Africana Religion, Black Panther, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Author:Alexander, Torin Dru
Position:Critical essay

The viral phenomenon known as the "M'Baku Challenge," inspired by a scene in the film Black Panther, instantiates a moment that caused me pause in my viewing of the movie Black Panther. As M'Baku, leader of the Jabari tribe challenges T'Challa for the leadership of Wakanda, he utters the phrase, "Glory to Hanuman," before they commence combat.

While not a serious follower of the comic book series, as a child of the Seventies I was attracted to the Black Panther along with characters such as Luke Cage and Black Lightning. Years later, I was re-introduced to the Black Panther through the short run animated series created by Reginald Hudlin for BET in 2010. The idea of an independent African nation with advanced technology and culture, which had never succumbed to subjugation and colonization by Europe and the West, was inspiring. A few years later still, when I learned that there would be the introduction of Black Panther into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), I was jubilant.

For me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the inclusion of Black Panther in the MCU was to see how the story might be re-imagined in light of influences from Afro-futurism. As an aesthetic and orientation, Afro-futurism attempts to imagine or reimagine what it is to be Black and human. As a genre, it pulls from elements of science fiction along with traditions, cultures, and "ways of being" associated with African peoples across space and time. The results are often creative, imaginative, and evocative assemblages that center Africa and the African Diaspora.

In the case of Black Panther, this is particularly intriguing since white writers and illustrators such as Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the foundational narrative. Whatever their conception of Africa and African peoples, the Black Panther film marked an opportunity to bring forth something auspicious.

Consequently, as a scholar of Africana religion, I was caught off-guard by the reference to Hanuman in the film. I knew that Hanuman was one of the most beloved deities in the Hindu pantheon and his appearance is that of a monkey. Yet, why would a movie associated with Africa invoke a Hindu emanation of the divine?

As earlier stated, I came to the film with a cursory knowledge of the fictive African nation of Wakanda including its religious traditions. I knew that the different peoples that constituted the nation of Wakanda each had their own beliefs, but the dominant religious cult, indeed the state religion...

To continue reading