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Photo: Disney

Pan-African Dreams: A Skeptic's Take on Black Panther

I went into this movie suspicious of a Disney movie selling "wokeness."

I came into Black Panther skeptical, as I am about most things. I think it's a part of my personal defense to view grand projects that entice people to spend money with disdain and suspicion. This is especially true when it's appealing to an audience of Black people increasingly politicized toward understanding the natural world order as one that disadvantages people of African descent and people in the "Global South." This film capitalizes on this market and on the trending "wokeness." The Black masses, the people to whom this film is marketed, will not participate in this financial gain. This is the bitter reality of a consumer driven society.


What is also true, at least as far as subjectivity can go, is that this movie is profound. Profound in its storytelling, profound in its representation of a living breathing pan-Africanism, profound in its blending of traditions and modernity into a complex (and at times catastrophic) whole, profound in the way it illustrates the dichotomy between Black rage and Black benevolence, profound in the way it tries to achieve harmony through the device of opposition (even when that opposition simplifies the nuances of reality), and profound in the way it casts people who look like me as figurative and literal nobility. Wakandans are loyal people with compassion for each other and the world at large.

Why did an agent of the CIA, the same force that destabilized countries in the Global South, get depicted as a hero?

I still think films like this serve to reinforce a type of Black capitalism while downplaying or simplifying alternatives to the status quo. This has the potential to subvert or undercut calls to build alternative grassroots movements. Seeing a film is not a revolutionary or subversive act, but if I was to be subverted by anything, if I was to be taken by a dream and suspended from reality, Black Panther is the dream I would take.

When I look at T'challa and Erik, I see rudimentary versions of two powerful essences within myself. I come from a particular background that I won't go into here, but safe to say I was fortunate to be raised in household that valued compassion, morals, the civil rights movement, religion, and the black liberation struggle with no sense of contradiction between any of one of these themes. I see myself as belonging to a noble legacy. I also am greatly motivated in part by all the "negative" emotions that drove Erik to become a vehicle of determination and destruction. I've learned how not to let these feelings show, but they're always there, ever-present. I cope with these strong emotions in different ways, but truthfully, I don't see any contradiction between love for the people and hatred for the enemy. If we are all up against large systemic institutional forces that render most of us powerless and unwillfully subject to a world order that increasingly isolates us from each other and the natural world, then it is necessary to hate these forces.

via Disney

However, if hatred is directionless, self-serving and not tied to a wider project of improving conditions within people and within society, then it simply serves to reinvigorate the status-quo, the original object of hate. We effectively become subject to our own feelings with no agency, even when those feelings are justified. I think Black Panther tries to harmonize love and hate by embodying caricatures of the two which ultimately create something new through collision and opposition. I appreciate this, particularly the way Erik does not compromise his indignation, despite the harm his actions do to countless people. Someone narrating his final lines to me is what convinced me to watch the movie. T'challa rethinks his philosophy, and makes a different decision. This is the closest Black Panther gets to reconciling these two positions, which I believe, Black people in the U.S. are forced to do every day.

Seeing a film is not a revolutionary or subversive act, but if I was to be subverted by anything, if I was to be taken by a dream and suspended from reality, Black Panther is the dream I would take.

Ultimately what Black Panther perfectly sketches is the Western world as a chaotic and radicalizing force. Erik, who incidentally reminds me a lot of Tupac, brings all the instability of his American experience to the doorstep of Wakanda. He is a disordered and broken figure. He is a product of the ghetto: the naked expression of capitalism stripped away from its moralizing rhetoric and ideological vigor. "The ghetto," in this movie is the rawest form of consumerism where life and death are traded like brand names and stock. This reality is not afforded the niceties of middle class respectability, in this movie the ghetto is pure despair. Again the depiction of urban poverty serves to show a stark and stylized reality that can't help but make monsters. Even the nobility of Wakanda cannot escape its grasp. It is what makes people angry and tired. It's what lays the groundwork for a riot…or even a revolution.

