Black Panther has been a cinematic success by all accounts. A record-breaking box office has already topped $1 billion worldwide, on pace to be the top-grossing film in history. Hailed by critics and audiences alike.
Enough has probably been said in the last weeks and months about Black Panther. It’s a film set in incredible African world of science and technology led by and impressive combination of black actors, all put together by a young black director.
Yes, it’s a Hollywood film. Yes, it’s a Marvel super hero film. Yes, it’s a world-class action movie. Perhaps not a cultural revolution. But Black Panther is a game changer.
Above all else, Black Panther is a reawakening of African consciousness that directly reminds us what the power of representation together with the power of technology can achieve. Though steeped in metaphor and social commentary, today, I’d like to discuss what I believe the film’s real impact is.
Technological Excellence is Ours Too
The setting of Black Panther, the land of Wakanda, is full of high rising cities full of technological and medical marvels left and right. From infrastructure to transportation to communications to weaponry, the film represents an incredible technological revolution.
However, the reality of an African country of that nature is probably closer than many think and realize.
The world’s biggest tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon have all expanded their offices and operations across the continent. The last 10 years have spawned the arrival of over 300 active and growing tech hubs and incubators.
Before filmmakers, Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole imagined Black Panther, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah began laying the foundation of scientific equity with his programmes. These were rooted in using science and technology to build a continent both modern and distinctively Africa. The foundation for what Wakanda has visually realized.
A world dependent upon African science and technology is actually at our fingertips.
Black Panther introduced so much technology on screen that surpassed the rest of the Marvel universe of Iron Man and hammer wielding gods; next level nanotech, kinetic energy storing suits, force field shields (how incredible was that scene!), remote driving/piloting devices, handheld holographic displays, automated medical treatment, magnetic wave transportation, active cloaking and more.
The reality is we have innovation today also leading the world’s next wave.
(to name a few)
- Wits University students in Johannesburg developed an affordable brain controlled prosthetic hand using 3D printing
- Another group at Wits, Brainternet, managed to connect a human brain to the internet for the 1st time
- LifeQ is leading the charge in non-invasive body monitoring devices
- ArcAqua is eliminating food wastage by using ozone technology
- South Africa’s first self driving car trials start in October
- Luno is arguably the most popular/easiest to use Bitcoin wallet in the world
- A young man in Rwanda just hacked WhatsApp to create a data free voice call system that’s just officially demonetized voice communication across the continent
- Fintech startup, Zoona is leading the charge in helping bank the unbankable with over $1 billion in transactions
- Mentees of mine, creating a blockchain based development management, code review and version control system: EngineOne, funded by Silicon Valley VCs
Startups across Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda and Ghana are leading the next wave of game changing fintech, edutech, legal-tech companies.
Black Girls Rule STEM
I’m not the first to say that Black Panther has been an important landmark.
But perhaps the most impactful and important part of Black Panther is that science and black girls take a front seat!
Shuri, King T’Challa’s teenage sister, played by Letitia Wright, is not only the breakout star of the star-studded cast but perhaps the most influential character of the film.
The mastermind and hero behind Wakanda’s incredible innovations, putting all other Marvel tech experts to shame (Tony Stark included) is a girl! A black girl! And an incredibly confident sometimes cheeky one too!
The fact that such a character leads the charge of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is something unlike we’ve seen before.
“Just because something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.”
Shuri impacts us from her very first scene and through the movie she displays an innate ability to mold the world’s most valuable substance, vibranium, into a catalyst for scientific innovation. She’s the genius behind arguably the most highly-advanced society we’ve seen on screen.
Her character never tires, consistently creating and recreating, fine tuning the source of the Black Panther’s power, protection and arsenal of tools.
“Not magic… Technology.”
Past just weaponry, Shuri’s inventions are focused on medical innovation, transportation, communications and improving the Wakandan way of life.
Representation matters. Broadening the characters we see on screen, especially scientists is profoundly important.
Wakanda is a world where black women are vital and integral to every part of life. We needed characters like Shuri to show young girls what is possible.
For little girls, like my daughter and nieces, this could be life-changing. In addition to amazing organizations like Black Girls Code and Digital Undivided, they now have an especially strong role model who shows how cool STEM really is. This has already been seen tangibly as Disney has used film profits to expand STEM Centers of Innovation In Oakland, California; Atlanta, GA; Baltimore, MD; Chicago, IL; Harlem, NY; Hartford, CT; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Washington, DC; and Watts, CA.
“It is thrilling to see how inspired young audiences were by the spectacular technology in the film, so it’s fitting that we show our appreciation by helping advance STEM programs for youth, especially in underserved areas of the country, to give them the knowledge and tools to build the future they want.”
– Bob Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company
Hubs dedicated to STEM supported by the UN Google, Facebook and IBM are also rising across the continent in South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.
Broadening the diversity we see can only be positive creating a notion of “if they can do it, so can I!”
I’m excited to see the long term effect of such representation films like Black Panther and Hidden Figures displays and how it plants the seed for our children. While more women entered STEM in the last 40 years than any other field it is still grossly underrepresented by people of color. Reframing the images associated with this industry and it’s heroes can help us mold our children to drive the next technological revolution of emerging technology. Imagine a tribe of Shuri-led STEMinists?!
We are Vibranium
The secret to the Black Panther and Wakanda’s strength, power and technological capabilities is highly coveted vibranium mineral. Vibranium is the strongest, most resilient and most sought after substance on the Marvel earth.
In the film it’s used to make weapons, vehicles, the energy absorbing/bulletproof Black Panther suit and other exponential technology. Even Captain America, the hero or all American hero’s relies on a shield made from vibranium. It’s Wakanda’s secret sauce as they literally veil their land as a poor African country.
My interpretation of this substance is perhaps the most important theme of the film:
Vibranium represents us.
Vibranium is we, African people.
Black Panther represents what happens when we harness the vibranium within ourselves.
An untapped, under-utilized, secret resource.
What if we saw everything in ourselves as having the potential to create limitless innovations and change? An entire society?
Wakanda leapfrogs the entire world just by harnessing its own natural resources. What if we harnessed our own?
What if we used our brightest, most creative, hard working individuals for the uplifting of our own selves?
Instead of replicating Silicon Valley. Instead of copy and pasting innovation from the rest of the world. What if we took all our collective un-mined excellence to build us? Black Panther normalized that potential.
We have to be opportunity seekers
Think of this:
- By 2030, the continent will have the 2nd largest workforce in the world.
- Africa has the world’s youngest population
- We house 9 of the top 20 fastest growing economies
- Female entrepreneurship is highest in the world in Sub-Saharan Africa at 25.9%
These insights present an opportunity for exponential growth and potential!
However, the opportunity of a lifetime only exists during the lifetime of the opportunity.
The global perception of our continent is that you shouldn’t expect growth or excellence from us. That we can’t impact the world with technology or development.
“I didn’t realize how much I needed the film until after I saw the film”
– Ta-Nehisi Coates
Black Panther has represented an amazing achievement and shift. A world-class critically acclaimed uniquely African story on a scale unseen before. Wakanda started showing us the possibilities of our continent.
It’s now on us to actualize that story into our daily lives…
Reframing our conversations, our decisions, our motivations for a new continent for our children. Rooted in record breaking excellence.
Afro-futuristic utopia to reality. Perhaps black excellence is an overused term but Black Panther’s reimagining of Africa should push us to define and live out a new African state of being. Technological and scientific super power.
A better future beckons, and it’s closer than you think
Until then… #WakandaForever