Black Panther sequel will continue to build positive narrative of African stories

Fred Khumalo Watching You
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is pictured in a scene from Black Panther. The move to make her character the focal point of the upcoming sequel is welcomed by the writer.
Shuri (Letitia Wright) is pictured in a scene from Black Panther. The move to make her character the focal point of the upcoming sequel is welcomed by the writer.
Image: Marvel studios

Call it Madiba Magic or what have you, but during the week the country celebrates the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela with a powerful lecture by Barack Obama, a sequel to the famous Black Panther movie has been announced.

It features Shuri, who is sister to T'Challa, the hero of Black Panther. The story of Shuri will launch in October as a book series, to be followed by a movie.

The major attraction of Black Panther was that it created a positive vibe not only about black people in the diaspora, but about the African continent itself.

The story debunked the myth that Africa was a failed continent. It argued, through an entertaining and energetic story, that Africa can, in fact, create heroes who contribute to the development and further sophistication of the world.

When the movie came out in February, it broke several box-office records, grossing $1.3-billion by May.

Clearly, the business-minded people at Marvel Comics, creators of the original comic book which gave birth to the movie, realised that the comic-following world would love to take another visit to that mythical African country called Wakanda.

It therefore did not come as a surprise when, in June, Marvel Comics released a spin-off series based on the sexy, elite all-female military crew called Dora Milaje. Remember those super-sexy, fighting sisters?

The cherry on top was that rather than leaving the story in the hands of a white American writer, the people at Marvel commissioned Nigerian novelist Nnedi Okorafor to write the three-part series of comic books, to be followed by a movie.

This is fitting, because Okorafor has written a number of fantasy and science fiction books that challenge the orthodoxy; books that feature African heroes.

Shuri is happy in the laboratory where she can conjure all sorts of magical concoctions and design the latest technologically advanced war costumes.

Seeing her at the helm is a brave and welcome move that will put a woman in a powerful position, and possibly inspire girls to say: scientific achievement is not the preserve of men only.

The power of stories to change or influence how people perceive themselves can never be over-emphasised. Many of us grew up in a world where all the heroes - Superman, Batman, The Famous Five, and even the Wild West gunslingers - were white. When we thought power and success, we thought about white might.

Our children, who grew up as Harry Potter-mania was taking root, were surprised when later told that many of the things in the Potter and Game of Thrones stories came from African mythology.

Our African stories have always been there but have never been given a positive Hollywood spin. The movies that the world foisted upon us always showed black people in roles of villains or stupid servants at the beck and call of white characters.

In its small way Wakanda, which put black heroes and a black universe on a pedestal of possibility, set the foundation from which we can build a positive narrative about black people.

Be they in the movies, books, or by word of mouth, stories can influence how people perceive themselves.

If a child gets told over and over again that he's stupid, that he'll never make it in life, he'll invariably internalise failure.

How people perceive themselves has influence on how they conduct themselves in the world.

A positive self-image goes a long way towards influencing people to believe in the simple mantra: I am a hero, therefore I can do it.

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