Black Panther

Tonight was the opening night of Black Panther. It’s been getting heavy publicity for being the first of eighteen Marvel superhero films to feature a black lead, and features a predominantly black cast.

For some this is just tokenism, an attempt to find a new angle to sell yet more movie tickets. So was there more to it than this? Mild spoilers ahead.

All I can say is, you should have been there.

It started with a mostly black audience (unusual in the southern suburbs of Cape Town), many dressed up for the event.

From the first appearance of Black Panther, in a trailer, the crowd was shouting and cheering. As the first isiXhosa words were heard, the crowd again broke into prolonged cheering and applause.

The script was great and hit all the right notes. The audience howled at “Great, another broken white boy for us to fix.”, and perhaps the line with the wildest audience reaction was, “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” From then on, every time that character spoke out of turn, the crowd shouted him down with cries of “Colonizer!”, and the movie was an interactive experience with the crowd shouting out encouragement and quips all the way through.

Later, when the “colonizer” was forced to stop talking by the guard’s gorilla grunting, the crowd was again shouting in encouragement, with years of racist monkey chanting being reversed to shut up the white guy.

I am certain the EFF will be co-opting some of the themes next time they want to make a symblolic statement in parliament. Who needs miner’s hats and red overalls when you have gorilla chants?

As the movie ended, the crowd broke into applause, with some getting up and dancing. The cinema stayed full for well after the credits started, and the cleaning staff had their hands full getting things ready in time for the next show.

The audience left, breaking into song, dance and gorilla chanting, and many of the the crowd waiting for the next show had cellphones filming the audience reaction.

It’s a euphoric time in Southern Africa, with Mugabe and Zuma both being booted out recently. Both tried to talk the talk, but steered their countries in exactly the opposite direction of the utopian Wakanda featured in the movie. Black Panther came at the perfect time in this part of the world. Someone commented that you could almost feel centuries of oppression being lifted.

Quite a feat for just another superhero movie.

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