Living Vicariously through Black Panther

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Heard @ the Souq

Living Vicariously through Black Panther

10 Apr 2018

Research Associate Muneerah Razak breaks down the movie Black Panther and observes how its screening in Saudi Arabia, a significant event in and of itself, may have an impact on the aspirations of Saudis who dream of a more open society.

The Marvel Studios’ film, “Black Panther”, made history this year with its predominantly black cast. Audiences worldwide were immersed in discussions of the underlying themes from the superhero movie – the acknowledgement of colonialism and the exploitation of colonies’ natural resources, Afro-futurism, gender roles and dynamics, the negotiation of tradition and modernity, the complexity of Erik Killmonger and so much more.

Even Singaporeans got in on the act, proclaiming “Wakanda Forever” and making Black Panther a global cultural phenomenon.

Just when we thought Black Panther could not get more iconic, Saudi Arabia is set to launch the film in a public movie theater, a first in 35 years. Not only that; it will be aired in the first public, unsegregated cinema in Saudi Arabia set to open on 18 April, as part of a deal with cinema giant, AMC. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to open 40 cinemas in the next 5 years fits nicely into his vision for economic or social reform, better known as Vision 2030.

Saudis’ enthusiasm for consuming Western television has always had to be confined to the private sphere. The prince’s move to increase the branding of “Western-style entertainment” helps the domestic economy (both Saudi authorities and cinema operators believe there is a huge untapped market that could generate up to USD$1bn in annual ticket sales through some 350 theatres by 2030). In addition, it also shows the prince’s commitment to move towards “moderate Islam” and change the social and religious norms on the ground.

It seems almost poetic that Black Panther will be the first movie to be shown in April. A thriving African country, Wakanda balances the traditional and the modern, uses its natural resources efficiently and possesses large-scale energy, transport and food-production systems. It also has to navigate American intervention in home soil as well as the question of Wakanda intervening in other countries.

Most strikingly, despite Wakanda being a patriarchal society run by a young monarch, the film portrays a society that values women. Men and women work side by side while being empowered in their own way without one overshadowing the other. In all its similarities, Black Panther could feed the imagination of what Saudi can aspire to be like.

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