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How “Black Panther” honors the feminine through Pantone and kente cloth

We’re still hyped from the new Black Panther trailer, aren’t we? I know I am! In case you haven’t seen it yet, here you go:

Instead of writing about the trailer from the perspective everyone else has been using, I’ve been trying to think of another way to address the trailer and some of the themes present. I definitely knew I wanted to address the magical panther walkabout sequence.

Then, I saw this tweet from The Color of Cinema.

I thought it was a perfect way to start off this post, which will show how Black Panther plays into the Pantone Spring 2018 color scheme. I’ve featured Pantone before in my Annihilation post, and I’ve featured color patterns and trends in my 2018 film trends article. Black Panther, like Annihilation, follows the Pantone New York and London spring trends to a T.

But the colors found in Black Panther also reference the color meanings in kente cloth. Black Panther is a film based on pan-African cultures, and T’Challa himself wears kente–the fabric of royalty in the Ashanti Kingdom (between 1701-1957) and the traditional fabric of the Ewe people, both of Ghana.

The different patterns of kente, along with the different colors used, all have specific meanings and are used for particular occasions, so I thought it would be cool to see how the color theories of kente cloth are also interwoven into Black Panther‘s color stories.

The panther walkabout

In part of the trailer, we see T’Challa on some type of sojourn into what has to be the land of the ancestors. There,  in a very specific Lion King callback, he meets the mysterious panthers that mean so much to his people.

Using some of next year’s Pantone colors, we can see that the blues, purples, and lavenders present speak to what’s going to resonate fashion-wise around the time the film’s released.

The colors are described as “soft,” “romantic,” “energy,” “expressive,” and suggestive of “brighter…days ahead” and the “promise of a new day.” That references what these colors represent in kente cloth.

Pink is associated with “the female essence of life” and purple is connected to the “feminine aspects of life.” Purple in particular is also a color that is usually worn by women. Blue represents “peacefulness, harmony and love.” These colors perfectly represent this moment in the trailer, since we see T’Challa awed by what is a very spiritual, peaceful, reverent and nurturing sight.

It’s also important to remember that the panthers in this scene must be aspects of the panther goddess Bast, one of the Ennead (in real Egyptology, nine Egyptian dieties who were worshipped at Heliopolis; in Marvel lore, a group of interdimensional beings who were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians and lived in Heliopolis, forming the basis of Egyptian culture). It’s as if T’Challa is being welcomed into a spiritual, womb-like space. Yes, I said “womb-like,” because what else would meeting the mother goddess of your people be like?

The feminine is a highly important part of Wakandan society and in this film–it’s a groundbreaking move for a Marvel movie (or any movie, to be frank) to actually show how important the feminine is to the world, not to mention life itself.

It’s even more poignant that this focus on feminine power is happening a film directed by a black filmmaker and centered around African characters. This might be fodder for a separate article, but it would do Americans good to see fully understand the power of black women. As a black woman myself, this power isn’t greatly understood or valued by America, and sometimes not even by us black women–we ourselves can forget. It’s nice to see the black woman being celebrated.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia (1, 2)

The Dora Milaje

The Dora Milaje are the jewels of the Wakandan Empire, and it makes sense–not only do they protect the Black Panther, but they also act as the guardians of Wakanda’s sovereignty and the keepers of Wakandan values. If the Black Panther is the heart of the nation, the Dora Milaje are the blood.

As the blood, it makes sense that they’d be wearing red. But the shades of red and gold present in their wardrobes also reflects what their jobs signify to the country. In kente cloth, red is tied to the spiritual and the political, as well as “bloodshed[,] sacrificial rites and death.” Indeed, the Dora Milaje defend their country with their lives, and will kill to keep it safe. Silver, which is worn by most of the Dora Milaje except for Okoye, can mean “serenity, purity [and] joy.” Silver is also tied to the moon, which, in many cultures, is also associated with the feminine. Gold (which is worn by Okoye) signifies “royalty, wealth, high status, glory, spiritual purity,” and yellow signifies “preciousness, royalty, wealth, fertility, beauty.” These qualities are also present in the Dora Milaje, who are chosen to be ceremonial (or potential) wives for the Black Panther and must uphold queenly qualities, even though they are also the Black Panther’s bodyguards.

