Black Panther director and scriptwriter Ryan Coogler was determined to make the film’s fictional setting of Wakanda a positive image of Africa. African audiences have rewarded this vision by making it the highest grossing film in southern, East and West Africa ever.
The hype surrounding the film was palpable in Africa and that has translated into real profits for Marvel Studios’ first black superhero. Five weeks after its release, it became the highest grossing film of all time in three regions, according to a statement from Disney on Tuesday (March 20).
Black Panther has grossed 77,6 million rand (just under $6.5 million) in South Africa and its neighboring countries, and another 102.4 million Kenyan shillings (just over $1 million) in cinemas in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda. In Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia the film has hauled in 642,5 million naira ($1.77 million).
The numbers seem small when comparing Black Panther’s global ticket sales of more than a $1 billion and counting. Even in China, where at least one reviewer wondered whether “the Chinese are still not used to a film full of black people,” Black Panther opened at the top of the box office with a respectable $66 million in its first weekend. But the figures coming out of Africa are remarkable given how nascent the film industry is on the continent in comparison to other markets.
There is no one box-office formula that works across Africa, especially given the differing levels of infrastructure in its 54 countries. While South Africa may have two successful cinema chains, which also operate in neighboring countries, local and African films still struggle to attract a full house.
Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy, has less than 30 cinemas for a population of 180 million. Yet, it has the continent’s largest and most dynamic movie industry, which pumps out homegrown box office hits. Most cinemas in Africa aren’t theaters with comfy seats and wide screens, but there are audiences here who lap up releases which often go straight to DVD.
In this context, it’s significant that audiences, particularly those in countries with poorer infrastructure like Uganda and Liberia, went to the cinema to watch an American film. It speaks to the rewards that diversity offers in any industry and the importance of authentic representation. As the continent’s entertainment industry continues to grow, so does its potential audience. But they’re an audience who want to see a portrayal of Africa that doesn’t rely on tired tropes.
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