Erik Killmonger

Black Panther is a product made for digestion. It engages themes in a way that can captivate an audience of superhero and comic book fans. It depicts extremes. Sometimes it can go too far, pushing nuance into the background for the sake of story or even a particular statement about political, economic and social realities. I came into the movie thinking this is problematic. Now I'm not so sure. Whatever little bit of artistic awareness I have nudges me against being so critical, yet my political bones compel me to ask the questions: Why was Erik depicted as a revolutionary, but not as a moral human being? Why did an agent of the CIA, the same force that destabilized countries in the Global South, get depicted as a hero? Why does the movie suggest that we choose between two paths that are reconcilable? Why does the African-American seem to initially have no place in the Pan-African utopia, especially when African-Americans were critical to the articulation of Pan-Africanism?

My biggest fear about this movie is that it is a force that captivates people like me. I am afraid that we will allow ourselves to be taken into a world of pure joy and ecstasy, one where we experience emotional highs at the sight of Black Queens and Kings on screen. We dream as hard and loud as we'd like, in a way that many of us have never felt we could dream at a movie theater. But ultimately we settle for dreams that make us feel like a part of society. I'm a guy who goes to school and occasionally tries to be political. I'm not a machine. Dreaming is therapeutic. People dreamt when Obama was elected. Dreaming can temporarily take us to a place where our wounds from White supremacy fade away. It's nice. Being cynical and outraged all the time takes its toll. But dreaming, for me anyway, isn't a substitute for the demand that these things which elevate us, be they movies or politicians, actually improve our conditions and society at large. I think if I have more of that I'll let myself dream a little bit longer.

Follow Ismaail on Twitter: @ismaailqaiyim

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This Is What Rotimi's 'Walk With Me' EP Listening Party Looked Like

The Nigerian singer held an intimate listening party on the eve of the release of his new EP, 'Walk With Me,' at Brooklyn's Okay Space.

Walk With Me, Rotimi's new and highly anticipated EP, dropped Friday—giving us a seven-track peek into who the singer and actor truly is sonically.

The night before, the Nigerian-American crooner gathered over 100 tastemakers and day-one supporters to Brooklyn's Okay Space—the shared gallery space between Okayplayer and OkayAfrica—for an intimate listening party celebrating the release, as well as his music video for "Love Riddim" which also dropped this week.

The night was simply a vibe—folks enjoyed libations and bites from The Suya Guy, with sounds by DJ Tunez. Rotimi opened the gathering up with a thoughtful prayer, with the music video reveal to follow. The singer then walked the audience through each track from Walk With Me, opening up about the creative process of how each track came to life.

Following, Rotimi engaged in an even more in-depth Q+A session with OkayAfrica's arts and culture editor, Antoinette Isama, where he touched on his experience touring with Wizkid back in 2011, his thoughts on the continued rise in popularity afrobeats is having in mainstream music, his hopes for the future and more. Tunez then ran the EP back when the party ensued, as the project is full of tracks that are worthy of being on repeat.

Listen to Walk With Me below, and be sure to take a look at photos from the listening party by Nerdscarf Photography.

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Film
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 16: Director Ladj Ly and Almamy Kanoute attend the photocall for "Les Miserables" during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2019 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

How To Survive Cannes Film Festival As a Black Filmmaker

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind.

Cannes Film Festival is one of the world's most prestigious gatherings bringing celebrities, filmmakers and actors claiming to celebrate the world's best film. Although the festival is way behind Sundance or the London Film Festival regarding diversity efforts, it remains the place to be if you're a filmmaker—especially a Black one.

I, myself, am a Black French filmmaker who was invited to Cannes as part of their scheme for young film lovers—3 Days in Cannes—open to anyone between the ages of 18 and 28. The scheme, which launched in 2018, requires young hopefuls to write a cover letter showing their passion for film. It ultimately gives young people the opportunity to discover the international selection of films showed at Cannes.

READ: Black Women Are the Future of French Cinema—When Will Cannes Catch Up?

