In the realm of cinematic success, the ‘Black Panther’ franchise has undeniably left an indelible mark, not only for its box office triumphs but also for placing black creative talent at the forefront. However, as the sequels, ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,’ continue to captivate global audiences, cultural and literary studies scholar Jeanne-Marie Viljoen sheds light on the franchise’s limitations in truly embracing diversity.
In a candid conversation, Viljoen acknowledges the films’ role in bringing racial representation to the forefront for predominantly white Hollywood audiences. Despite their cultural significance, she notes that the portrayal of Africans in the movies falls short of representing their complexities on their own terms. The fictional African kingdom of Wakanda, with its advanced technological prowess, becomes a stage for a battle of power and ideologies in both films.
The first installment achieved phenomenal success, with over half of its sales originating from the US market. The sequel, while not reaching the same heights, found success in global markets. Viljoen argues that Hollywood’s fascination with the visual spectacle of Wakanda has led to a skewed perception, distancing audiences from the deeper cultural and diversity aspects embedded in the narrative.
Remarkably, Hollywood’s reaction to ‘Black Panther’ has been paradoxically counterproductive. Viljoen cites the 2019 Hollywood Diversity report, which lauds ‘Black Panther’ as a positive example of diversity. However, she contends that this acclaim has lulled audiences into a false sense of achievement, convincing them that enough has been done about diversity in Hollywood.
While Hollywood spectators may be enamored by the visual feast, Viljoen asserts that this has hindered a more nuanced understanding of African filmmaking. The danger lies in this perceived ‘completion’ of diversity efforts, hindering further exploration of Africa’s rich cultural tapestry.
Interestingly, the films have been received differently in Africa, particularly in Nigeria. Despite criticisms of appropriation and inaccuracy in cultural depictions, ‘Wakanda Forever’ emerged as the highest-grossing film ever at the Nigerian box office, a testament to Nollywood audiences’ nuanced reading of spectacle and their ability to engage with socio-cultural and socio-economic issues beyond mere visual displays.
In essence, ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ faces scrutiny for its superficial approach to diversity, prompting a global dialogue on the complexities of representation in Hollywood and the need for a more profound engagement with cultural narratives.