T’Challa doesn’t ever call on the Dora Milaje to serve him as a harem; for him, they serve their purpose as bodyguards and trusted companions. I think that’s great, and I’m glad that wasn’t changed for the movie, because it allows the film to strengthen its thesis on the power of black women–in this case, the Dora Milaje are how the film illustrates the maternal strength of black women. While Ramonda is the Queen and mother of T’Challa and Shuri, its the Dora Milaje who are, to me, the mothers of the country. They shield T’Challa with that same type of fierce motherly protection. T’Challa’s surrounded by the maternal constantly, and it’s this force that I feel keeps him the safest, not his powers as Black Panther.

Kente cloth pictures: Wikipedia, Eden Pictures (Flickr Creative Commons)

The colors of the Dora Milaje are also in vogue for Spring 2018, and the descriptions of the colors also invoke the majesty of this elite group of women.

“Bold,” “confident,” “courageous,” “earthy,” and “strength” are all words that can apply to the Dora Milaje just as easily as they have been applied to these four colors.

Ramonda and Shuri

In the trailer, we see Ramonda and Shuri dressed in white. More specifically, Shuri is dressed in all white, while Ramonda is dressed in shades of white and various creams and taupes.

White is associated with happiness; when used in kente cloth, it is associated with “purification, sanctification rites and festive occasions.” With white being a festive color, it makes sense that these two characters are wearing white when reuniting with T’Challa.

Kente cloth picture credit: Wikipedia

Shades of white, taupe and off-white are also big fashion colors for next spring. Pantone has described these colors as “gentle,” “delicate,” “ephemeral,” “comforting,” and “classic.” Fitting words for a color that is steeped in spiritual positivity and the festive mood.

I end this post with a question.

What’s with Nakia’s green wardrobe?

I’ve done some thinking on this. First of all, Nakia’s shades of forest green aren’t in season for next spring, so connecting them to Pantone’s seasonal predictions doesn’t make sense right now. Neither does the traditional meaning of green when used in kente cloth. Green is supposed to be associated with “vegetation, planting, harvesting, growth [and] spiritual renewal,” and that would make sense if, in the comic book lore, Nakia was a spiritually fertile character. However, in the comics, Nakia turns into a villain due to her obsession over becoming T’Challa’s wife (in the comics, he already had a fiancée, American-born Monica Lynne). So that doesn’t make sense either.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that Nakia’s character must have been rewritten for the film. With so much going for the film in the way of strong, well-rounded women, a character who’s defining characteristic is that her life’s choices hinge on whether or not T’Challa loves her wouldn’t fit. My guess is that Nakia has been remade into T’Challa’s actual fiancée, therefore writing out Monica (at least for now). If Nakia has to go bad, I’m assuming she’s given some reason with more substance other than “T’Challa broke up with me.”

I’m on the fence if she will actually turn into a villain at some point, but seeing how Marvel likes to telegraph their bad guys and gals in green (as ComicVine points out), it seems like there’s a strong possibility Nakia could go rogue and turn into her villain alter ego, Malice.

What do you think about Black Panther‘s color narrative? Give your opinions below!

(*All images except for kente cloth images are screencaps from Black Panther trailer. All kente cloth color meanings are from Wikipedia.)

2018 Fashion: How to walk into the “Black Panther” screening in style

Somewhere on Twitter, there’s someone saying how they’re going to show up to the movie theater once Black Panther is released. When the trailer dropped in June, everyone was talking about how they were going to be decked out in their finest threads to see Black Panther, as if the February 2018 release date will be Easter Sunday.

But what could go into the sartorial display folks might (and probably will) partake in once the film drops? How does one show up to the movie theater to watch the most anticipated, most-hyped, and most-loved history-making Marvel film of all time? Look no further than to the Black Panther trailer itself, which gives you looks and inspiration for days.

