On Dec. 25, Marvel released a new television spot for the film Black Panther in the US, revealing a little more about the mythical Wakanda and more clues about the fight for the throne that will propel the plot. It also hinted at the film’s determination to maintain the Black Panther’s links to Africa.
The TV spot goes deeper into the enmity between Chadwick Boseman’s title character, The Black Panther, and his nemesis Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan. The extended trailer released in October already tipped audiences off to Killmonger’s allegiances. We now know that the explosion that announced Killmonger’s character in the earlier trailer was actually the film’s villain breaking out fellow bad guy, Andy Serkis’ Klaw and later showing him Wakanda’s artifacts.
Killmonger, whose chest is covered in traditional patterned skin scarring found among various African tribes, is clearly after T’Challa’s (The Black Panther) throne and will collude with the enemy to do so. Judging by the trailer, it seems that the film will delve into issue of exploitation and neocolonialism as Killmonger and Klaw gun for Wakanda’s natural resources. This narrative about Africa has been written before in films from Lord of War to Blood Diamond, so it would be interesting to see how Marvel approaches the politics, while entertaining global audiences.
A scene not featured in the TV spot but which audiences may anticipate just as much is a flashback between T’Challa and his father T’Chaka, in which the dialogue is in isiXhosa, one of South Africa’s eleven language. The moment when two big-screen superhero characters speak an African tongue is brief but a significant moment in Hollywood, where scriptwriters have used overly simplified caricatures of local languages or used the wrong language entirely.
“Realizing that we were going to have this film where a father and son talk to each other in this native African language in a superhero movie — it hit me for a moment,” director Ryan Coogler told an audience at Vulture Fest in November. “It was emotionally moving. That was a big one.”
Boseman’s character also has an African accent that can only be identified by dialogue coaches. Hollywood rarely gets African accents right, so it remains to be seen whether the film’s earnest attempts to be seen as African will go over well with African audiences.
The expected cultural significance of the film is not misplaced. Already, Wakanda’s position in black imaginations is of a kingdom unsullied by Western interference. Coogler’s insistence on using an African aesthetic in the costumes and dialogue means The Black Panther has the added burden of not only being a blockbuster hit, but a mainstream representation of a continent that is usually seen through flat stereotypes.
Still, the film’s mix of traditional African clothing and design already had some audience members questioning how true the film would stay to local cultures—or whether it would pick and choose elements from a range of cultures, while divorcing hthem from context.
The film currently has the second highest anticipation numbers on ComicBook.com’s anticipation rating and has launched thousands of tweets, especially among people of color. Marvel has tapped into the anticipation through a slow release of posters, scenes and extended trailers, counting down to the Feb. 16 release date, loosening the valve every few weeks to ensure that the film remains in the popular imagination.
By now, audiences are not only waiting to see the film version of the iconic comic book, but waiting to see whether it lives up to the hype.