Being in Cannes for the first time was a wonderful experience, but it can be tough to navigate as a Black filmmaker if you're not prepared for it. So, here are top tips.

1) Don't be a person of color—especially if you're Black (Just kidding. But still.)

Cannes is a beautiful, posh city in the south of France. It is part of the Provence Alpes Côte d'Azur, an administrative region where the far right party Rassemblement National (formally known as the National Front) hits record-breaking highs. Despite the fact that the festival is incredibly international, at times it can feel pretty racist, like a sunny, idyllic version of 1960s Alabama, where a party of more than one Black person gets routinely rejected from some clubs/bars/restaurants. On top of that, the staff and some of the security working at the festival can be incredibly aggressive and rude to you and in French. If you don't understand it, it's even more confusing.

To avoid it, try to stick to the official Cannes parties, or hang out in international hotels like the Miramar or the Radisson Blu Hotel—which are used to an international crowd. You can also stick to parties at the various country pavilions near the Film Market.

2) Stick to the African Pavilion

At the festival, most countries have their own pavilion. But because the festival believes Africa is a country, all 54 countries are gathered in one pavilion. This pavilion also includes the Caribbean, since Jamaica, as life would have it, is also an African country. In the African Pavilion, there was even talk on how to submit films if you're a filmmaker of Indian descent (despite the fact that India had its own pavilion).

You're not African? That's okay, no one cares. Pan-Africanism is still alive, I guess? Thankfully, out of the many pavilions, I did find the African Pavilion was the best one the most welcoming and whose schedule was the most open and clear. Because Cannes is such an exclusive festival, most of the parties and talks won't be communicated outside of those who are supposed to attend.

The African Pavilion, however, requires you to sign up to their newsletter. You then access their app where you can see the schedule, the talks to attend and the party they planned. The only downside is that they were understaffed, so some talks and events were cancelled last minute and with limited communication.

If you're a Black French filmmaker, speaking English is a must to get the most out of the pavilion. If you're an English-speaking filmmaker, try to make friends or meet people who speak French, as some of the talks/discussions might not have professional interpreters.

Also, go to the events organized by diversity in Cannes. Now, if you're a Black filmmaker who would rather not stay in the community for fear of being pigeonholed? Unless you're part of a talent scheme run by the festival...good luck getting others to support you.

3) Be ready to WAIT to see films and to party

On average, I waited 1 hour 40 minutes for each film I wanted to see in the official selection program. And I purposely chose not to see the famous ones like the Pedro Almodóvar or Quintin Tarantino's films. I also waited almost two hours to see a film from the Un certain regard selection and didn't get in—despite my pass. Now, Un certain regard has the most highly sought after films, even more so than the Competition, because they tend to select the best among indie international films. To get in for sure, you need a "Un certain regard" pass, so they need to invite you themselves. Even if you have a ticket at the counter, you might not get in unless you wait two hours (standing) or choose to attend the early screening or the late ones (and still, you should be ready to wait 1 hour for these).

You need a pass AND a ticket to see the films from the official selection and walk the red carpet up to the Grand Théatre Debussy. For the ACID, Director's fortnight, Semaine de la critique, and the Official selection's films not shown on the red carpet, you just need a pass—and to be ready to queue for at least 45 minutes.

I wouldn't recommend getting the Cannes cinephile pass as it has a low priority. I saw people waiting 2 hours to see a film and not getting in, while people with professional Black passes arriving 10 minutes before the screening walking past them. Because the Cannes festival is for professionals, they have, unfortunately, priority over members of the public.

Now, with the parties at Cannes, word on the street is that they are not as legendary as they used to be. Even if you get invited to one, you still need to wait an hour. It's not because they are over capacity, but rather they feel the need to pretend that they are. Unless you're a VVIP. And if you're one, why are you reading my article?

Anyway, despite not being as glamorous as they used to be, they remain so exclusive that if your name is not on the list, you might need to sell your first born to attend.

