‘Black Panther’: A Realistic Africa within a Fictitious Wakanda

Black Panther theatrical poster

Post by Ashley Adams

For months now, people have been raving about Marvel’s Black Panther movie. It has received some criticism, but also overwhelming support and love from people all over the world.

Marvel produces superhero movies that are fascinating to watch, and sometimes have brief historical and realistic components, but this is the first time when fiction and reality combine in this specific way. Not only is this movie a first of its kind, with an almost entirely black cast, but it sets out to provide its viewers with a connection. For the first time, there is a black superhero who takes center stage. And although this story is based in fantasy, the filmmakers took the opportunity to fuse fantasy with real African concepts, cultures, and histories.

Wakanda is a fictitious Central East African nation that has not yet been discovered, let alone exploited by outside colonizers. It directly counters many common perceptions of Africa as being a dark, poor continent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, comes to mind when considering this perception and “the danger of a single story”. In reality, however, Africa is so much more. It is a continent rich in so many ways, and equally rich in diversity. This movie provides some insight into the diversity that is present throughout the continent, while it can also be seen as promoting a sense of identity, a sense of pan-Africanism.

A map of regions in Africa

One of the most visually exciting components of this movie is the fashion. Ruth E. Carter was the costume designer for the film, and she created a combination of traditional African attire with hi-tech Afropunk influences. Carter had the goal of creating attire for a fictional African nation that was completely original, but that also represented and honored both African history and African-American history. She took several trips to Africa and drew inspiration from those visits. Some of her specific inspiration came from the Dogon people of West Africa, the Turkana people in East Africa, the Hemba people in Congo, the Suri tribe in Ethiopia, the Tuareg people in Western and Northern Africa, along with several others, totaling over 10 different tribes and groups of people from throughout the continent (Giles, 2018). She combined these inspirations with an Afro-futuristic edge to create the original attire for the film. Check out a brief red carpet interview with Carter here when she talks about some of her favorite inspirations:

Throughout the film, characters are sometimes seen speaking to each other in another language. What is even more interesting, however, is the fact that this is a real African language. The filmmakers decided to incorporate isiXhosa, a South African language with over eight million native speakers, into the story line (Eligon, 2018). This language was not chosen at random, but was suggested by one of the actors in the film. John Kani, who plays T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa, in the film, is a native of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and a native isiXhosa speaker. He suggested that the directors should incorporate some isiXhosa into the film’s dialogue to increase the African authenticity of the film. The filmmakers loved the idea, and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, “wanted to make it a priority to use Xhosa as much as possible” throughout the film (Eligon, 2018). The usage of isiXhosa, however, was not random or sporadic throughout the film, but rather was strategically used during what would be considered natural or authentic situations. An example of this would be when two Wakandan characters wanted to discuss something privately but were in the presence of an outsider. The language itself is very difficult to learn, and because none of the cast were native speakers of isiXhosa, the filmmakers hired several dialect coaches, including Mr. Kani and his son. If you’re interested in hearing a bit about the pronunciation of isiXhosa, check out this video:

This film has definitely paved the way for new narratives about Africa. It has inspired viewers to consider more than a single story, and has increased pride for African culture, language, and history.

For more information on African Studies resources, visit the International and Area Studies Library’s African Studies Collections & Services page, or contact:

Atoma Batoma, PhD
African Studies Bibliographer
323 Library

Search for African language resources: https://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/languageresources/

News Sources:

Eligon, John. (2018, February 16). Wakanda Is a Fake Country, but the African Language in ‘Black Panther’ Is Real. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/wakanda-black-panther.html.

Giles, Chris. (2018, February 19). A journey into Wakanda: How we made Black Panther. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/africa/black-panther-behind-the-scenes-marvel/index.html.

Ashley M Adams
MS in Community Health Candidate, MA in African Studies Candidate
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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Power Africa Conference

How often do you take electricity for granted? For some of us, it’s not even something we think about often. Keeping cell phones charged is as simple as remembering to plug them in overnight. Staying up late at night to do homework is never hindered by a lack of light to read and write by. The wireless Internet router is always on and blinking away, keeping us in touch with friends, family, and coworkers via email and social media.

