DAKAR, Senegal – A 24-year-old woman from South Sudan was wowed by Hollywood’s depiction of strong African women. A young Kenyan woman felt pride seeing the African actors and actresses. A father in Senegal went with his kids to the movie theater for the first time, grateful that a box office hit had been made not for the West but for the world.
The global release of “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” this past weekend saw African theaters from Dakar to Nairobi packed with moviegoers who said the highly anticipated sequel, like the original “Black Panther,” held a special resonance for them. The sequel, made after the death of “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman, centers on the quest to protect the fictional African nation of Wakanda after it loses its leader, King T’Challa. Featuring African actors, music and fashion, the film builds on the original “Black Panther” to address questions related to colonization and exploitation.
“It’s an excellent thing because it shows that cinema is not just for the West – it is for everyone,” said Makhtar Lakh, a 45-year-old father of three in Dakar who especially loved hearing Baaba Maal, a famous Senegalese singer, on the soundtrack. As they left a packed showing Sunday morning in Dakar, his 9-year-old son, Mohamed, was quick to give his rating: “Five stars,” he said. “I thought it was very, very good.”
Lakh said the film’s focus on quests by leaders of the fictional kingdoms of Wakanda and Talokan to protect their vibranium – a metal that provides superhuman powers – from Western powers made it feel “close to reality.” He cited Africa’s vast deposits of uranium, which is used to produce nuclear energy, as just one example today.
“It’s the resources of Africa,” he said, “that make the world run.”
The original “Black Panther” – the first Marvel movie to have a Black director and a predominantly Black cast – also sparked excitement across the continent. In Ethiopia, some claimed their own country as the inspiration for Wakanda, noting that Ethiopia was the only country in Africa not to be colonized during Europe’s “Scramble for Africa” in the 19th century. Across East, West and South Africa, Disney reported, “Black Panther” was the highest-grossing film of all time.
The sequel – which had a star-studded premiere in Lagos on Nov. 6 – could do even better, with Trushna Buddhdev-Patel, a managing director for a film distributor who represents Walt Disney and Warner Bros. in the East Africa region, saying the opening audience across its East Africa theaters was 8% larger for “Wakanda Forever” than for the original. More than 39,000 people in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda saw the film, said Buddhdev-Patel, who works for Crimson Multimedia, making “Wakanda Forever” the second-highest all-time opening for the region, behind “Avengers: Endgame.”
There was so much demand at the Westgate theater in Nairobi, Buddhdev-Patel said, that the theater used all six screens for showings over the weekend, temporarily booting other options.
At Nairobi’s Prestige Cinema on Friday evening, a steady stream of young people posed for photos in front of a poster with the main actors, including Kenyan Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o, Guyanese British actress Letitia Wright, American Zimbabwean actress Danai Gurira and Tobagonian actor Winston Duke. Terry Ndegwa, 21, said that seeing Nyong’o and the other African stars made her feel proud.
“It feels so good to see the Black faces, the African wear, the African language in some of the scenes,” said Ndegwa, who brought her two younger siblings to the evening showing. “It makes me feel connected to the film.”
Akuot Dut, a 24-year-old from South Sudan who came to Kenya in 2007 for school, said the soundtrack – which includes Nigerian artists Burna Boy, Tems and Rema – showed how much Africans are influencing art today. She especially enjoyed the character arc of Wright’s character, Shuri, who in the first movie was T’Challa’s joke-cracking little sister and Wakanda’s chief scientist.
“It shows the resilience of the African people, the African woman,” said Dut, who watched “Wakanda Forever” on Friday in Nairobi. “It just showed that us women can also fight for the unity of our people. We do not have to be looked down upon.”
In Dakar, 13-year-old Fatim Diagne said she had worried about whether it would feel strange to see someone who wasn’t Boseman playing the Black Panther – but her doubts were assuaged, she said.
Diagne, whose family is Senegalese, said she loved how the movie addressed big themes – including colonization, and the connections between Black Americans and Africans – and how African culture was represented, including in terms of music and style. But next time, she said, she has one ask – less traditional African clothing and more modern African style.