Wearing a Zulu headband, a Xhosa necklace and a Basotho blanket with a Ndebele pin, Veli Thipe walked into Forum 8 for a showing of Black Panther. Each accessory represented a tribe that was featured in the record-breaking Marvel movie that hit theaters earlier this month. Thipe is a Fulbright exchange student from South Africa who is getting his doctorate in chemistry at MU. He speaks six languages, one of which was featured in the film.
"I felt like ‘wow,' for the first time,” Thipe said. "Especially with the movie with this magnitude, I was surprised that they used one of the South African languages.”
Thipe speaks isiXhosa, the language of clicks. It was a major language spoken by main characters in the movie and is spoken by millions of South Africans, including The Daily Show host Trevor Noah.
But for Thipe, it wasn’t just the language that spoke to him. It was also about who told the story.
"An African story was always told by a Western narrator,” he said, referring to Hollywood movies that often tell of the stories of African countries and black experiences.
But Black Panther was different.
Because it was told by a black person and featured an all-black cast, it showed a different Africa, one that represented the rich cultures and experiences of the people of the continent, Thipe said. It showcased that African countries are developing and thriving, which is often missing from Western movies. Besides the clothing and the language, he said the inclusion of African beats, rituals and values were important in painting an authentic view of African culture.
He also said black actors are often not the main storytellers, superheroes or leads in Hollywood films, which is different in Black Panther.
From the cast of the film to the artists on Kendrick Lamar’s album, there is inclusion of South Africans, representations that are uncommon in mainstream media.
For Thipe, that was empowering.
“The purpose of the movie was to empower black people,” he said. “With an emphasis in black women.”
Black women were leaders, warriors and geniuses in the film — depictions of women that are not common historically. The number one warrior in the film is a black woman played by Danai Gurira, whose parents are from Zimbabwe. The designer of Wakanda's advanced technologies in the movie is the sister of the Black Panther, played by Letitia Wright.
MU junior Kelsie Wilkins said that although Black Panther is a male hero, the dominant characters and supporters in the movie are black women.
“Women were the backbone in this movie,” she said. "They were the number one people to call on."
She said not only is that celebrated, the Black Panther acknowledges the role of women around him in his success.
“(The Black Panther) recognized that as well, which I think is great,” Wilkins said.
High-tech advancements like the absorbing spacesuit and levitating transportation are staples of the fictional country of Wakanda. To power this highly developed nation, the country uses vibranium, a powerful and versatile metal.
Thipe talked about the parallels of natural resources within African countries such as gold, platinum and diamond.
He said in the movie most of the vibranium stays in Wakanda, which allows them to develop the country.
Beyond ticket sales, Black Panther has a cultural impact.
But when colonizers came to the African continent, they took these resources and hindered the development of the countries, he said.
"In Wakanda, you see the world that represents what the African continent would have been without colonization,” Thipe said. "I really loved that about that movie.”
Thipe said there are a significant advancements and developments in African countries today that mainstream American culture ignores and the movie begins to capture. He said the movie is able to do this by avoiding a one-vision approach to the narrative.
Wilkins also said it is uplifting that people in different industries are trying to shine a light on the skill set of African countries prior to colonization. She appreciated the way the movie represents diverse voices from Africa.
Wilkins, who is the finance chair for the Legion of Black Collegians said as a black student leader on campus, the movie pushes her to lead her community in the most authentic way possible by representing various voices.
“We have a lot to offer, which is what is shown in the movie,” Wilkins said.