Mother Africa

Black Panther would be nothing without its adherence to pan-African tribal styles. Black Panther costume designer Ruth Carter said to Elle that she looked to several cultures for the look seen in the film.

“I’m looking at the whole continent and a wide range of people, like the Masai and the Suri. It all becomes a part of the framework of Wakanda. Most people who read the comic books know Wakanda is a mountainous area; it’s a secret place that’s not necessarily trading and interacting with the rest of the world. They’re a little bit more advanced in technology than other civilizations. We are creating that world, and trying to create a culture and pride that feels authentic to the specific location.”

Check out these scenes from the trailer juxtaposed with actual pictures of the Suri and the Masai people.

(photos by Rod Waddington and Dylan Waters [Flickr Creative Commons] and Wikipedia)

Now, I’m not suggesting you go to the film heavily appropriating cultures by wearing facepaint and Masai warrior tunics, because even though we’re black, we’re not of any of these tribes from a cultural standpoint (from a DNA standpoint, who knows). If you are from an African nation and you’ve got some stuff you want to pull out to roll up at the theater in, be my guest. For the rest of us black Americans, perhaps the best we can do is Kente cloth, which has become a part of African-American life ever since it was introduced to us back in the 1950s. As James Padilioni, Jr., of the the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)-run site Black Perspectives, writes:

Kente appeared on the radar of most African-Americans in 1958 when Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of independent Ghana, wore the cloth to meet with President Eisenhower at the White House. Coinciding with the Civil Rights and African Decolonization Movements, Black Americans associated Kente cloth with Black politics and the dignity of the African heritage. By the early 1970s, the predominant garment featuring Kente in the United States was the dashiki, a long tunic-type shirt that grew increasingly popular and commodified by the fashion industry.  Kente’s appeal within Black Power waned, with Fred Hampton and other Panthers leadersderiding those who wore them. Nevertheless, Kente cloth and dashikis remained staples of urban Black life and received a new layer of significance when adopted by the Hip Hop community in the 1980s.

While this is still a little bit of appropriation, the Kente cloth has taken on a very American-specific identity along with its traditional identity. At some point, many a black person has owned an item of clothing made from Kente cloth. Even I, as a kindergartner, made a cardboard doll wearing a Kente cloth dashiki and hat. I’m no sartorial police, but if you happen to have a Kente cloth shirt, hat, or even a scrunchie, wearing it to the Black Panther screening might be one of the best times you could put that item to some use.

Coming to America

The film referred to the most when writing about Black Panther on Twitter is Coming to America. The comparisons are coming even heavier now that there’s official news there will be a Coming to America sequel. It makes sense–both films are about fictional African nations, both films act as uplifting and positive portrayals of Africa, and both films have become cultural touchtones to black American pop culture (even though Black Panther hasn’t even come out yet).

Fashion-wise, does it make sense to connect Black Panther to Coming to America? Sort of. The two films have different tones they’re trying to accomplish with their costuming. However, the common thread is the goal of making an African nation look like the ultimate African nation–regal, luxurious, sophisticated, and welcoming.

Upon taking apart each film’s costumes, it becomes surprisingly apparent that there are some similar elements in the costuming for Coming to America and Black Panther, such as the Dora Milaje wearing red, which is similar to how the royal handmaidens wear red. There’s also a certain use of furs, bright colors, and headdresses that convey the idea that these nations are not to be trifled with because they will outspend you and out-culture you.

Granted, the connective tissue between these two films is small–the main reason people are drawing parallels to the film is because Coming to America is the only film black Americans have that depict an African nation as thriving, rich, culturally-independent, and on-par with (or exceeding beyond) the European status quo. This gets into a representation issue–if there were more films about Africa that didn’t depict the continent as poor and backwards, then we’d have more films to choose from when discussing the place Black Panther has in Hollywood’s film legacy.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lupita Nyong’o had a Coming to America-themed birthday party, officially crossing the streams between Black Panther and Coming to America.

