‘Black Panther’ movie important: founder of Canada’s Black Speculative Arts Movement

But critical of Marvel for too many white film superheroes

black artist at microphone
Quentin VerCetty speaking to a crowd at BSAM Canada in Montréal, Québec in September, 2017. (OSOBE WABERI/TORONTO OBSERVER)

Vivid landscapes come into view, as aircraft flying overhead prepare to touch down in an African nation hidden away from the rest of the world, where wealth is undeniable and royals roam in beautifully-designed African attire.

This is the kingdom of Wakanda, or as Marvel comic book fans might know, home to the Black Panther. The film of the same name is set to open in North America on Thursday.

“Black Panther” follows the story of T’Challa, played by Chadwick Boseman, a character seen in 2016’s “Captain America: Civil War”.  In this new film, T’Challa returns home to the African nation of Wakanda, a place set in the future where Africa is portrayed as technologically advanced.

The film will bring to the forefront the growing popularity of the genre of Afrofuturism in North America, where elements of black history and culture are incorporated within a futuristic and science fiction setting. Although the genre has been around for centuries, within art, dance, music and literature, now cities such as Toronto have seen an emergence of artists tackling this art form.

Courtesy Marvel Studios

Quentin VerCetty is the founder of the Black Speculative Arts Movement Canada. He works within an Afrofuturistic lens to address issues of representation and inclusion, through three-dimensional digital art pieces. His creative practice includes holographic projections, painting, illustration, murals and photography.

VerCetty believes the Afrofuturistic movement, including the Black Panther film, is an important tool to spark social change.

“This movement is about giving us a level of hope we can work towards. Something that can spark the imagination within people,” he said in a recent interview.

The Black Speculative Arts Movement formed in 2016; it emerged out of an art exhibit in Harlem called “Unveiling Visions”, co-curated by John Jennings and Dr. Reynaldo Anderson.

Featuring top visual artists who work in speculative art, VerCetty was the only artist from Canada. From there, a decision was made to hold a convention in Toronto in 2016, with VerCetty at the forefront. Two more were held in 2017, in Montreal, at Toronto.

Each BSAM convention featured panel discussions, live performances, artist presentations and vendors. Some art pieces included “The Healer”, an ink drawing by Beddo, and “Queen’s Park 3016”, a digital art piece by VerCetty himself.

The release of the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther” is going to give the movement a tremendous boost, he predicted.

“People will be talking about it for a long time, it is something we haven’t seen on screen for a long time, something we artists are trying to create in a speculative realm.”

However, VerCetty has some reservations about the film, even though it is directed by Ryan Coogler, who is African-American.

“We are aware that black people didn’t write this story, and we are aware that Marvel projects this white savior in many, if not all their films,” VerCetty said, referring to fictional film studio heroes like Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Iron Man and Hawkeye.

Instead, BSAM rallies behind new stories that are either written, directed or produced by people of their community, like Shonda Rhimes, who is famously known for screenwriting and producing the television medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy” and Oprah Winfrey,  the co-creator and executive producer of “Queen Sugar” and “Greenleaf”.

At the Golden Globes awards show on Jan. 7, Oprah Winfrey went home with a Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, but not without giving a speech on an Oscar moment that changed her life; when a black man, Sidney Poitier, won the Oscar for best actor in 1964.

Although Sidney Poitier’s Oscar win was a moment that went down in history for the black community, the Oscars have a long way to go, VerCetty said.

“The struggle black people face is not just a black person issue, this is a world issue, a collective issue and societal problem,” he said.

Nicki Kirui, 20, is a student at Toronto Film School. She believes that this new wave of black screen writers and directors is just what the film industry needs.

“We need more representation, it’s really that simple,” Kirui said.

“I, among other black screen writers in this field, are hoping to blaze a trail for others for years to come. We have stories, and we should be the ones to tell them.”

Kirui was born in Nairobi, Kenya and likes the idea of the “Black Panther” film giving attribution and praise to her native land.

“I believe this film will do justice in representing Africa and all its glory. Seeing a nation that is one of the most powerful nations in the world, is going to speak volumes to many people,” Kirui said.

Whether the film is a box office hit or not, VerCetty is hopeful it will inspire a large number of people.

“There is no way that [the film] can do injustice; if the movie sucks, at least the imagery was there, and if it’s good it will spark imagination regardless, and a young child will want to be a Black Panther.”

Disclaimer: Reporter Osobe Waberi has performed spoken word poetry and curated panel discussions at the Black Speculative Arts Movement in both Toronto and Montreal.