The Cultural Identity of Wakandans: An Analysis of Representation in the Film Black PantherNesibe Betül Yurtseven
The portrayal of black individuals in both traditional and contemporary mass media, particularly within mainstream platforms, has often been a subject of scrutiny due to perceived insufficiencies and inaccuracies. One case in point is the fictional film Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), which explores the narrative of the eponymous character from the Avengers series as situated in the Marvel universe. The film delves into the ascendancy of the Black Panther and his takeover of the fictional nation of Wakanda. Notably, this portrayal rapidly gained significance in popular culture and particularly resonated among black Americans. This study aims to scrutinize the cultural and structural depiction of the Black Panther character and his realm of Wakanda within popular culture. Employing a qualitative research methodology, the analysis will be guided by Stuart Hall’s interpretive framework of representation theory and further evaluated through content analysis. The investigation seeks to ascertain the correlative representation of the Black Panther within cultural contexts, incorporating categories such as hyper-masculinity to dissect traditional black and superhero depictions, homeland to identify reflections of global dynamics and the exploitation of Africa in real and imaginative settings, society to explore the cultural structure and interactions with the wider world, race to investigate the interrelation of skin color and societal constructs, and representation to adapt the tenets of myth formation and identification to cinematic artistry. This scrutiny involves the comparative examination of black representation within the film across these categories, drawing parallels to established traditional myths and discussing its role in shaping a fresh black mythos. The analysis incorporates themes encompassing gender, engagement with history, the Black Panther political movement, superheroism, colonialism, slavery, Orientalism, and their relevance within the broader spectrum of popular culture.
Wakandalının Kültürel Kimliği: Black Panther Filmi Üzerine Bir Temsil İncelemesiNesibe Betül Yurtseven
Ana akım medya başta olmak üzere siyahların kitle iletişim araçlarında yer alan geleneksel ve modern temsilleri, belgesel ve kurmaca yapımlar üzerinden sıkça ele alınmakta ve çoğunlukla yetersizliği ve yanlışlığı üzerinden eleştirilmektedir. 2018 yılında gösterime giren Black Panther adlı kurmaca sinema filminde; Marvel evreninde geçen Avengers serisindeki süper kahramanlardan biri olan Kara Panter karakterinin, ülkesi Wakanda’nın başına geçme süreci anlatılmaktadır. Hayali bir evrendeki hayali Wakanda ülkesinde geçen filmin baş karakteri Kara Panter, popüler kültürde özellikle siyahi Amerikalılar arasında kısa sürede bir fenomen ve bir temsil haline gelmiştir. Bu çalışmada, popüler kültüre mal olmuş Kara Panter karakterinin ve ülkesi Wakanda’nın kültürel ve yapısal temsili; nitel araştırma yöntemiyle, Stuart Hall’un temsil kuramı yorumlayıcı çatısı ışığında incelenecek ve içerik analizi ile değerlendirilecektir. Kara Panter temsilinin kültürdeki karşılığını belirlemek üzere; geleneksel siyahi ve süper kahraman temsillerini incelemek için hiper-maskülinite, küresel sistem ve Afrika’nınsömürülüşünün gerçek ve hayali mekanlardaki karşılıklarını belirlemek için vatan, kültürel yapı ve dünya ile etkileşime girme durumlarını ele almak için toplum, deri rengi ve sosyal inşa bağlantısını araştırmak için ırk, mit yaratma ve özdeşleşmekodlarını filme uyarlamak için de temsil şeklinde kategoriler oluşturulmuştur. Bu kategoriler üzerinden analiz edilen filmdeki siyahi temsil, geleneksel mitlerle karşılaştırılmış ve yeni bir siyahi miti oluşturma sürecindeki rolü itibariyle ele alınmıştır. Analizi gerçekleştirirken, toplumsal cinsiyet, geçmişle yüzleşme, Black Panther siyasi hareketi, süper kahramanlık, sömürgecilik, kölelik, oryantalizm, popüler kültür gibi temalara başvurulmuştur.
