Roundtable - Cosponsored Status Awarded
Sponsored by: Association for Africanist Anthropology
Cosponsored by: Association of Black Anthropologists
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Inclusivity
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
The Marvel inspired Black Panther movie has smashed box office records throughout North America and beyond. Its greatest significance is arguably a key challenge of the twenty-first century – the insertion of a fictional Wakanda as a black utopia filled with magnificent beauty and afro-futuristic technological advancements as a counter trope to Africa’s myth as a site of cultural impoverishment and war-torn violence. The effectiveness of Black Panther is in its surrealism – its ability to release the creativity of the unconscious. The music, the beauty, the Afrofuturistic possibilities invigorate our desire to see Africa in a positive light. But themes of inter-family betrayal undergird the film’s story and establish fault lines that explain Wakanda’s history through a sub-text of inter-generational loss. Its realism is in the unresolved wounds of transatlantic slavery that produced the foundations of modernity, including black consciousness, and global structures of inequality.
By invigorating unresolved conversations about the black world, Black Panther opens spaces for public engagement and controversy. One such space is how we understand the conditions of freedom in which life is liveable. What does it mean to ask whether Wakanda is for Wakandans only, and, by extension, should there be a place for diasporic blacks within Wakanda? It compels us to ask how the offspring of deception, an inner-city child who returns home seeking vengeance, orients particular ways of thinking about the past against future possibilities. Black Panther’s production within the dominant industrial center of film production, and its reflection on how Afrofuturism offers both a reimagining of history and new conceptualizations of black possibility, compels interrogation of the marginalization of peripheral voices.
This roundtable explores how representations of Black Panther speak to the limits and possibilities of the diasporic imagination in popular culture and provides a platform for rethinking what Achille Mbembe (2017) has called, Black Reason. As a racial logic that undergrids our contemporary order, Black Reason queries whether the periphery can ever be a space for the reorientation or emergence of new forms of consciousness. Can Black Reason help us understand representations of Black inclusion and exclusion? What does it mean that Wakandans use their mineral wealth for good while those in diasporic contexts use it for exploitative purposes? How might these questions be understood through both the production of the characters and the institutional production of the film? And why does the Wakanda imaginary emerge out of an industrial center rather than other spaces of creative engagement?
Does Black Panther compel us to confront marginalization of voices that animate some of the largest film industries in the world, such as Nollywood and Bollywood? Why and how are such creative centers excluded from film distribution and marketing? By considering protectionist barriers that privilege extant structures and distributive procedures governed by those who refuse to open borders to include “others,” participants will consider how Wakanda’s fictional paradise is defined by who and what to exclude, and what that tells us about Black Reason.