Friday, February 23, 2018 6:18 am
By Ena Ofugara
Over ten years ago, I was at the Encomium award with Kefee and Alex Godwin, her then husband. There were these beautiful sophsticated ladies sitting near us. They were acting like they were too cool for the show. And then the MC anounced an act. The minute this artiste began singing, these ladies were pushing their backside into our faces. They said the music was AKPALA. To us it sounded like Fuji or even juju. I later found out this dark-shade wearing artiste had brought the akpala sound from deep cultural Yoruba roots and it connected with the audience in a way those of us not attuned to the Yoruba culture, story and narrative could ever understand. If you do not understand the HYPE about BLACK PANTHER, settle down and relax. It is okay. I understand. YOU ARE NOT A PART OF THE BLACK AMERICAN EXPERIENCE.
Indeed, we are all not a part of their experience. My one advantage over most in being attuned to their ethos and values and experience is that I am married to one who has done very well for herself and has allowed me see up close what certain things we overlook mean to them.
We may share their skin tone, but our ancestors were not put on a ship, captured by their fellow blacks and sold like cattle and goats at sea shores or in slave markets. Our ancestors’ mouths were not padlocked so they could not eat from the corns and sugarcane they were planting. Our ancestors’ wives were not summoned to white oga’s bedroom, raped and the mulatto child given to us to raise and treat even better than our own children….our own children that would be sold when they got to ten or whenever it pleased “massa”.
And in recent history, none of our family or friends was killed for whistling at a white girl. We did not walk past trees and feel that we could be lynched on the tree if we dared look in the face of the white master. We are not told where we can eat or drink or school. The minute we have money, we are no more oppressed. For them, even Lebron James, a millionaire icon basketballer has “NIGGA” painted on his gate, and Obama will always be “boy” to many, proving they remain NOBODIES despite their wealth and achievement. We can never understand this. It is not our reality. We share their colour, benefit from their struggles and freedoms, carry blue passports like them, but WE CAN NEVER BE THEM. Our grandma was not raped at will.
Having established the cultural backdrop, let us look at Hollywood. Do you know no black man could get a role as late as 1939? White men had to paint their faces to black, an artform tagged BLACKFACE (what some black Yoruba actors do, not understanding the racist beginnings of that artform) to act as a black man who invariably will be a slave, rapist, thief, etc. BIRTH OF A NATION, a movie that aired ingloriously in the Whitehouse celebrated the Klu Klux Klan and showed the blackman as a savage rapist. That is the history of Hollywood. Even the house girl role given to Hattie McDaniel in GONE WITH THE WIND in 1939 met great resistance. Sidney Poitier and Harry BellaFonte also faced brutal racism and refusal to be cast in decent roles that were not houseboy or slave or villain. Hattie McDaniel, when asked why she did not refuse roles that showed blacks as only maids said “I rather play maid in a movies than be broke and be a maid in real life”
Eddie Murphy rose to make Paramount Pictures billions of dollars. Will Smith star has shone BRIGHTly and he rubs shoulders with white actors. It has been a long road and still a Denzel Washington does not earn anything near what a Ryan Gosling or Jack Nicholson will earn, despite being as talented as either of the two. Samuel L Jackson that has starred in the biggest money-making movies of all time has a wallet that will make you wince. Studios justify this poor payments to the long-held beliefs that “Movies with black leads do not sell well and do badly outside America”
Indeed the most well-received roles by blacks in recent times was in the movie THE HELP and yes the women, Viola Davis and Octavia were….yes HOUSE MAIDS.
AND THEN COMES BLACK PANTHER
Marvel Studios and Walt Disney, at a time when WHITE SUPREMACY was becoming as glaring as the noon-day sun, they decide to take 200 million dollars, hand it to a black director who has only made TWO MOVIES to tell a story that makes a black man KING and his society, not a SHITHOLE but a beautiful land of wealth and intelligence. Every white stereotype of black was shattered. A blackman could THINK and do HEROIC THINGS.
This movie did not come to celebrate gayness, so we cannot say it was a campaign to bring homosexuality to black psyche. It did not depict drugs and a terrible black society like SOUTH CENTRAL or BOYS IN THE HOOD or JUICE. It was not some low budget Tyler Perry Movie. (kudos to Tyler and Spike Lee). THIS WAS MAINSTREAM HOLLYWOOD and the black man and woman was made to feel good, despite the prevailing feeling of “your schools are no good, you are lazy and are criminals etc etc that is the narrative from the present WhiteHouse and maybe the general population.
To help you compare how massive it is to drop 200 million DOLLARS for a movie about a black super-hero and a black developed society, MOONLIGHT that won BEST PICTURE at the Oscars had a total budget of 1.5 million. It made 65 million. That is, the huge success of MOONLIGHT, its whole profit is about a third of the INVESTMENT that Walt Disney was willing to put down for Black Panther. And the director, he was given free rein to use his beloved Michael B Jordan, with whom he had done two movies instead of them insisting on Will Smith or Jamie Fox. A BLACK MAN WAS TRUSTED WITH 200 MILLION DOLLARS.
So as you Nigerian raise your nose and say “what is special about BLACK PANTHER,” I suggest you go read the hate for RUE in HUNGER GAMES when the character was played by a black 12-year old girl or in THOR as a black girl (Tessa Thomson) played Valkyrie to understand how deeply opposed many whites remain to the BLACK HERO or HEROINE. This way you will understand the HUGE RISK Walt Disney and Marvel took when they greenlighted this movie.
More importantly, If you still do not get the hype, if you do not understand how important it is to a people who, for the first time can close their eyes and imagine their home in Africa to be WAKANDA, a land of riches and brilliance, if you cannot understand how empowering it is for them and their black children to see people of their colour, strong, good and HEROIC like all the white superman and Batman and Iron Man, at least you can just CALM DOWN and allow others ENJOY their moment in MEDIA ADULATION and HOLLYWOOD GLORY..
N.B My accent is now even cooler to classmates and colleagues since this movie. I AM FROM WAKANDA.