her proves her power and it begs the question of how strong T'Challa would be without this suit. She uses her modern appearance and her rebellious manner (Black Panther 00:14:56) to make a statement about the events, which are understood as further powers of hers. C) Queen Mother and Nakia: Ramonda reflects the tribal culture that has evolved in Wakanda. She is the head of one of the five tribes which forms Wakanda. She is the mother of the king and is always by the side of her children. Her motherliness is her strength as T'Challa is resuscitated by his mother using the herb Nakia had with her (Black Panther 01:35:13). The revival can stand here as a sign of regaining power. T'Challa gets his life back thanks to his mother who acts in the maternal role. She is the mother who gives life to his son, in a narrow sense, she gives birth to him for the second time. The fact that T’Challa would not live without Nakia is another aspect, it is the symbol of the worth and importance of these women and the combination of their power. Morton points out that “these tough women fight for what they believe in” (Morton) .
3.3 Black Panther’s Afrofuturistic Frame
The filming of Black Panther has aroused great interest. This is due both to the fact that it was the first film of the comic series Black Panther, as well as the fact that it is the first superhero movie with predominant black characters. Along with the film, Afrofuturism became widespread not just because its “futuristic society” but also its consideration as “an undeniable expansion of Blackness” (cf. Strong and Chaplin 58). Stuart Hall explains that among others in visual and cinematic forms, blacks were typically the objects. He speaks of representational practices of which blacks are seldom the subjects (Hall 442). These ways of performing representations are changed by the expressiveness of Afrofuturism in film Black Panther. Afrofuturism “as a lens for understanding the black experience” internalizes the versatility of Blackness and leaves behind “a sense of pride” and a feeling that, according to Strong and Chaplin, enables the “connection to a Pan-African identity” (Strong and Chaplin 58). The film Black Panther allows the idea of a positive Africa by taking futuristic elements as a base. This new image of Africa is being created beyond the stereotypes of civil society (cf. Strong and Chaplin 58). The new image also shows women in a non-stereotyped state: modern, technically enthusiastic, and talented, strong and above all emancipated.