Four days ago actor Morris Chestnut, who will appear in the upcoming Kick-Ass 2, posted the following on both his Twitter feed and Facebook page:
It’s time to get familiar with the Black Panther character.
This prompted the usual onslaught of internet speculation, and both have since been taken down. The next day he wrote a tweet to quell the masses who were clamouring to hear more about an upcoming Black Panther film.
I, for one, was personally grateful to hear this news.
“Why?” you might be asking, “Evan, I thought you were all about introducing the Wakandan super-king into the Marvel cinematic universe.” You would not be wrong in your assessment, and let me explain why, exactly, I felt this way.
Black Panther, AKA T’Challa, is the king of the fictional super-advanced African country of Wakanda. He is, for all points and purposes, Marvel’s premiere African super hero. The problem with Morris Chestnut being chosen to portray the character is that he is African-American; he is not Black.
Allow me to explain myself.
I had a conversation in college with an African-American housemate of mine about his Ugandan girlfriend, who he referred to as being “Black.” I asked him if he wasn’t Black as well, to which he answered that he was not. He elaborated by explaining that African-Americans are the descendants of slaves that arrived in North America hundreds of years ago, and as such are now very different from the people who were born, and live, in Africa. This can be observed through the respective lightness and darkness of their skin, among other things.
Up above I’ve already posted a picture of Morris Chestnut, so allow me to throw in a few other images for contrast.
Below, on the left, is a picture of the actor most often mentioned when discussing the role: Djimon Honsou. Born in Benin, Honsou is the one I would most love to play T’Challa, and this desire is only curbed by the fact that he’s currently pushing 50. Next to him are Chiwetel Ejiofor and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, both British actors born to Nigerian parents.
Hopefully by scrolling up and down you can recognize that African-Americans and Black people can actually look quite different. Just because someone is racially “Black,” like Chestnut, does not mean that they are a good representation of the people indigenous to a continent. As always, I call for casting that is as accurate as possible. An African-American actor, while talented, would not the right choice for this role.
In other comic-related news David Zavimbe will be retiring the role of Batwing next month. The product of Batman Incorporated, the Caped Crusader’s project to have a network of heroes across the globe, Batwing was essentially the Batman of Africa. Within the course of his comic book the Congolese native has battled both supervillains and the local corrupt police force; his was a book that largely took place far, far away from the US. Zavimbe will be replaced by the African-American Luke Fox, the son of the character who Morgan Freeman played in the Christopher Nolan films.
The change from an African native underneath the armour to a Gothamite seems illogical as far as the original point of the title, but writer Justin Gray insists that him and his co-writer, Jimmy Palmiotti, wanted “to make Batwing more relevant and important.” Not only that, but they will be keeping the character an “‘international’ hero,” with his first mission taking place in Africa.
Does no one else see the problem with this? Were Zavimbe’s stories not “relevant” enough that we needed to hand the mantle over to an American? Why is it that we need an African-American hero going to Africa to wage war against supervillainy when formerly one of their very own filled that very role?
Africa is not a country, and far be it from me to equate the Democratic Republic of Congo with Nigeria, or Benin with South Africa. Wakanda, like the vibranium mined there, does not exist, but in the Marvel universe can be found on the continent alongside these other countries. Africa is the second largest land mass in the world and, like anywhere else, is full of its own rich cultures and people groups. Africa deserves its own super heroes.
Currently Marvel [supposedly] searches for an actor to portray an African superhero from a made-up country, and that is something that they will have to approach with a great deal of tact. On the other side of things DC has taken their African superhero and managed to change things so that he no longer even hails from the continent.