Queen-To-Be & The Lady-In-Waiting. #WakandansInZamunda @danaigurira

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

#WakandansInZamunda birthday partay! Fet. @chadwickboseman as Rev. Brown

A post shared by Lupita Nyong’o (@lupitanyongo) on

“Let them WAIT!” #WakandansInZamunda @michaelbjordan @janellemonae @mykalmonroe @carlulysses #latergram

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Me and my director. #RyanCoogler #WakandansInZamunda #latergram

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I would love to see folks at the theater in Coming to America cosplay. Usually, I hate seeing cosplay when I’m at the movie theater, but for this, I would pull out my phone for to take some pictures. Especially if someone decided to show up wearing a fake lion stole.

Ikire Jones

If you’re planning on going to the Black Panther premiere in supreme style, then you need to get yourself some Ikire Jones. The brand, led by creative director Walé Oyéjidé and head tailor Sam Hubler, weaves together African textiles and modern, urbane chicness into some of the most fabulous scarves and garments I’ve seen in a while. To quote the brand’s website:

We use design as a vehicle to tell stories that illuminate the nuanced lives of marginalized people. We do so without reproach or pity. But instead, by showing that elegance is not exclusive to any particular culture, hue, or country.

It seems natural, then, for Ikire Jones to be showcased in Black Panther as part of T’Challa’s regal wardrobe. As Oyéjidé said to OkayAfrica, the film will give audience members a gateway into thinking about Africa in a new way.

“I think the beauty of Black Panther, is that even though it’s fantastical, it at least opens people’s minds to the idea that people of African descent can be villains, they can be superheroes, they can be rich they can be poor. They can be whole, complicated humans and nuanced, just as people are from other heritages. So, it really is just about cracking open the door and seeing us as equal to everybody else. I think that’s what a lot of us are trying to do with our art in different ways. It happens to be a film, I happen to be a person who makes clothes, but uses clothes as a vehicle to talk about these things. We’re all basically working on the same issue, just in different ways.”

Screencap/Marvel Studios

Here’s more Ikire Jones to whet your whistle:

“Awake & At Home In America” ? @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Squad. ? @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“Awake & At Home In America” ? @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Now available at IkireJones.com

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“Awake & At Home In America” ? @joshuakissi

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

“After Migration” FW16.

A post shared by Ikiré Jones (@ikirejones) on

Jidenna and Black Dandyism

It’s not really in the trailer much, but there is one moment where black dandyism comes to play. That’s when the elder wearing the green suit shows up.

Screencap/Marvel Studios

This moment made me think of one of the foremost people in black dandyism in pop culture, Jidenna.

The power of black dandyism comes from taking the colonizers’ clothes and culture and turning it into yet another tool to subvert white control and re-establish black humanity.

Shantrelle P. Lewis, the artistic curator behind Dandy Lion, an international exhibition and platform showcasing the world of contemporary black dandyism, wrote for How To Get Next about the relationship blackness has with fashion, both as a cultural artifact and as a political weapon.

Black people’s relationship to the sartorial, or sewing and tailoring, actualy predates contact with Europeans. We were some of the first, if not the first group of humans, to sew…So, when African tailors came into contact with European fashions, the blending of styles and culture gave way to a new look.
…Over the past couple hundred years, this art of mixing and matching is a skill that many Black men have manipulated to their own advantage to subvert mainstream racist images. Defiant dressing and oppositional fashion, or using fashion and style to subvert social-political norms, have a long history among Black people in the West–we’ve been using it as an instrument of resistance for 400 years.”

That power can certainly be seen in the elder’s sartorial choices–mixing brightly-colored, tailored pieces with a traditional, yet matching, lip plate. The same type of suiting can be seen on Jidenna, carrying the tradition of black dandyism into a new generation of “Classic Men.”

Jidenna’s black dandyism also makes sure to weave in African textiles and patterns, reflecting Jidenna’s Nigerian background. If you want to arrive in style at the Black Panther screening, try the dandy route and wear classic cuts mixed with traditional prints and statement colors.

More examples of contemporary black dandyism:

How do you plan on dressing to attend once Black Panther premieres?