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How African Cosmology is Presented in Black Panther

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Black Panther tells the story of T’Challa who returns home to Wakanda to take his deceased father’s place as King. Upon his return, an enemy surfaces in Wakanda causing T’Challa’s fate as King and Black Panther to be tried. He is now in a place of conflict, that could determine the destiny of not only Wakanda, but the whole world. T’Challa must utilise all powers of Black Panther to conquer the enemies and keep Wakanda safe. Through this paper, I will look at how African Cosmology is presented in Black Panther, and how it is demonstrated through ancestral veneration, the spirit world, and Priesthood.

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Cosmology refers to the relationship to the universe, the world, the cosmos, and one’s overall conception of it. This is something that many religious and cultural traditions focus on, including African culture. Black Panther has been heavily influenced by African culture and the ways in which they believe in Cosmology. In Yolanda Pierce’s article, African cosmologies: spiritual reflections on the ‘Black Panther’ movie, she discusses how within most African philosophies, everything is a part of the spiritual world, and physical combat, clothing, and body modifications all have sacred resonance.

African Cosmology is shown in Black Panther through ancestral veneration. T’Challa is seemingly guided by the spirit of his deceased father, T’Chaka, throughout his journey of becoming the Black Panther. This is demonstrated after T’Challa dies and sees his father in the Ancestral Plane to reveal his feelings and seek advice from his father as to how to protect Wakanda and be as great of a king as T’Chaka was. In Pierce’s article, she explains how in the traditional African philosophies, ancestors tend to have useful roles in the present life and are respected for eternities following their deaths. There is a thin line between living and dead, which is shown by T’Challa respecting and honouring his father long after his death. He takes pride in this wisdom that he has acquired from his deceased father, just as those who believe in African Cosmology would do.

Additionally, African Cosmology is shown in Black Panther through the connection with the spirit world. When T’Challa takes on the role of the Black Panther, he must obtain what is referred to as the Panther Spirit. The Panther Spirit gives T’Challa his powers throughout the movie, enabling him to take on this position of higher power. As explained by Pierce, the idea of the Panther Spirit is used with reference to the presence of groups of spirits and deities in African supernatural spirituality. These spirits can provide characteristics such as strength to those who believe in spirits. T’Challa believed in the Panther Spirit, gifting him with the strength to fulfill his position as Black Panther and King. African Cosmology believes that while there is a singular creator being God, there is still room for other spirits, such as the Panther Spirit.

Furthermore, African Cosmology is shown in Black Panther through Priesthood. Priesthood refers to the belief that there is a figure of higher power to guide you through experiences. In Black Panther, Zuri, the forest Whitaker, serves as a holy man who holds ultimate power. When T’Challa needs to obtain the power of the Panther Spirit from T’Chaka, Zuri must be present to allow for the passing of the spirit. This is so because of Zuri’s connection with the spirit world and physical world. Pierce explains that “the role of the shaman, priest, and conjurer, or healer, is critical in African Cosmology as these persons may also function as chroniclers and griots”. This means that Zuri holds the power that needs to be passed on to T’Challa. Similar to the role of individuals of higher power in African Cosmology, such as priests and healers, Zuri gives guidance in terms of spirituality and moral significance. He is highly respected by those below him. Zuri allows different events to happen, like the passing of the Panther Spirit, similarly to what a chronicler in African culture would do.

Award winning Black Panther is an exceptional example of how religion is demonstrated in popular culture, through the narrative of the movie surrounding the portrayal of African Cosmology; the relationship to the universe, the world, the cosmos, and one’s overall conception of it. The movie reflects an understanding of aspects of African Cosmology including ancestral veneration, the connection to the spirit world, and the demonstration of Priesthood. These are leading themes throughout Black Panther, making religious imagery a powerful matter. 

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