There is something that felt remarkably sweet as I sat to watch the South African première screening of “Black Panther” in Fourways, South Africa, last week.
I had, in the back of my mind, a reason why I hated “African” movies, particularly those which are set in known real places. The accents sound absolutely ridiculous.
I hated it when Leleti Khumalo for example, a damsel I loved in “Sarafina”, played some Rwandan woman in the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. While she is an exceptionally great actress no doubt, I could hear the loud South African “eksint” (accent), and knew for a fact Rwandans sound like something but definitely NOT that!
Years later I was to go to Rwanda and live in Hotel Rwanda (Hotel d’es Mille Collines) and the Rwandese women that sat around me asking questions clad in bikinis at the piscine, the poolside, certainly did not have Leleti Khumalo’s eksint!
Yet when I went into the movie and watched it, I was surprised by how for the first time a multitude of different people from different places had played “Africans”, all sounded different but didn’t annoy me. That is exactly the power of “Black Panther”, it creates one “country” not only called Wakanda but for the first time without annoyance and ignorance, “Africa” becomes a country!
That is probably the beauty of playing a fictional place. You can speak with whatever accent and get away with it because there is no set “African” accent nor is there a place called Wakanda so as long as the voice has the unique sweet heavy attributes that defines our coffee and fruit on the continent, as long as your accent has colour then indeed you are Wakandan.
I was beside myself with the many records broken. The fact that growing up I loved “Superman”, and “Spiderman”, and “Batman”. And yet as dark as a Muzarabani berry as I was, I knew I was somewhat a fraud when I played them.
My people in movies were snorting cocaine, cheating on their spouses, killing each other, and cheering when white heroes like Rambo, or some American came to their primitive village came round to rescue them from their barbarism and barbaric kinsmen who were killing them.
When I had to choose which character to play in the 80s sensational cop drama “Chips”, my dear friend Nicholas Katavenos would say the best was that I play, not the blonde dashing guy but the other guy. Why? Well he had black hair and that kind of made sense like that!
Finally, our children can play the hero and not because the person they are playing has black hair!
Finally we may well see an Oscar going to a black woman not because she is playing a cheap hussy as in “Monster’s Ball”. Joy, from Marvel South Africa, as much a joy as her name, certainly had no problems selling the idea to the hundreds of media elite, including yours truly, who thronged her well organised event. And for a day, we were al Wakandan.
Marvel has created a realistic monster which no one can dispute. Can white people watch the movie, Trevor Noah asked. Well, I suppose they can . . . and feel like second class super heroes for once. There are after all two white people, with absolutely no super powers that they too can play!