Set in the pan-African, afro-futuristic nation of Wakanda, the film is laden with African cultural influences from traditional Igbo Mgbedike masks and cultural scarification, to pre-colonial African structures such as Sankore Madrasah, one of the World’s oldest universities, located in Mali. The most striking element of the fi lm, however, is the fashion. This film is the epitome of sartorial storytelling, where art, history and fashion coalesce to portray possible futures for the continent and its people. The film does well in dispelling long-held myths about African cultures, traditions and capabilities. As noted by Henry Navarro Delgado, an associate fashion professor at Ryerson University, “Slick and fluid as these filmic visions are, there is still a political undertone to it; it challenges our uncomplicated ‘National Geographic’ understandings of Africa.” 


This film is the epitome of sartorial storytelling



The fashion in this fictional yet majestic kingdom entered into the collective consciousness of Africans in the continent and in the Diaspora, extending an invitation for us to take part in the Wakandan lifestyle – a lifestyle predicated upon identity, culture and ideological independence. From the moment the trailer was released, the streets of social media were bestrewn with memes and images related to what people would be wearing to the premiere of the film. Black Panther enthusiasts proudly donned outfits from various African cultures; from dashikis of West Africa to umbaco from the Xhosa tradition, it was a resplendent array of striking textiles, patterns and Fabrics. 

In deciding on the costumes that would be featured in the highly acclaimed movie, costume designer, Ruth Carter, left no stone unturned in ensuring that Wakandan raiments were an accurate representation of and a homage to Africa. The 2-time Oscar-nominated costume designer, who has worked on costume designs for Malcolm X and Selma, drew inspiration from various African ethnic groups, having spent time learning about the various cultures and the symbolism behind the different garments and accessories. This was a necessary step to ensure that every culture is respectfully represented in an effort to celebrate the prismatic nature of the African continent. In the film, we see an eclectic mix of garments from the Tuareg, Zulu, Maasai, Himba and Dinka groups. Even the Basotho blanket, Seanamarena, is featured. Ndebele neckpieces grace the necks of the Dora Milaje, T’Challa’s all-female army, while isiColo adorns the head of Wakanda’s queen mother, Ramonda. In conceptualising her designs for Black Panther, Ruth kept four words on her vision board: Beautiful. Positive. Forward. Colourful. To ensure that her vision came to life, Ruth enlisted the creative expertise of notable African designers such as Wale Oyejide, creative director of Ikiré Jones, Laduma Ngxokolo of MaXhosa, and Nigerian designer Duro Oluwu. Wale jumped at the opportunity to be part of this exciting project because it provided him with a platform to continue his work of telling the African story through fashion. “My work as a designer is essentially a metaphor to comment on the triumphs and travails of people of colour, whether they be African Americans or Africans.

Our expression and our gifts to the world have much to contribute, much to bring, and there are wonderful ways in which we do that.” The end result of this collaborative work of African designers was a spectacular melange of intense colour, powerful textiles and enchanting patterns. The Wakandan aesthetic is an affirming fusion of the traditional and the contemporary, an outstanding representation of Africa’s past, present and future. Indeed, Ruth was successful in her mission to “show the world the beauty of tribal dress and move that forward in a more modernistic way.”





An exhilarating fashion extravaganza right in the heart of Africa




When the colonists arrived on African soil, they inculcated in our minds the idea that societal advancement necessitated a renouncement of significant components of our identity, elements such as style of dress. The beauty of Wakanda is that it is far more advanced than any western society could ever imagine becoming and yet not one aspect of the various African identities represented in the film is altered or diluted. Through the magnificent juxtaposition of traditional African dress and rituals with uber futuristic and technologically advanced innovations, the film allowed us a moment of indulgence; it was a powerful picture of what Africa could have been without the interference of colonisation. The kingdom of Wakanda is a much-needed avowal of the glory that is in the diverse identities that colour the African continent. And trite as this may seem, it is a film that proves in more ways than one that black is beautiful. Black boys and girls can wear their skin with pride, knowing that there is might and possibilities in their blackness. Black Panther is so much more than just a vehicle for representation; it is a moving re-imagination of African identities in an interconnected world.



An affirming fusion of the traditional and the contemporary



Image courtesy of Marvel

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