Black Panther and Afrofuturism 

click to enlarge mARVEL MAGIC Black Panther is receiving critical acclaim before hitting theatres this week.
  • mARVEL MAGIC Black Panther is receiving critical acclaim before hitting theatres this week.

First, the good news: The Whistler Village 8 has no plans of closing its doors any time soon.

After I Chicken-Little'd a worst-case scenario last week, management reached out to say the theatre is only cancelling some late shows on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday because you, dear readers, are not showing up for them. Four to eight people a night spread over eight cinemas is not really worth it. (So start going to the movies more! Also, if you see someone vandalizing the Village 8 bathrooms, please kick their teeth in and/or get a photo and bring it to management. Let's help protect our asset, Whistler.)

The other good news is that the most anticipated flick of 2018, Marvel's Black Panther, opens this week. Picking up shortly after where Captain America: Civil War left off, this one sees T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) return home to Wakanda, his African homeland that has existed in secrecy for generations and become the most technologically advanced nation on Earth thanks to an indestructible alien metal called Vibranium.

T'Challa is home to become king in the wake of his father's death, but there are a couple villains with other plans (Andy Serkis is good, but Michael B. Jordan's ruthless Erik Killmonger is the most nuanced and best Marvel villain yet). Should T'Challa risk revealing Wakanda and sharing its technology to help save a world that has a pretty shitty history of co-existing with resource-rich African nations? Or does he keep the doors closed to protect everything he loves?That heavy dilemma is just the icing on the Black Panther cake however. Director-co-writer Ryan Coogler has also crafted a rich story, populated it with strong characters (including four integral female roles) and hired the best cast of any genre movie in recent memory. Part espionage thriller, part crash-bang Marvel showpiece and 100- per-cent must-see, Black Panther is also the most digestible way to get into the fascinating sub-genre of Afrofuturism.

"Afrofuturism is a way of reimagining the past to infiltrate new futures into the present," explains Dr. tobias c. van Veen, paraphrasing filmmaker and Afrofuturist scholar Kodwo Eshun. "That's called chronopolitics and Black Panther is definitely imagining an alternative timeline to the colonialism of a Western white future."

Dr. van Veen is a Whistler local who recently taught courses in Critical Race Theory and Film as a visiting tutor at Quest University. He explains that "Afrofuturism" is a term created in the 1990s to link together futuristic Black art, film and music (the extraterrestrial mythology and "Mothership Connection" of Parliament/Funkadelic is probably the best-known example.)

"The No. 1 Afrofuturist film is 1974's Space is the Place," van Veen explains. "Jazz musician Sun Ra plays himself as the return of an ancient black alien pharaoh from Saturn. He arrives on Earth to square off with his nemesis 'The Overseer,' who is an archetypal devil and Uncle Tom. They battle over the fate of the 'black race,' a few members of which Sun Ra abducts to Saturn to start a new world. It's all filmed documentary style in Oakland."

While he hasn't seen Black Panther yet, van Veen notes that director Coogler's decision to bring black matriarchy to the forefront of his story is significant. "Besides Grace Jones and Janelle Monáe, the history of Afrofuturist performers and artists is predominantly male, so this is fantastic. It speaks to the powerful role of black women in the Afrodiaspora."

The Black Panther comic character was invented in the late 1960s (by white-dudes Stan Lee and Steve Ditko). While many black audiences took to the character immediately, it seems the rest of the world is now ready for the noble king of a black utopia. Black Panther has sold more pre-sale tix than any Marvel film and is the critical praise is already rolling in. Black Panther has become the film event of the year on a North American continent still entrenched in conflict, prejudices and pain from 300 years of colonialism. Unlike its titular hero, Black Panther the movie might not be able to save the world with a well-timed backflip and a swipe of its claws. But it's a huge step in the right direction.

"Marvel is the biggest studio on the planet right now," van Veen says. "And for good reason, they get it right most of the time. But I like how their films work with race, even with Guardians of the Galaxy and now especially Black Panther, we are seeing something more than tokenism. Is that non-white character a token? Or are they driving the story and speaking to a culture that is not predominant? That is the question here."

van Veen and his creative partner ZiggZaggerZ the Bastard (aka Shannon Theus) recently won a Cinema Politica grant to film an Afrofuturist short right here in the Sea to Sky. They will also be showcasing black cosplay, talking about Afrofuturist radical becoming, and performing live Afrofuturist poetry and alien ambient music as keynote speakers and artists on the Identities panel at the Our Futures conference, Quest University, Saturday the Feb. 24. Find more info at http://ourfutures.co.

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