Cultural Influences in Marvel’s Black Panther

On June 9th, 2017 the first trailer for Marvel’s Black Panther premiered. The film, based on the comic book character by the same name, is directed by Ryan Coogler, and stars Chadwick Boseman as T’challa, the titular hero Black Panther. The movie will center on T’challa, the king of the isolated and technologically advanced African nation of Wakanda. The Black Panther protects his people from threats domestic and abroad using his cunning, fighting skills, and a sleek black bullet-proof suit of armor that absorbs kinetic energy.

The trailer currently has over 32 million views. To say that the movie is highly anticipated is an understatement.

The concept of Wakanda first appeared in a 1960’s comic book by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It is an entirely fictional country that has no real-world counterpart. The movie’s collaborators took this opportunity to pull aspects from the real histories, mythologies, traditions and fashions of several African cultures, and blended them with an imaginative futuristic aesthetic to create an entirely new and exciting vision. The results are sure to be a truly spectacular Afrofuturistic experience that has grounding in the real world. You can see several direct examples of the real-life African influences in Black Panther within the trailer, which is the focus of this blog.

ALL of the books and resources referenced in this blog are either located in Smith library or accessible through the HPU Libraries’ website.

 

Ndebele

The above screen cap shows some of the architectural design within the kingdom of Wakanda. The graphic art on the wall resembles the geometric patterns commons to the houses of the Ndebele people in South Africa. You can see an example of this unique artwork on the cover of the eBook Ndebele Beadwork: African Artistry:

If you want to see a more in-depth look at the history and meaning behind these colorfully painted houses, watch this clip from the documentary, Ndebele Women.

 

Maasai and Samburu

The Dora Milaje (pictured above) are the Black Panther’s personal royal body guards. Their colorful uniforms draw from a few different influences. According to the Black Panther’s head costume designer Ruth Carter, the front tabard was created specifically in the tradition of Yoruba Diviner’s belts. The art database ARTSTOR has an image of one of these beaded belts, which you can see HERE. The uniforms are also heavily inspired by the traditional dress of the Maasai people, a nomadic tribe that migrates between Kenya and Tanzania. The Maasai are renowned for their beaded jewelry, as captured in the photography book Vanishing Africa by Mirella Ricciardi.

 

The Samburu tribe are a distinct sub-group of the Maasai, but their traditional dress shares many of the same visual aesthetics, as you can see from these pictures from the photography book, African Warriors: The Samburu by Thomasin Magor.

 

Lip Plates

 

The Black Panther trailer briefly shows a sharply dressed man with a large green lip-disc. Many African tribes, (such as the Mokolo, Mursi, Sara, Surma, Lobi and Djinja) practice lip-plating for a variety of reasons, though this practice is not exclusive to the African continent. The black and white picture above is from the ebook Encyclopedia of Body Adornment by Margo DeMello, where you can learn more about lip-plating as well as the history of other body modification practices around the world.

Marvel’s Black Panther will debut in theaters on February 18th, 2018. If you are interested in finding out more about Afrofuturism before then, check out the ebook Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci-fi and Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack.

*All images of Marvel’s Black Panther were taken directly from Marvel Entertainment’s Black Panther Teaser Trailer

 

-Blog post by Trae Middlebrooks, Evening Reference Librarian, wmiddleb@highpoint.edu