How to Prepare for Watching “Black Panther”

A quick overview of Afro Futurism contextualizes the film and gives a smart framework for watching it.

Ernest Hardyby Ernest Hardy

Last week Marvel Studios released a new batch of promotional images from the film Black Panther, and “Black Twitter” (once again) took hold of the reins of that particular arm of social media, giving their enthusiastic nod of approval and making clear that the film is as close as possible to being a surefire box-office hit. It’s the studio’s cash cow to redeem or fumble.

At nearly the same time, and somewhat coincidentally, writer Alisha Acquaye penned an essay on Afro Futurism for  OkayAfrica that explains how the film is informed by and embodies the tenets of Afro Futurism. Giving a succinct but informative overview of the movement for the uninitiated, Acquaye situates Black Panther in a Black arts tradition that attempts to grapple with history, the multiplicity of Black identity, and imagining a future in which Black folks survive the present.

Courtesy Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Courtesy Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Excerpt:

First articulated and penned by writer Mark Dery, Afrofuturism is the expression of blackness, black struggles and black ideas, through the imagining of new, hopeful and advanced futures or worlds. It is a way of understanding the past and present, by crafting futures that we can control. With the use of magical realism, afrocentricity, African traditions and aesthetics, intertwined with technology, sci-fi and social awareness, Afrofuturism narrates a parallel or distant reality that is empowering and effervescent.

Mark Dery’s essay “Black to the Future” explores the many facets of Afrofuturism and its cultural and social significance for black people. He wondered why there were so few black sci fi writers: at the time this essay was published (1994), he could only shout out Samuel L. DelanyOctavia ButlerCharles Saunders and Steve Barnes. Twenty-three years later, there’s a wider pool of black sci fi authors to pull from, including N.K.JemisinNalo HopkinsonGeoffrey Thorne, Nnendi Okorafor and Tananarive Due….

Courtesy Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Courtesy Matt Kennedy/Marvel Studios

Afrofuturism reclaims black identity by positioning our stories, desires and potentials at the center of sci-fi and fantasy—genres that aren’t usually marketed towards or inclusive of us—and morphing us into untouchable, ethereal, whimsical beings that transcend the systemic obstacles set in place by white supremacy. Not only are we reinterpreting a genre, we’re reinterpreting ourselves.

The rest of the essay (including how the film Get Out fits under the Afro Futurism umbrella) can be found here.

All images courtesy Marvel Studios.