The Oscars were different this year. It was the first time in 30 years that they weren’t officially hosted, and the nominee list was populated by 2018’s highest grossing movies rather than obscure films loved only by the critics.
Instead, we all got excited to see some of our most beloved characters and storylines go up for awards. One of the most beloved by those round the globe, and especially here in South Africa was Black Panther. The film took home $1.23 billion in box offices around the world, and won three Oscars: Ruth E. Carter, a three time nominee (for Amistad and Malcolm X) won Best Costume Design; Best Production was accepted by Hannah Beachler; and Best Original Score was awarded to Ludwig Görransson.
Connie Chiume, South Africa’s television, theatre and film sweetheart talks to African Independent about her experience working on the Oscar-winning set. She played a mining elder, heading the mining of Vibranium – a pivotal material in the movie which symbolises some of Wakanda’s value. The African culture is seamlessly displayed here, as “it shows how big a role the elderly people play, or the elders even if they’re not old, in African culture.”
Indeed, vast amounts of preparation and research determine the authenticity of a movie. For Black Panther, expert research would opportunely debunk international African stereotypes. Of course the movie is fictional, as is Wakanda, but African intelligence, language and music culture were celebrated- correctly. IsiXhosa was used in the film, Amawololo was playing as the music in the laboratory and Basotho blankets were featured on the warriors. Indeed, Connie happily contends that “the head of departments came here to do their research, so that we demystified the Tarzan myth from the minds of the world.” The film's ultimate success, as proved last night, proves that Connie was right when she stated the in-depth research made the film so acclaimed. “They sent a lot of people here from the music side, from the costumes, from the scriptwriting. They did the right thing.”
For Connie, the awards are significant for those who worked on the movie, “but also to black people, because for the first time in the history in Hollywood we saw a black superhero, and a lot of big and good roles for women. Something that has never happened before.”
Black Panther is a lesson in how to celebrate black culture in style, and also in how to unite black talent. Connie specifically notes how Marvel united the African diaspora: “They auditioned people from Africa, from Europe, from the Caribbean, from America. It put us together in one place and as equals.”
African independence thus becomes the hub. New stories suddenly become possible. Marvel has now veered off the beaten track of ‘the tarzan myth’, and hopefully other production houses will realise they can and should do the same. “The Africa that we know, the Africa that we aspire to be – a well organized country with good governance, rich and technologically advanced – that’s the Africa we saw there. That's what is making us all proud as Africans.”
Connie predicts that the effect this film will have on African children and adults alike will spawn a fresh wave of interest in the country. More people will do research on themselves and the Africans in the different industries. It’s all about paying more attention to what’s at home: “It has reignited the desire to begin to know ourselves better.”
Beaming, she continues, “Dreams do come true, they do come to pass. It was the director’s dream to do a film about Africa that will show us in a positive manner. And that's what happened. One of the executive producers, Nate Moore, said in his youth he wished to see a film with a black superhero because he’s never seen it. And what did the Universe do? It put them together.”
For Connie, this is not just a one hit wonder, rather a kickstart in production houses across the world to delve deeper and question further the narratives they tell. “For African filmmakers, we have stories that need to be told. This is just the beginning of our stories to come out to the world.”
Read the full length feature with Connie in our next issue of African Independent magazine. Connie discusses what it's like being a leader, working on an American set, and the deeper significance of Black Panther.