Black Panther: Changing the African Narrative

Sylvana Lewin, Wednesday February 28th 2018

This article was contributed by Eyram Tawia, CEO of Leti Arts. Having entered MEST in 2008, Eyram was one of the first MEST teaching fellows, and is the co-founder of the first funded MEST portfolio company. He has worked in the mobile gaming and comic space for well over a decade and has led the way in bringing the mobile gaming industry to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since its premiere on February 16th, Black Panther has been smashing box office predictions left and right and proving that the world is finally ready for an African superhero.

In the US and Canada alone, the movie had box office earnings of more than $242M, making it the largest President’s Day weekend opening ever and the second highest-grossing four-day opening of all time. The movie has even inspired the #BlackPantherChallenge, which has people donating money so that children who cannot afford a ticket can go and see the movie.

In addition to Black Panther’s majority black and majority female cast, black costume designer, and black director, it represents one of the first times that Afrofuturism and an Afrocentric perspective have been brought to mainstream media.

For the past eight years, Leti Arts has been working to tell the African story in a positive light through our games and comics. Our Africa’s Legends superhero franchise attests to that. As a pioneer in the Sub-Saharan game development industry, we represent Africa to the rest of the world. Making meaningful games and comics is core to our mission as we want the current generation to be genuinely excited to interact with our content and in turn to create demand for more African superheroes.

After a lifetime, of seeing Africa portrayed as a struggling, war torn continent with greedy leaders, I was eager to see a progressive story of Africa portrayed in Black Panther, albeit a fictional one.

[caption id="attachment_6505" align="aligncenter" width="665"] Marvel Comics[/caption]

Black Panther and the Future of African Superheroes

For the past eight years, Leti Arts has been creating superheroes that are based on actual historical and folklore characters from all over Africa, tackling present-day issues on the continent. We re-imagine these characters as an elite superhero squad called Africa’s Legends. The positive reception Black Panther has seen is more than enough proof that the world is ready for authentic and positive African stories. It has paved the way for us to present our content to the world.

Our new app, Afrocomix, will make this process even easier. The app contains a number of authentic, Afrocentric comics, wallpapers, and short animations. It is our dream that our stories, be it games or comics, will continue to influence global perspective of the continent.

The Portrayal of Africa in the Western Media

For the longest time, the African narrative has been one of  poverty, sick children, and dirty environments. Many global assumptions about Africa and Africans are due to the negative images often portrayed in the media. Films like Blood Diamond, Congo, and Black Hawk Down portray a war-torn Africa and use sweeping stereotypes and statements as if Africa were simply one big country, instead of the second biggest and second most populous continent in the world.

Perhaps the best example of this comes at the end of Independence Day when the film shows scenes portraying stereotypes from several different countries. You see a strong American military base, the expansive Sydney harbor with the famous opera house in the background...and men brandishing spears in the savannah of Africa. Over and over again, the Western media and film industry focuses on negative portrayals of Africa. Now this is not to argue that there are not negatives; however, this is not the only story.

[caption id="attachment_6507" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Marvel Comics[/caption]

An Afrocentric Perspective of Africa

The fact that this is the first predominantly black superhero movie from Marvel, and that it also touches on issues such as racial, technological, and female empowerment, is a huge morale booster. In a climate where many Africans feel powerless, the portrayal of an African country untouched by colonialism, but living a life without needing its support, is a welcome novelty.  

Wakanda, the country in which the story is set, is a matriarchal community, which gives a nod to all women fighting for equality. The theme of female empowerment resonates strongly throughout the movie. Princess Shuri offers an example of not only strong female leadership, but of a successful woman in STEM. She is at the helm of a whole country’s technological affairs. With the current gender gap in STEM, having media portrayals of women like Shuri is all the more important. In Ghana, we have women like Regina Honu and Ethel Coffie working very hard to ensure that young girls get equal opportunities in the tech space. Seeing Shuri take up such a role will undoubtedly make other young women feel empowered.

[caption id="attachment_6506" align="aligncenter" width="665"] Marvel Comics[/caption]

Beyond Wakanda: African Technology Today

Beyond the fantasized, Hollywood-born technological advancements of Wakanda, it will surprise the majority of people in Europe and America to see how tech-forward we are as Africans. For 10 years now, MEST has trained hundreds of young tech entrepreneurs who go on to start businesses and create employment. Last year, startup venture funding jumped more than 50% in Africa to a record high of $560 million. Innovations out of Silicon Savannah are being used worldwide, and tech hubs are growing fast in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and beyond! Africa is quickly catching up to the world.

I encourage Africans to continue documenting their success stories to inspire and enlighten others. I have exemplified this by documenting my journey from childhood to pioneering the game development industry in Sub-Saharan Africa in my maiden book Uncompromising Passion, The Humble Beginning of an African Video Game Industry.

With the right resources, attitude and uncompromising passion, I believe Wakanda can become a reality.