Thankfully, you can avoid it by being smart. When I arrived in Cannes, I was dead set on going to parties to network. Since almost all of them are invite only, I went to the parties at the pavilions, like the UK one, the American one (which costs 20 euros because Americans are always about their money) and the African Pavilion—that were kind enough to facilitate networking by introducing me to fellow filmmakers. God knows how talking to strangers and building new relationships can be difficult, and they made it easier.

4) Make friends with distributors or people working for the Mayor's office

The whole point of the festival is to sell films. Tickets are sparse for most people, so some badge holders wear their Sunday Best and stand outside the grand theater, holding signs asking for tickets. It makes sense that distributors are incredibly powerful, since they have the power to buy and sell films internationally. They are given way too many tickets that should be given to people waiting for hours outside.

So, if you make friends with distributors, they will always have a handful of spare tickets, even for the big ones that everyone wants to see. They also have tickets for the big parties as well. Press badge holders also have priority since they are responsible for a film good or bad media coverage. So they have a handful of tickets too.

People working for the Mayor's office also have tickets because they work closely together since the festival brings so much revenue to the city. Make friends with them, as well as film students and you'll get tickets. Don't know where to find them? Social media is your friend.

There is also another way to get tickets to films: the staff. For example, I couldn't get tickets to see Mati Diop's Atlantiques. I walked to the ticket counter and saw a Black woman with a great hairstyle. My instinct KNEW I had to tag along. I asked her if she needed help. She was looking for the same tickets. We asked someone at the ticket office if they could help. They said they had nothing. But one of the staff members saw us and said she could try to help us. She came back with two tickets and that's how I got to see the film. I got lucky and was cunning. So be nice with the staff, they can help.

5) Be ready for anything

A film festival is intense by nature, but Cannes is a whirlwind. Since you're spending so much time waiting and walking from venues to venues, you won't have time to eat unless you bring food you've made before hand. You're not allowed to eat inside the theaters and if you walk the red carpet, you food is thrown out beforehand. You can try buying food and drinks in the morning and finish it by the time you walk the red carpet. I'd advise buying it at a supermarket like the pricey Monoprix. Or the nearby McDonald's. It's cheap, warm, almost always open and a great way to socialize! Young filmmakers, as well as those from Britain and the States will come to McDonald's to eat since it's one of the places they know best. Why not strike up a convo there?

Also, don't forget your power bank. Your phone will get out of battery for sure, especially if you post content on social media.

Finally, despite its reputation, the festival is incredibly badly organized. You will be told that your badge is not allowed to watch films at other selections, or you would be given the wrong directions and will be lost in the croisette on your way to see an obscure film.

Chill, be ready to walk and use Google Maps. And enjoy!

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Julie Adenuga: "There Are Young Artists In Nigeria Who Are Changing the World"

In an exclusive interview, the Beats 1 radio presenter opens up about her Nigerian heritage, documenting Homecoming in Lagos, and London being an important hub for afro-fusion sounds.

Julie Adenuga sits at the intersection of two continents.

As an affable tastemaker who transforms banal interviews into engaging conversations with some of the most famous artists in the world, Julie is leading the global dialogue on new music from her daily radio show, which broadcasts to over 100 countries.

The North London native of Nigerian descent hails from a musical family, her brothers are artists Skepta and JME, and has risen from the underground as a self-taught presenter on former pirate radio station Rinse FM to being one of three lead DJ's with her Beats 1 show on Apple Music.

A champion of homegrown talent in the UK and across the African diaspora, Julie is a purveyor of the afro-fusion genre, as is evident in her recent Homecoming documentary, which captured the fresh innovators from the Lagos music scene, and her DON't @ ME club nights, which has featured Ghetts, Lady Leshurr and The Compozers as residents.

Chosen as one of OkayAfrica's 100 Women celebrating extraordinary women from Africa and the diaspora, we speak with the presenter and broadcaster on owning her Nigerian identity, the responsibility of spreading afrobeats and why London is a key location for the genre.

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