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The Black Panther mania

The Black Panther mania

The past week has been overwhelmed with historic events in more than one way with politics taking canter stage. However, on the lighter side of life, the weekend was the time movie lovers thought would never come. Nonetheless, the much anticipated day finally arrived. Black Panther has come to Edna Mall taking moviegoers on a rollercoaster ride, writes Senait Feseha.

Unlike other weekends, last weekend was a major social event at Edna Mall. Young and old, men and women and people from different walks of life were shoving one another eager to get a ticket to see the highly anticipate Hollywood blockbuster, Black Panther. The hallway was packed and there were long queues of enthusiastic movie buffs. If the scene does not prove that the city is full of movie fanatics, it at least shows that people were really excited about this particular movie.

One would think that such ensembles would not exist if it had been a regular weekday, but that was not the case, Monday was similarly packed. Long queues to purchase tickets have been witnessed. Tickets for the last three screenings of the day were sold out an hour or two before the movie started. In fact, many have been forced to buy VIP tickets due to lack of available regular seats. A couple of guys with a good seat where observed negotiating money with a couple who did not want a front row. Another pair sold extra tickets previously reserved via phone.

 “Even though there are devoted movie goers in our capital, a huge mass such as this on a work day is a little out of the ordinary,” an employee of Edna mall told The Reporter.

The ticket booth was not the only frantic section of the cinema, the snack zone was bustling with impatient customers who were afraid the goodies will run out, and the bathrooms were packed with overexcited youngsters who were not using the stalls but loudly chattering amongst each other.

When the time came to go in the auditorium, the crowd remained spirited; noises and rattles from random position emanated. But once the lights were out and the movie started, everyone was on their best behaviour.

Directed by African-American filmmaker, Ryan Coogler, the movie is about T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman), the new king of Wakanda and the alter ego of the Black Panther. Wakanda is a secretive African civilization that has highly advanced technology and is isolated from the rest of the world. Its inhabitants have never been affected by white supremacy and colonialism. Other cast members include T’Challa’s sister Shuri (Letitia Wright), his former lover (Lupita Nyong’o), his mother Ramonda (Angela Basset), the high priest Zuri (Forest Whitaker), the chief general and head of the female royal guards Okoye (Daniel Kaluuya), his former best friend turned lead rebel M’Baku (Winston Duke), and an American black ops soldier turned regime threat Erik Stevens a.k.a. Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

It was a delighted mass, although there were some minor commotions in the hall such as a few individuals getting up in the middle of the movie to leave, friends describing certain scenes to each other, or some people talking on the phone, the audience was absorbed and persistently paying attention. The sense of humour was also perceived; the assemblage was unapologetically laughing, cheering and applauding in certain parts of the movie. Most of the movie’s lines that made the crowd applaud were Shuri’s (T’Challa sister) several witticisms. She was easily one of the favourite characters.

For someone who enjoys watching movies with likeminded crowds, Black Panther was an ultimate viewing experience. The scale had an amazing power over the viewers; at the end of the show strangers were smiling at each other, friends standing in the lobby discussing about the movie. “It seems that no one wants to leave,” a janitor, who was ready to clean up the hall for the next batch of watchers, said.

“We have never had such a massive turn out in the past five years. A large number of people have watched it with in the first five days. The last time we had a similar number was when Avatar 3D was released for the first time,” Elias Abraham, Mati Multiplex’s operations chief, told The Reporter. The cinema had also opened its doors one day before its official release date, like a sneak-peak to fans who have been anticipating the release and just could not wait. Mati Multiplex has made an estimated revenue of 1.2 million birr from Black Panther in the first five days.  Reflecting on the reason for such a huge turnout, Elias said: “I think it is very different from the typical comics and superhero movies that are out there. It is not predictable and is familiar and mirrors our colors as an African nation. Anyone can tell it’s a well-researched movie.”

Although sci-fi, futuristic and fantasy movies usually appeal to younger audiences with a background for the genre; people who have never seen any of the movies in these categories were watching the movie and most viewers have applauded the positive representation of African culture. Emmanuel Addae, a Ghanaian moviegoer, stated: “When I usually watch Hollywood movies with black (African American) actors, I almost never relate to them, but after watching Black Panther, I feel like Hollywood has finally validated our unique culture and ancient heritage.”

Beza Hailu, an independent film maker and founder of Eerie Productions, stated that the release of Black Panther came at a perfect time for comic lovers in Addis as well as pan-Africanists. “As Africa moves to a brighter future, the release of a film that features an independent, powerful and self-sufficient African neo futuristic country was a welcome ode to the future of the continent.” He also mentions that how there has been a steady increase in interest in foreign comic books, anime and such movies for the past few years in Addis. “People are looking for something new. And as globalization increases and the world becomes an even smaller place, interests in various mediums of storytelling become singular in all parts of the world.”

Movie buffs were not the only ones appealed by Black Panther, historians, artisans and fashion designers all over Addis were fascinated by the uproar the movie have created in the industry. Some undergraduates from Alle School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa University have watched the movie deliberately to find some important details; the details ranged from small Ethiopian artefacts, body modifications, and facial paintings to different African textiles. Aman Alemayehu, a Photography Major said: “The attire of the Jabari tribe looks inspired by the Kano Tribe in Ethiopia, and the river tribe is definitely from the Suri and Tsami tribe, and the some of the face paintings also are adaptions from the Suri  and Karo tribe.”

When moviegoers stated that they saw their own true colors in Black Panther, they did not mean just the color of their skin.  Leyou, an undergraduate in cultural studies said: “When I saw the elderly guy in colourful suits, the guy with the lip plate, I knew he was from the Mursi and Suri tribe, Killmonger’s body scarifications and body art was similarly from the Mursi and Bumi tribe. And the crosses some of the elderly women were wearing are from the northern part of Ethiopia.” Those who watched the movie also said that Ethiopia was not the only African nation that was portrayed in the movie; the diverse cultures of many African countries were exhibited.

Fantasy and futuristic movies, especially the ones released by Marvel and DC Comics, have entertained a huge number of people in past, but for now it seem that Black Panther has made a profound impact is without doubt  on top of the heap.

Ed.’s Note: Senait Feseha is on an internship at The Reporter.