For many millions of people throughout the world, however, having regular access to electricity – whether at home or in public – is by no means a given. In fact, this is a major issue in terms of the growing disparities between people living in the so-called developed and developing nations.

This past March 2nd to 4th, the University of Illinois hosted a conference focused on electricity, politics, and inequality both on the African continent and in African nations’ relations to others, especially in the context of post-colonialism. “Power Africa: Promises, Potentials, Pitfalls, and Possible Alternatives” convened various expert panelists from Africa, Europe, and North America to discuss issues relating to how “power,” in both of its meanings, affects individuals’ relative quality of life in the Global South, and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Several members of the UIUC faculty and staff community were present, including Prosper Panumpabi (originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo; Electrical Engineering), James J. Overbye (Electrical and Computer Engineering), Kiruba Haran (Sri Lanka/Nigeria; Electrical and Computer Engineering), and Tami Bond (Civil and Environmental Engineering). The event was sponsored by the Center for African Studies along with several co-sponsors and held at the Funk-ACES (Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences) Library on the UIUC campus.


Solar panel used to power hair clippers, Gurue, Mozambique. Photo by Dr. Julia Bello-Bravo (UIUC Center for African Studies).

Guest speakers included Claudia Schwartz of the U.S.African Development Foundation (USADF), James Murombedzi (UN Economic Commission for Africa Coordinator), Lauren MacLean (Department of Political Science, Indiana University), and Boaventura Monjane, a journalist and activist from Maputo, the capital of Mozambique.

The overarching tone of the event was one of careful optimism about the ways in which quality of life has risen with greater access to well-managed public utilities for average people, at least in some cases. At the same time, however, all speakers were concerned about the exploitative nature of transnational corporations involved in African countries and their lack of accountability to local populations in the extraction and processing of raw materials into power sources. Such is currently the case of Mozambique, and this issue was addressed in detail by one panelist, the Mozambican journalist and political activist Boaventura Monjane.

Monjane spoke on the event’s third day. In both his talk and its accompanying paper, he stated, “Despite its electricity generation potential, the greater part of [Mozambique] is entirely in darkness and access to electricity is among the lowest in the world. For instance, in rural areas about 1% of the population has access to electricity. Even in urban areas, access to and use of electricity is still very limited due to the high costs and erratic supply” (2015: 1). He also showed a photo of the injuries inflicted by local police on a participant at a recent protest against these discrepancies.

Members of the panel on  the topic "Is Power Africa Sustainable?" L to R: Dipti Bhatnagar, Baruti Amisi, James Murombedzi.

Members of the panel on the topic “Is Power Africa Sustainable?” (March 3rd). L to R: Dipti Bhatnagar, Baruti Amisi, James Murombedzi.

An article from the New York Times in November 2012 investigated these very issues. Specifically, the role of transnational energy corporations is exemplified in the case of the Brazilian coal mining firm Vale do Rio Doce, which is currently active in the Tete province of Mozambique. This company, however, was only one of several transnationals operating in Mozambique mentioned by Monjane in his presentation. Others mentioned were from both the Global North and South, including Chinese and Indian firms.

During the round table discussion Baruti Bahati Amisi (Dem. Republic of the Congo) concluded the conference itself on March 4th with the following words: “The well-being of the poor is not directly linked to technical issues. But it is directly affected if their interests are not kept in mind.”

To see the official program of the event, visit http://powerafrica.afrst.illinois.edu/.


Monjane, Boaventura. (2015). “Mozambique: An Energy-rich Country in the Dark.” Power Africa: Promises, Potentials, Pitfalls, and Possible Alternatives (Conference). 4 March 2015. UIUC Center for African Studies.

Polgreen, Lydia. (2012). “As Coal Boasts Mozambique, the Rural Poor Are Left Behind.” The New York Times. 10 November 2012. Online. Accessed: 19 March 2015.

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Staff Interview Series: Atoma Batoma

For the continuation of our staff introductions, I interviewed Atoma Batoma, who is an Associate Professor, CAM/Metadata Services/Monographic Cataloging. While his office is just a couple of steps away from my workstation, I only get to speak with him every once in a while. I was curious to find out more about Atoma, so I decided to interview him in order to get to know him better.