Stuart Hall, the distinguished Jamaican-British theorist and progenitor of the British school of cultural studies, delineated representation as the intricate process of constructing meaning that is birthed and exchanged among members of a given culture. According to Hall, representation serves as the conduit through which one engages with the tangible elements of one’s world, ranging from objects and individuals to real-world events. Equally, it grants one the faculty to envision the existence of fictitious realms and to articulate discourse around them. Individuals who partake in shaping the meanings attached to these entities collaboratively contribute to the development of shared representations, which over time coalesce into the very fabric of culture. Central to this cultural tapestry are myths, narratives entrenched in the collective consciousness of a culture that offer individuals within that culture the means to decipher existence, navigate life trajectories, and formulate value systems. Consequently, representations within these cultural myths play a pivotal role in upholding the vitality of individuals’ lives. The traditional avenue for the diffusion of myths, hitherto limited to oral traditions, has expanded in contemporary times, with media platforms having become vehicles for disseminating and reimagining these cultural narratives.
The cinematic work Black Panther (Coogler, 2018), nestled within the Marvel universe as a realm interwoven with comic book stories that meld fantastical elements and science fiction, swiftly captured the attention of the black community in the United States, attaining the status of a cultural phenomenon. This film is an exploration of dichotomies encompassing modernity with tradition, technological advancements with the natural world, and universal themes with local identities while concurrently embarking on crafting a novel narrative around the black identity. Simultaneously, it orchestrates an intricate depiction of the dynamics underlying the evolution of civilizations, all within the imaginary realm of Wakanda. Notably, this film distinguishes itself by presenting a cast of entirely black main characters, a pioneering occurrence within Marvel adaptations. While black American characters such as Falcon and Rhodie (James Rhodes) have made appearances as secondary heroes in the Avengers film series, the character of Black Panther occupies a unique position, possessing skills tantamount to primary protagonists such as Iron Man and Captain America, with an entire cinematic narrative dedicated to his persona. In light of this context, scrutinizing the cultural andstructural facets of the fictional nation of Wakanda becomes imperative as a setting intrinsic to the cinematic domain of Black Panther.
Consequently, this study undertakes an exploration into how the film Black Panther forges a representation pertinent to black communities. To accomplish this, the study has applied content analysis to the film, establishing a framework of categories intended to unveil the cultural attributes characterizing the inhabitants of the hypothetical nation of Wakanda. These categories encompass masculinity, homeland, community, race, and representation and serve as conduits for probing the existence of black identity within the interplay of traditional and contemporary myths. The category of hyper-masculinity was constructed by drawing from the codes embedded within traditional black representation and superhero myths. This category gains prominence due to its prevalence in traditional myths and its symbiotic resonance with the overarching superhero motif threaded throughout the film. The homeland category, characterized by the parameters of political systems and economic resources, embarks on the dissection of Wakanda as a creation born from the aspirations of African nations to establish a prosperous advanced civilization juxtaposed against the lived experiences of African populations ensnared within colonial oppression and enslavement. Defined by the codes of Orientalism and African heritage, the society category also emerged as a vehicle for dissecting the cultural architecture and identity of Wakandans, a developed non-Western society molded by its seclusion from the global arena and adherence to unique traditions. As an exploration into biological determinism and cultural discourse, the category of race is designed to excavate the foundations underlying the film’s central theme: the dichotomy between whiteness and blackness. Lastly, the representation category, the bedrock of the theoretical framework and guided by the philosophical underpinning of representation theory, incorporates the codes of identification and myth creation, thus affording a platform for assessing the traditional and modern narratives around black representation. These narratives traverse the boundaries between authentic historical narratives and those embraced by the masses as fictitious by engaging with the concepts of heroism and villainy.
Subsequent to a comprehensive analysis, the film’s content yields insights. It manifests as an embodiment of a resolute, masculine superhero, one with whom black youth can fervently identify. In parallel, it conjures an image of a cherished homeland that incites longing for connection. A depiction of a black society emerges to which one aspires to belong, in a nation where cultural and citizenship affiliations eclipse mere skin color distinctions. Beyond this, the portrayal embodies black representation as dynamic and proactive, engaged in the pursuit of justice, laden with a robust cultural heritage, and resolute in confronting challenges. In contrast, the film diverges from the passivity, rootlessness, and victimhood that are often assigned to such representations. An additional observation materializes, illuminating the film’s theme of confrontation through the black lens. This theme appears to signify a shift from victimhood to empowerment, an endeavor to transcend the limitations imposed by historical narratives. In summary, the analysis has unearthed an overarching theme of empowerment, cultivating a narrative that navigates the landscapes of identity, heritage, and resilience, all encapsulated within the tapestry of Black Panther.