Black Panther: What the movie means for Guyanese and Guyanese Art?

The Success

“People from time to time would complain about not getting tickets. They would, like, beg us to go in and stand up in the theatre.” – Caribbean Cinemas receptionist.

It has been three weeks since Black Panther proudly prowled onto the big screen in the United States. Since then, it has been tearing through box office records worldwide. Updates from Forbes magazine show that its global earnings are rapidly approaching the $900 million mark.

The Black Panther fever has also infected the Guyanese public.

“Since the day it came out – not the last Thursday, the Thursday before [February 22nd], since then it’s been sold out,” the receptionist at Caribbean Cinemas, said to The Pepperpot Magazine. “People from time to time would complain about not getting tickets. They would, like, beg us to go in and stand up in the theatre.”

But why is Black Panther so popular around the world?

 

Art as a radical form of resistance

On February 22nd, the Ministry of Social Cohesion hosted a Republic Anniversary Distinguished Lecture entitled “The Role of Creative Arts in the Exercise of Citizenship in the Republic [of Guyana]”. The lecture was delivered by Dr Natalie Hopkinson, an assistant professor in communication, culture and media studies at Howard University in Washington D.C.

Art, she explained, is a form of resistance. It helps us to imagine a radical future for ourselves. Black Panther, she argued, perfectly encapsulates this kind of radical imagination.

“I believe its undertones went beyond a movie,” said Jarryl Bryan, a University of Guyana communications studies student, in an interview with The Pepperpot. “I believe it offered the view of what Africa would have been had it not been colonised and if Africans were able to trade and develop their economic potential without being ripped off in the process by other nations.”

This portrayal of an uncorrupted Africa – an Africa where tradition and modernity are in perfect harmony, where gender equality is a norm, and where African people are unscarred by generations of internal and external hatred and abuse – has understandably resonated with ethnicities around the world.

 

Guyana could have been Wakanda

Hopkinson also explained that Guyana had the potential and vision to become a kind of Wakanda. She noted that after independence, Guyana saw a wave of nationalist art which celebrated our unique heritage and cultural make-up. The Umana Yana was erected as a nod to our native peoples. The 1763 monument (later dubbed “Cuffy’”) rose in the Square of the Revolution as a symbol of African resistance. The Enmore Martyr’s monument stood as a shining, white obelisk in memory of the Indian Workers slain by the British for demanding their rights.

Our festivals, particularly Mashramani, are also a symbol of our history and republicanism. On Mashramani, Guyanese celebrate our sovereignty and unity by consuming all forms of local art. Originally, our art coupled with Guyana’s previous socialist experimentation and represented our potential to become a kind of Wakanda: an El Dorado of creativity and progressive thinking within the Caribbean.

Ultimately, American interference and internal resistance made that dream collapse. Guyana fell to exploitative powers again and – with oil looming offshore – is vulnerable to more exploitation.

“[Foreign entities have] been here for decades. I haven’t really seen a kind of development from that. I haven’t seen the benefits to Guyana from those arrangements. I haven’t seen it in their corporate social responsibility,” Bryan noted when asked about Hopkinson’s idea of Guyana’s Wakandan potential. “If we can’t get it right now, I don’t see how we’re gonna get it right in the future … They should have started since the 80s and the 70s, immediately after Independence. I really think it’s a bit late for that now.”

 

Hope for the future of Guyanese arts

“We have to have authorities who are serious about revamping arts and culture, preparing that kind of environment that would bring out stars [and] talents similar to Letitia Wright’s talent.” – Jarryl Bryan

Black Panther offers other hopes. Its radical vision has exposed millions of people to new or underexposed ideas. Its box office success has shown the global film industry that diverse stories and casts are economically viable. Bryan also noted that the Guyanese government should see its success as a sign to develop Guyana’s local art scene.

“It should be a wake-up call that Guyana has a lot of acting potential,” he said, “We have to have authorities who are serious about revamping arts and culture, preparing that kind of environment that would bring out stars [and] talents similar to Letitia Wright’s talent.”

Black Panther’s radical vision and its success have sent a wave of pride and throughout the African diaspora. As more diverse stories and artists bleed into the mainstream, it is clear that this is not a fad. Black Panther is only the beginning. There is much more on the way.

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