Fijians See Themselves in “Black Panther”

By JASON JETT

As “Black Panther” credits rolled inside Life Cinema. Some stayed for a preview; others saluted outside.

“I like the fact that it was focused on a black cast. It made me feel proud. It’s a good movie, and I recommended it to friends and schoolmates. It was good to see change on the big screen.” Asenace Dikavu

“It was very different compared to other movies in that it is based on black culture. That was refreshing, and it is a really nice movie. I would like to see more movies like that with diverse casts. Who wouldn’t really like that?”  Kata Simpson

“I really like how they made the movie, the graphics and the costumes. It was all nice. And it was different from most movies when they brought up the country (the fictional Wakanda) in Africa and the advanced technology. It made me feel a closeness to Africa. (What about the lip-plate adorning one actor that produced a pronounced “Uh!” from your group?) For me to see that was a reminder of our old ancestors and their culture. My father is from Cuba, and he has exposed me to some Afro-Caribbean culture.”  Leonard Heatley

“I liked the movie because we could learn different cultures; and not only the differences but the similarities between different nations and cultures.” Rina Arai

The above comments are expressions from four of a 25-member group of pre-teens and teenagers on Gray Road in Mountainview treated to a viewing of “Black Panther” (“Khaufnak Bagh,” the Hindi title) on March 10 at Life Cinema in Nadi.

The mid-day outing was organized to promote cultural awareness and cross-culture exchange. It was patterned after sponsored trips for school children and minority youths to view the movie in cities across the United States and United Kingdom. In this case, the anonymous donor was an African-American in Fiji.

Fijians are seeing something of themselves for the first time in a superhero movie, and have been out-front in making Walt Disney’s and Marvel Comics’ “Black Panther” a worldwide box-office hit.

Not since Disney’s 2016 “Moana” have Fijians been as captivated by a movie. While that tale of ancient Polynesia has been eclipsed in revenue by the Afrofuturism of “Black Panther” worldwide, the Marvel Avengers revival movie will have to sustain popularity in Fiji to best Moana’s box-office reign here from late November 2016 to late January 2017.

“Moana had a two-month run, and theaters were 75 percent full,” said Life Cinema Manager Mohammed Irshad. “You had school and church groups, and corporate rental of theaters. “Black Panther” has been attracting groups, and diverse audiences. But this (its sixth week ending March 25) is its last weekend here.”

At that time “Black Panther” remained atop the box office worldwide, having been the highest-earning movie for five weeks with more than $1.1 billion in sales.

Disney and Marvel Comics selected Fiji as one of a handful of countries the hold advance screenings of “Black Panther” on February 14, two days before the movie’s official worldwide release. Its official opening here was the same as in the United States, and before Australia, India, Japan, Korea and China.

The two shows on Valentine’s Day were a big draw at Life Cinemas in Nadi, Lautoka and Nakasi, said cinema manager Irshad, who added “Black Panther” also had advanced screening that day at Damodar Cinemas in Suva and Lautoka.

Unusual for a movie, “Black Panther” attracted the attention of the news media in Fiji, with coverage in The Fiji Times and Fiji Sun, and well as fijivillage.com. The Fiji Sun on March 10 published the news feature “Why Every Young Leader Should Watch Black Panther.”

“Black Panther” drew the superhero faithful as well as diverse general audiences, with first-week demographics in the United States of 37% Caucasian, 33% African-American, 18% Hispanic and 7% Asian, according to industry ratings agency comScore.

It has been heralded as a game-changer in shattering the glass ceiling that existed for movies with predominantly black casts, and a symbol for promoting diversity in the movie industry. The first international blockbuster with a black superhero in the lead role, “Black Panther” goes beyond sheer entertainment with the audacity to tackle the complicated issues of race and colonialization.

Daniel Kaluuya, who starred in the 2016 breakout interracial horror movie “Get Out” and plays a tribal leader in “Black Panther,” told The Times Colonist of Canada, “To even have 90 percent of the cast speaking in an African accent? To me, it’s like, what is that? No one has ever seen something like that before. You think, “Oh, I’ve been deprived.

“I think it’s going to mess with people,” he added. “I think people are going to stand straighter. I think people are going to be emboldened. It’s like, “Wow, we can do this. We can do this at this level, and bring it home.”