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BSU organizes “Black Panther” viewing

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Tiwonge Chirwa ('19) demonstrates the Wakandan greeting as depicted in the movie between characters T'Challa and Shuri.

Tiwonge Chirwa ('19) demonstrates the Wakandan greeting as depicted in the movie between characters T'Challa and Shuri.

Photo courtesy of Tiwonge Chirwa ('19)

Photo courtesy of Tiwonge Chirwa ('19)

Tiwonge Chirwa ('19) demonstrates the Wakandan greeting as depicted in the movie between characters T'Challa and Shuri.

Shasa Sartin and Olivia Enquist

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Black Student Union (BSU) with support from the Diversity Center and Dean for Institutional Equity and Inclusion Lisa Scott arranged a viewing of the movie “Black Panther” in Rochester, Minnesota on Feb. 17.

According to Scott, part of why the event was organized is that Black Panther contradicts the harmful narrative that African countries are barren of technological development and wealth.

“Wakanda offers the possibility of a country that was never colonized,” Scott said. “The movie asks ‘what if that had never happened?’ The movie is an interruption in the narrative of how African nations are perceived.”

As an international student from Malawi, the disruption of this narrative is also important to Tiwonge Chirwa (‘19).

“In most movies that try to incorporate Africa they always paint a one-sided story,” Chirwa said. “They only show the poor side. This time it was different because it really showed the richness of African culture and not only the slums.”

Scott, Chirwa, and other people all over the world appreciated the rich portrayal. The movie was a box office hit, becoming the highest grossing movie in history by a black director and predominantly black cast within its opening weekend. Globally, the movie has already grossed over 700 million dollars after its second weekend. According to Vanity Fair, 37 percent of the domestic audience was African-American viewers, breaking the Hollywood myth that movies need to appeal to white Americans for commercial success.

BSU Treasurer Tamar Tedla (‘20) said the representation of black people in a superhero movie like this was significant to her.         

“It made me feel really good seeing that people who look like me can have these roles,” Tedla said. “They can be behind the screen and they can be on screen. It was really cool to see that people who look like me can be considered as directors, actors, or actresses.”

It was also of great importance to Tedla that the film provided representation of dark skinned people — women in particular — who are often left out of major Hollywood productions.

Photo courtesy of IMDb.
Official promotional poster for Marvel’s Black Panther film.

“What I especially liked about the movie is that people with darker complexions played a large role in the movie,” Tedla said. “In a lot of movies, you will see an African-American woman, but she will have lighter skin. It is expected in our society to favor people who have lighter skin tones or even favor black women who have straight hair.”

Tedla also noted the level of detail given to the hair of the black female characters in order to provide an accurate representation of the hairstyles worn by black women throughout the African diaspora.

“There wasn’t a single hot comb or straightener [used] and the hairdresser made sure that everyone had their natural braids or curls,” Tedla said. “It was beautiful to see not only darker black women but [also] women with their natural hair in the movie. I felt inspired.”

BSU Secretary Asha Aden (‘20) said that the large cast of black women was important to her especially because of their occupations.

“All the female characters were either warriors, scientists, or rulers,” Aden said. “Because of that aspect, there was a lot of black women empowerment.” 

The student responses to “Black Panther” are exactly the reason BSU and Scott wanted to provide an opportunity to see the film. Scott said that BSU President Harleigh Boldridge (‘18) proposed the idea and approached her and Taylor-Browne in November about planning a screening. Scott and Taylor-Browne arranged transportation to Rochester because they were not sure that Decorah’s Fridley Viking Theater would have the film.

Originally the bus was only for BSU members to take. Then, because some BSU members would be gone at a conference during the weekend in question, it was opened to PRIDE members as well. In the end, it was open to all students, something Scott thought was beneficial.

“I appreciated the opportunity to connect with students and see folks spending time with people they may not normally be around,” Scott said. “I was really happy to see the diversity within the students that went to go see the movie.”

Chirwa also thought it was important that Luther students see the film because it challenges the paradigm of what African countries can be.

“I think it was important they took Luther students to the movie because telling a different story of power and majesty about African and black people really matters in changing the narrative,” Chirwa said. 

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