‘Black Panther’ fever grabs SA

John Kani plays King T’Chaka in ‘Black Panther’
Picture: Arman Hough

New Brighton-raised John Kani proud to be part of cinema history

It is smashing box-office records internationally and South Africans are queuing up in their droves to see it, but for one of the stars of Black Panther – Port Elizabeth’s iconic John Kani – it is also shattering many a Hollywood stereotype.

The film, which has become a cultural phenomenon, took in more than R16.8-million at the South African box office, with total attendance of close to 200 000, for the three-day opening weekend from Friday to Sunday.

This debut ranks as the third-biggest industry opening weekend ever in South Africa as well as the biggest opening for a Marvel Studios film ever in the country.

In addition, Black Panther scored the highest Saturday box office of all time in South Africa, with takings of more than R6.9-million.

In the US, the film’s total take over the four-day Presidents’ Day weekend is expected to be around $218-million (R2.5-billion), eclipsing its $200-million (R2.3-billion) budget.

For Kani, 74, the Disney-Marvel blockbuster has put Africa on the big screen like never before.

“The most important thing about this movie for me – especially in Hollywood – is that a movie about black people by black people and about Africa can make a statement and that it can be extremely ultra-commercial,” he said yesterday.

New Brighton-raised Kani – who plays King T’Chaka from the fictional East African nation Wakanda in the film – said: “What makes me [more] proud is that the superheroes from Spider-Man, Batman, The Avengers and Fantastic Four are all white – young kids go to the cinema and they see these heroes and, now, this time, they see the Black Panther and the hero is black like them.

“The hero speaks the language like them, and for some they might just pick up the phonetics that it is an indigenous language from Southern Africa.

“This movie has inspired young people to believe in themselves, to see a superhero who sounds like them, looks like them, and of that I am very proud.”

Speaking from his home in Gauteng, Kani – who hails from New Brighton – said he hoped the South African film industry and investors would provide opportunities and resources to ensure the industry was able to flourish on international levels as well.

“I was amazed at how South Africans have received this film,” he said.

“In the premiere shows, we received standing ovations.

“I am dying to see this movie in Port Elizabeth, where Tata John Kani is from.

“I would be so fascinated to share in the views of my people back home – it would be so great.

“This movie has been called an icon – a moment in time where black people are being celebrated for their outstanding work.”

Fondly known as “The Doc” among his colleagues on set, Kani – who also appeared briefly in Captain America: Civil War – said the idea of using isiXhosa stemmed from that film and it was African-American film director and screenwriter Ryan Coogler’s idea to make use of the language in Black Panther as well.

Kani’s son, Atandwa, plays a younger version of King T’Chaka and although they did not shoot any scenes together, Atandwa was kept on as culture and language consultant to help in the process of creating authentic African scenes and cross-references.

Actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurira spent months trying to nail the perfect Xhosa accent and pronunciation. “The clicks are no joke,” Nyong’o said. “Danai experienced some of it having been here [South Africa] for a semester before‚ but some of us didn’t.

“It was quite the challenge because it is one of the hardest languages on the planet.

“Atandwa was really our go-to guy. The songs‚ translations and all those things‚ Atandwa was our guy,” Nyong’o said.

Film reviewer Bat Manyika, writing for rosslester.com, said: “Black Panther disturbs the regressive and blinkered narrative known in some quarters as the ‘white saviour complex’.

“Arguably, Black Panther is a watershed moment demonstrating that there are heroes in Africa.”

Grahamstown National Arts Festival executive producer Ashraf Johaardien said: “I am impressed by the fact that they [filmmakers] have made such a concerted effort in terms of the casting and creative team, and I love that there are two black writers as well as the director.

“Part of the reason why the people have had a very strong response to the film is because it represents such strong, powerful black characters.

“Its mythology is located in Africa, which is very attractive and very appealing, and it is great that they have cast strong black characters like John Kani and his son, albeit in minor roles, as well as the strong black female characters.

“[But] it is Hollywood. It is a particular picture of a pipe dream that they are selling.

“I am sorry if I am sounding cynical but I am very aware of who holds power, especially in this country, in terms of the stories we choose to tell, who writes those stories, who produces and presents those stories.”

Johaardien said judging from the trailer and his extensive research on the film, the mode of storytelling was purely for entertainment.

“We run a film programme at the National Arts Festival and [Inxeba] The Wound is definitely something we would consider because it is homemade and it has created meaningful robust conversations.

“It is a complicated, created endeavour and I am not sure Black Panther is all that complicated.

“It is strategic and well thought out, probably very well made and with a $200-million [budget] it is very hard to go wrong,” he said.

Kani said while he could not comment on the controversial Inxeba – which has just been reclassified X18 – as he had not yet seen it, he was against censorship of any form.

Now that Black Panther filming has come to an end, Kani has started working on his next project, The Lion King, which will star Beyonce, James Earl Jones and Seth Rogen.

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