Wakanda forever?

By Hannah Robertson

February saw the release of the enormously anticipated Black Panther. Within days of its release, Black Panther began breaking countless Box Office records, becoming the third highest-grossing movie in US history and far surpassing its overseas sales projections, challenging an industry expectation that ‘black films don’t travel’. However, the disappointing reality that the film has not been shown at Durham’s Gala cinema suggests that this expectation is in fact still in place in geographic pockets of inequality and underrepresentation such as Durham.

On top of the blatant discriminatory undercurrents which the film’s absence and inaccessibility to Durham residents reflects, the lack of exposure to the local population based on the merits of the film alone saddens me almost as much. Never before have I been so entirely overwhelmed by a film and it is an experience everyone should have access to.

The film is not merely a celebration of black culture, intended only for black audiences. The role of women in this film makes a fantastic statement. Firstly, the Wakandan army is a remarkable ensemble of fierce and highly skilled women; the brains behind Wakanda’s technological prestige is owed to the shrewd-lipped Princess Shuri; while the erudite and resolutely independent spy Nakia provides endless wisdom. While Nakia is the love interest of King T’Challa, this is far from her sole role. Conversely, she talks with conviction of her passion for her work which she would not be prepared to abandon for marriage. The women in this film are not objectified, overtly sexualised prizes for the male to conquer. They are assertive and committed forces to be reckoned with, whose personalities and pursuits are not framed within the boundaries of male expectations but shine through and play significant parts in the prevalence of good in the film.

The challenge to gender roles does not stop here; stereotypical tropes of masculinity are contested as the protagonist King T’Challa wrestles his father’s looming legacy and balancing statesmanship and integrity. T’Challa is a new kind of hero, he is unlike the outspoken, testosterone-fuelled Tony Starks of the Marvel universe and despite his impressive physical prowess, we see a reserved world leader, conflicted and humanised.

While the film’s setting, Wakanda is a fictional place, Black Panther acts as a vehicle for positive African representation where Africa is depicted as vibrant and powerful, as opposed to the poverty-stricken land of oppression and mass violence which Hollywood and the mass media so readily portray it. We see an Africa defined by its strengths, not its weakness or by its troublesome past of colonialisation, an Africa which is empowered by its cultural traditions and led by role models which the world has too long been waiting for.

Until now, many films have habitually depicted black people as criminals, slaves, and outcasts. It is with great pride that everyone – regardless of ethnicity – should be able to watch this film and embrace the significance of the eventual arrival of black superheroes and the empowering effects this has on generations young and old.

The film has made history in Saudi Arabia as the first film to play in a movie theatre in 35 years, an enormous progressive step in a country with extremely repressive right-wing views. Yet Durham – a site of international research and heritage – appears to be stuck in an unacceptable moment in the past, behind Saudi Arabia, where intolerance and underrepresentation is the norm. Why has Durham not seen Black Panther and by whom was that decision made? Considering the racist demonstrations in Durham city late last year alongside the continually overlooked, subtle forms of discrimination experienced within the student community, perhaps it should be unsurprising that a film with such strong themes of black culture has been omitted from the Gala’s screens.

In this fast-changing world, Durham seems to have been left behind. Sadly, this missed opportunity rooted in inherent underrepresentation only serves to its detriment and the joys of this momentous film along with the potential for social progression have been lost on Durham.

Photograph: Hannaford via Flickr

6 Responses

Leave a Reply
  1. h
    May 25, 2018 - 12:30 PM

    Did you actually ask the Gala why they couldn’t show the film before publishing an article accusing them of being racists? Having worked in a cinema, there are many good reasons why a film might not be shown; financial issues, scheduling conflicts, the distributor suffering from high demand for prints etc. You’ve also failed to include the fact that the Gala has historically shown “black” films- I remember watching “Get Out” there, and I think they also screened “Moonlight” and “Selma”. You’ve also failed to mention the large counter- demonstrations which occurred in response to last November’s
    EDL march or the numerous articles in this very newspaper which occur whenever there’s a student incident which might be interpreted as racist.
    A very disappointing article, void of important facts, balance, or evidence of any real research into the subject, the author seemingly having begun with a hypothesis and closed her eyes to anything that may have refuted it. Newspapers should be more careful before publishing baseless articles which may damage the reputation of individuals and businesses- your words have consequence, and newspapers thus have a responsibility towards truth and balance.

    Reply
    • Felix
      May 25, 2018 - 03:41 PM

      The article seems far more about Durham as a whole being socially unaware and underrepresented, most likely due to the type of students it attracts, rather than ‘accusing the gala cinema of being racists’. Very difficult to also call the article ‘baseless’. The Gala didn’t show the film which, despite it being one of the most successful releases in film history, has overt positive connotations for minorities. It is perfectly reasonable to question why this is the case!

      Reply
  2. H
    May 25, 2018 - 12:40 PM

    Agreed with the previous comment. Massive reductionism and a lack of critical thinking – I thought the Palatinate held higher standards than this ‘journalism’.

    Reply
  3. Felix
    May 25, 2018 - 03:43 PM

    The article seems far more about Durham as a whole being socially unaware and underrepresented, most likely due to the type of students it attracts, rather than ‘accusing the gala cinema of being racists’. Very difficult to also call the article ‘baseless’. The Gala didn’t show the film which, despite it being one of the highest-grossing releases in film history, has overt positive connotations for minorities. It is perfectly reasonable to question why this is the case!

    Reply
    • H (the original, not the second commenter)
      May 26, 2018 - 09:26 AM

      “The article seems far more about Durham as a whole being socially unaware and underrepresented, most likely due to the type of students it attracts, rather than ‘accusing the gala cinema of being racists’.”

      But as I said in my comment, the two pieces of evidence that the author invoked to prove this are presented in a way that misses out other key facts and therefore fails to provide the greater context. Context which, when present, muddled and increases the complexity of the situation , so that there is no longer such a straightforward narrative as that which the author and yourself as putting forward. Namely that racism seems to be called out consistently in this very newspaper even when, as in this article, there’s no evidence that racism has occurred. And secondally that the the EDL demonstrststion was outnumbered by the counter demo, and that the counter demo consisted of both students and locals. It’s also worth pointing out that County Durham has a black population of just 0.5%- underrepresentation therefore is present in the demographics as much as anything else when compared to the general population, as opposed to being anything to do with the “types of student Durham attracts”. That is a baseless and probably offensive statement without anything to back up the idea that Durham students are more likely to be racist or not care about such issues than other people. Surely the coverage of racism in this student newspaper goes some way to disproving that? Of course, students also make up only a small amount of the population of Durham. Even if your assertion about the “type of student” is correct, you’re ignoring the wider Durham population- or is there “a type of citizen the city attracts”, too?

      “Very difficult to also call the article ‘baseless’. The Gala didn’t show the film which, despite it being one of the highest-grossing releases in film history, has overt positive connotations for minorities. It is perfectly reasonable to question why this is the case!”

      Again, as I mention in my original comment, the article did no such thing. If they’d have wanted to know why the Gala didn’t show the film they could very simply have rung them up. But there’s no evidence in the article that such a basic level of investigation has occurred before writing an outraged and damaging article. As I said before, the fact that the Gala has shown “black” films in the past implies that this is probably due to a mundane business reason, and isn’t due to Durham’s lack of interest (the show many more boring films that hardly anyone turns up to watch) or inherent racism (again, they’ve shown other recent mainstream “black” films.

      Reply
  4. Nemo
    May 26, 2018 - 10:35 AM

    I think I’m with H on this. The article feels very clickbaity, and has all the hallmarks of the “what do you mean, research?” opinion piece.

    Reply

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