Atoma Batoma: African Studies Librarian

Atoma Batoma, our African Studies Librarian

Could you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up and what school did you attend?

I grew up in a small village called Koukoude located in a mountainous region in North Togo. I attended a Presbyterian school until sixth grade.

What attracted you to librarianship?

After several years of teaching French and philosophy as a part timer, I decided to go back to school and get a practical degree that would help me get a more stable job. I have a degree in philosophy of language from a European University and I wanted an American degree in a discipline that complements my PhD.

What area did you decided to specialize in and why?

I decided to specialize in cataloging because the cataloging process is somewhat similar to the rule governed nature of philosophical reasoning.

I am aware that you speak several languages, how many? And how and why did you decided to learn them?

It depends on what we mean by “speak”. I can say for sure that I speak French and Kabye which is my mother tongue, as we call it in English. I have been using English since I came to the United States, but for me, English is my survival language. I still have to learn it in a formal way. I used to speak German back when I was in Europe. I still speak it from time to time with friends. I read it on a daily basis. Swahili is another language that I am fond of and which I try to speak on a daily basis. I am now learning Spanish in an intensive way and hope to spend some time in Latin America next year to improve my speaking knowledge.

What are your research or collection development interests?

My research is on African onomastics, that is, the study of African names: their characteristics, structure and functions. I am particularly interested in three onomastic research areas: anthroponomy or the study of personal names, toponymy (or the study of place names), and zoonymy (or the study of animal names). My main approach is socio-pragmatic; I am interested in finding out how African names are used as means of social and interpersonal communication.

When you’re not working, what hobbies do you have? What do you like to do around the Champaign-Urbana area?

Gardening and reading children’s books are my favorite pastimes. Once in a while I drive to Meadowbrook Park on Windsor Road and walk around the park for an hour or so. In the summer time I go to the Farmers Market at Lincoln Square almost every Saturday morning. After the market I stop by Urbana Free Library or Strawberry Field for a cup of tea.

Describe a typical day at your job

I start my day at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. by checking my e-mail and answering urgent messages from patrons and colleagues both on campus and from other institutions. In case I do not have meetings to attend I spend the rest of the morning working on committee-related projects (I am on local as well as national library committees). I take my lunch time at noon or 1:00 p.m. depending on the progress I made on my morning work. I prefer to eat lunch at the Espresso Royal where I can hide in the back of the café and read a children’s book or news in a foreign language (usually in Swahili or Spanish).  My afternoons this month are dedicated to meetings with patrons and/or colleagues, working on the IAS division related projects and on the third edition of Al Kagan’s Reference Guide to Africa.

What career advice would you give to someone who is interested in librarianship or someone who wants to specialize in your area of interest?

It is important to learn at least one foreign language and take classes in African Studies. To specialize in African librarianship it is important to learn at least two major African languages (Swahili, Arabic, Hausa, Amharic, etc.) in addition to at least two colonial languages (English, French, German and Portuguese). It is also important to take classes in African Studies.

What are your proudest accomplishments as a librarian?

Helping with the training of RDA both at this Library and at two African Libraries: The Tanzanian University library in Dar es Salaam, and Makerere University in Uganda. RDA (Resource Description and Access) is the new cataloging standard which replaced AACR2 (the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules) in 2013.  Prior to becoming the new African Studies Librarian this year I worked in technical services division for several years and as a cataloger I helped eliminate the Africana backlog.

What is something at the International and Area Studies Library that people should know about? (a service, collection, or book?)

Check out the impressive Africana collection and the Brown Bag presentation on Shea Butter Production in Africa that we have just added under the Category of “Africa and Gender”.

(Author’s note: This event has passed, but for other Brown Bag Lectures, be sure to check out the outreach website )

I am happy to say that I know more about a staff member at the International and Area Studies Library (IAS). Keep an eye out for our interviews with more staff members! For more information about IAS’s Africana Collections and Services, make sure to visit their website.



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