‘Super Modo’ is the real ‘Black Panther’

Several weeks ago, ‘Black Panther’ opened in cinemas across Nairobi and people flooded auditoriums. We called it “the first epic black superhero film”. One that “finally represented our Africa positively…”. Days later, some of us even went back to the cinemas a second time. We dressed in our traditional African fashion, painted our faces as if Marvel had finally given us a license to feel pride in ourselves.

It’s sad.

It’s sad that this past month, Kenya’s own super-hero film titled ‘Super Modo’ opened in cinemas and only about 20 people watched it with me this past weekend.

I’m not going to debate which movie is better, that’s up to perspective and taste. But the one thing we cannot deny is that ‘Super Modo’ is blatantly and wholeheartedly KENYAN… it has the one thing that Black Panther does not. And that is CONTEXT. Whilst the miracle land of Wakanda is far, far, far away from our current reality here in Nairobi, the village of Super Modo is where most of us grew up. Whilst the people of Wakanda are poorly adapting accents of African tribes, the actors in Super Modo are purely Kenyan; they speak our language, they look like us, they are not acting, nor pretending, they are depicting a story which we can all relate to.

That begs the question why? Why are we packing cinemas to watch a film that is not ‘ours’ — and does not truly represent us — whilst forsaking the beautiful films which are made in our image? What has happened to us that we would lack so much pride ourselves and what we produce? Why do we put our faith so strongly in that which comes from outside ourselves and not that which is within?

But maybe this is only one facet of a more serious problem. What pillaged us so heavily of our self-love and patriotism that we find solace and comfort in the ideas and stories of the western world and forsake our own?

Why do we hate ourselves?!

But I suppose one could use this premise to question many things that happen in this country, like;
Why are the Chinese building our roads for us… don’t we have engineers here in Kenya?
Why are our youth listening to American Trap Music?
Why are the best schools in the country the ‘white schools’?

Colonialism was bad. But to think it is over and that we are an independent country is just as delusional as believing that Wakanda actually exists. We need to empower ourselves. We need to see pride in who we are. We can’t wait on some fictional Black Panther to show us that we are actually special, powerful, strong and that we have always been superheroes…

Just consider, Black Panther is not the first time ‘We’ — as Africans — have been represented well, it’s just the first time most of us have noticed. We have Kenyan actors giving their lives to tell our stories here at home… it’s time we put our faith and pride in them. Go and watch Super Modo. Trust me.

–Yours Truly (Kimathi Kaumbutho) is a Spoken Word/Poetry writer/performer, and a Hip-Hop artist from Nairobi, Kenya.

The Real Truth about ‘Wakanda’

What is ‘Black Panther’ Really?

 My family and I went to watch ‘Black Panther’ this past weekend; the ‘marvelous superhero drama’ that the world’s been raving about. The one that “depicts Africans and African culture in a positive light, for once,” or so they say. I think I had mixed feelings about it.

The truth is I couldn’t help but feel pride when I watched ‘my people’ (or at least people that looked like me) appear so powerful and breathtakingly admirable. It was so refreshing to see our Africa depicted as rich and beautiful for once — such a stark contrast to the impoverished and poverty-stricken image of our continent we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films. As my family and I sat in our cinema chairs spewing over the credits at the end of the film, we had this tangible aura of positivity radiating off us. The fantasy world of Wakanda had inspired us.

But that feeling didn’t last though. As we exited the cinema, walked out into the foyer and looked through the tall glass windows of Prestige Plaza, I came to the realization; we are not in ‘Wakanda’. We are in Nairobi. And on that day, my city looked much like it did the day before. Tall buildings, walking ‘wananchi’ amongst the rich people’s cars that float above the pockets of poverty we’ve learned to live with.

I want to feel inspired by Black Panther, I truly do. I hope that children watch that film and carry that sense of pride with them wherever they go — God knows we need it. But at the same time, I have removed my rosy sunglasses and seen that movie for what it actually is.

A marketing power play.

“Why would the same people of the west — the ‘wazungus’ who continue to pillage and impoverish our countries — want to tell our story all of a sudden?”

“Why should they care about us at all when they haven’t in the past?”

This isn’t the western world trying to empower Africans, this is them profiting from the appropriation of our culture. Making Millions of dollars that don’t go into the betterment of African people, but rather into the pockets of the same countries that steal from our nations.

Its quite clever on their part — I’ll credit them for that. They’ve managed to take a people who have been bitterly misrepresented in the past and generate a story that those same people want to believe in (despite how far-fetched it seems from our current reality). And now the world has turned out in droves to see something ‘new’. A new narrative about a ‘new Africa’. And whilst the Africans see a picture of inspiration and empowerment, the west gets the profit and all the credit.

Oh, how it reminds me of a time when we closed our eyes to pray to Jesus, whilst the white man stole all our land from us. It begs the question, who’s really benefiting from this story of Wakanda?

I must admit though; most Africans are loving all this new attention. Even us who live in the cities of this continent are smiling at this “new narrative”. But let’s take off our blinder for a bit. Is this really a new narrative?

We make films in Nairobi. There are films in Uganda, in Tanzania, there is Nollywood in Nigeria — we tell our own stories all the time. So the question we should be asking is why — why is it that only when Marvel brands a story that is not our own, that the world turns out in droves to watch ‘us’Why does it seem that our culture is now in fashion but only cool when someone else ‘wears it’? Why is the African story only selling when someone else tells it? Why did we need the West to tell us a fake story about a magical land named Wakanda, for us to feel empowered and inspired when we have filmmakers of our own telling us real stories?What’s really going on here?

I noticed a few weeks ago that Kendrick Lamar made on of the soundtracks for Black Panther and it plays through the credits. The video is on YouTube and its got over 60 MIllion Views. Watch it and maybe you’ll have the same reaction I did. Like… “wait… Isn’t this guy from Compton, California? How has he suddenly become African? Why’d the pick him to do the soundtrack, we have artists here in Africa too?”

But I suppose when you really think critically about this film, it all makes sense. If I could make 100 million Dollars from pretending to be African, I would do it too (and I wouldn’t be pretending). But we don’t get the same publicity, nor profit that these artists get from being African.

I feel like I need to affirm that I’m not mad. I just want my people to see this film for what it actually is. Go ahead, feel inspired, feel empowered, feel that African is cool now, but at the same time, realize that we always had the ability to empower ourselvesWe don’t need the west to represent us. We can tell our own stories. Being an African isn’t suddenly cool, it’s always been cool, it’s just a shame we needed the west to prove that to us.