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We have our own Superheroes in Africa

2018-03-18 00:00
Khuli Chana

Johanneburg - It’s been almost a month since the blockbuster Marvel film Black Panther hit the silver screen. In fact, this week it was revealed that the movie made $1 billion (R11.9 billion) at the box office, making it one of the highest-grossing films in recent Hollywood history.

At the root of Black Panther’s success has been the matter of representation, specifically of black people. While the film’s politics may be questionable and unsatisfactory for some audiences, a film that essentially obliterates existing stereotypes and formulaic film making is a feat all on its own. It’s a film with a predominantly black cast, writers, and set and costume designers, all led by a black director. While it can be argued that the film is more American than anything else, it’s certainly thrown fresh kindling on to a growing flame burning among black creatives the world over – thereby asserting that their work, their stories and the images they present matter.

What can we take from this boost for black creatives and what does it mean for us in South Africa and on the continent? It’s obviously significant for a team of largely black creators to come out of Hollywood. But looking at the work of our creators here at home, we didn’t need Black Panther to arrive before we could imagine ourselves as world-saving superheroes. We have comic superheroes here in Africa, many of which are more authentic representatives of African culture, unlike the representation thereof by Americans, as in Black Panther. Examples include South African artist Loyiso Mkize’s Kwezi, a 19-year-old man who learns that his superpowers come with social responsibility.

Similarly, Nigeria’s Comic Republic has created a slew of African superhero characters, which fans have dubbed Africa’s Avengers. Comic Republic, a start-up based in Lagos, burst onto the scene in 2013, responding to what they saw as a lack of uniquely African superhero stories. Unlike Marvel’s Storm from its X-Men series and Black Panther, which both hail from the fictional African country of Wakanda, Comic Republic’s characters are African born and bred.

Comic Republic founder Jide Martin was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “I thought about when I was young and what I used to make my decisions on: What would Superman do, what would Batman do? I thought, why not African superheroes?” The African comic culture movement on the continent is reclaiming a traditionally white, westernised space and making it our own. And the launch of Comic Con Africa in September is a pretty good indicator of the scale of South Africa’s comic fandom after ticket sales opened last week. General admission three-day passes were sold out in less than 48 hours.

Comic Con Africa will present an opportunity to measure how effectively local comic artists are reinventing the industry for our own African superheroes.

But comic book creations aren’t the only superheroes to be found in the African artscape. Particularly noteworthy is the One Source Live campaign, a movement aimed at celebrating African creativity through a collaboration of its artists, musicians, designers and photographers. Scheduled to take place on March 24 in Johannesburg, the beauty of the campaign lies in the way it implores us to imagine these creatives as superheroes in their own right.

And why not? Many of us get the same kind of inspiration and joy from artists as others do from superheroes.

One Source Live is an exciting project precisely because its core focus is the promotion of African creative production. In doing so, it aims to use a platform that is inclusive and open for anyone to participate in, unlike other creative conferences that often end up being too exclusive or too costly to attend.

If there is one thing that South Africa and the large youth population of Africa could use more of, it’s the energy and innovation of its young creatives to march towards a future that is better than its past. Perhaps in this way we can all “dare to invent the future”, as Thomas Sankara once said.

(Supplied/City Press)

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