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Forest Whitaker

In Blood Diamond, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Zimbabwean ex-mercenary utters a line that became one of those oft-heard film quotes. As a means of explaining the way things work – or don’t work – on the continent, he tells co-star Jennifer Connelly, “TIA.” When she doesn’t get his homemade-acronym the first time around, he spells it out: “This. Is. Africa.” It may have taken over a decade, but you could say Black Panther is the cinematic blockbuster retort to that. A long-awaited clap-back in the form of a roar. 
This is Africa. Yes, it’s a heightened, idealized version of it — where vibranium, not diamonds — is the major resource. Yes, it’s called Wakanda, and is a place built out of the pages of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s comic books. Yes, it exists within the fictional Marvel Cinematic Universe. And yes, most of it was filmed in Atlanta in the US. But make no mistake. This. Is. Africa. 
This is Africa – a multifaceted, exhilarating place that hardly gets the kudos it deserves onscreen. Not until now, not until Black Panther. As a South African, I was giddy with little squeals of excitement each time I heard Xhosa being spoken by the characters or recognized an item of clothing. It’s because for so long, when Africa has been represented onscreen, a simplistic view has usually been shown. Poverty over potency. When attempts have been made to change the portrayal of Africa onscreen, more often than not, shortcuts are usually taken. I will love Morgan Freeman forever, but even he battled with pronouncing the Rolihlahla of Nelson Mandela’s name in Invictus. In Black Panther, the clicks and accents of Xhosa are there. The effort to be authentic is there. It’s in the “eish” that Lupita Nyong’o utters when T’Challa interferes in her mission. It’s in the “Nkosi” uttered by the women in moments of hardship. 
It’s in the Basotho blankets that are held up as shields in battle. It’s in the gold and silver Ndebele neckrings the Dora Milaje wear. It’s in the casting of legendary local actors John Kani and Connie Chiume as elders.  
In director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, this is Africa. Where scientists and shamans live side by side; where spiritualism and technology can co-exist.
Where world music’s elder statesman Baaba Maal and the Gqom Queen Babes Wodumo share space on the music credits. Where trap music can play in the background of one scene, and then traditional drum-beating in the foreground of another. Where Kendrick Lamar can curate songs and Ludwig Göransson can compose them.
This is Africa – where women in front of the screen are just as important as any man, but not at the cost of their femininity. From the moment Angela Bassett, as T’Challa’s mother, enters the frame in her regal white headdress, I thought of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with her stature and formidability. But also her fallibility and devotion. [Side note: why have we never seen Bassett play Madikizela-Mandela?] From the instant we meet Lupita N’yong’o’s spy Nakia, we know she is her own force to be reckoned with, beyond the love she has for Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa. And Danai Gurira’s Okoye fights and wields weapons as deftly as any army general, but she can also throw her wig in combat when the spirit moves her.
This is Africa – where Letitia Wright’s teenage Shuri, with her cheeky sense of humour, can act childish, but still knows how to program the hell out of a suit. A younger, way more stylish Alfred or Q to Boseman, if you will, but for a new generation of young girls to look up to.
This is Africa – where women behind the screen are important too. Debbie Berman, who was born in Johannesburg, edited the film, after working on Spider Man: Homecoming.
It goes without saying that Black Panther has been the most anticipated film of 2018, with pre-sale box office tickets breaking records all over the world. There is a richness to the interviews the cast members and director Coogler have been giving. There’s an electricity flowing through this film that is unlike any other. 
Leaving the cinema after seeing Black Panther at a press screening, I felt the energy coursing through my veins – like I had just taken some of the heart-shaped herb that gives T’Challa his powers. That’s what happens when you see something so exhilarating, fantasy grounded in the real, on the big screen. An experience that leaves you thrilled for what you’ve just seen unfold in front of your eyes – and ears – and for what comes next. An experience that makes you proud to say, “This. Is. Africa.” 


Pic from Entertainment Weekly.

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Lee Daniels’ The Butler arrives in cinemas in the US this weekend. It’s a while before it reaches South African shores, but the film has a close resonance that will be felt there, in scenes where Nelson Mandela’s name is chanted, and Apartheid is protested from afar. I will be posting links to the stories I’m doing when the film releases closer to the time, but for now, there were a few words said at a recent press conference for the film that I’d like to share.

The film springs off from the true life story of Eugene Allen, a butler who served at the White House through 8 presidencies. Danny Strong took the article written about Allen, by Wil Haygood in the Washington Post, and created a movie script that, through one man’s story, we are able to learn and feel more about the experience of a black family living through the Civil Rights movement.

The film’s themes of racism and wearing ‘two faces’ came up during the press conference, as the line is uttered during the movie as something Cecil, the butler played by Forest Whitaker, has to do when interacting with white people.

First Lee Daniels spoke about his experience, and then Oprah.

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Then Cuba disagreed…

But Terrence Howard left us with these profound words…

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The experience of the press conference was almost like being in an Oprah episode itself. With the legacy of racism still being felt today, the film – and further discussions around it – are so valuable.

 

There were many reasons I enjoyed the 2012 Social Good Summit. One because Forest Whitaker was there. Two because so were Rory Gilmore and Betty Suarez. All kidding aside, it was an uplifting 3-day event, during which I heard a few resounding themes that came up over and over – from both the celebs that took part and the rockstars running non-profits and other such inspiring organisations.

 

Perhaps the most over-riding idea was the one articulated by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank, that, when it comes to the future, there is more to be excited about than to get worried. Those words were echoed in the many initiatives being showcased during the SGS – from Al Gore’s The Dirty Weather Report to the United Nations Foundation’s  Global Entrepreneurs Council Global Good Challenge, which is giving away prizes like meeting Lady Gaga and a trip to Africa (which part of the vast continent, I’d like to know?) in exchange for engaging and sharing in world issues.

Another theme that kept coming up is the idea of serving the world by following your passion. This was particularly true in actress Maria Bello’s story about her work in Haiti with creating a women’s network called We Advance. Angelique Kidjo too, explained her passion for becoming a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador comes from her parents. “The thing that is important for us to understand with social media, is the message we send and how we send it,” she added. As for Rory and Betty, aka America Ferrera and Alexis Bledel, nothing replaces physically going to place to see things for yourself, as they did on their trip to Honduras with ONE.

 

Kudos to the event for taking place throughout the world too. My friend Mariska attended the Social Good Summit in Nairobi, while I was in New York. There were meetups happening on the ground throughout the world where people were watching the live stream and participating.

Ultimately the day was best summed up by one of the speakers, Beth Kanter, who said: “It’s not about the tools, it’s what you do with them.” Simple as that, really. But Mr Whitaker gets the last word here – with so many ideas and initiatives wanting our attention, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stop caring altogether. And all this talk about technology can sometimes be impersonal and too technical. His answer – as sappy as it sounds – is love. Take a look:

I’ll leave you with another highlight – Deepak Chopra – who gives us an idea on how to find the spirituality in technology.

 

 

* The 64th Primetime Emmys handed out top honours for TV’s best comedy, drama, variety and reality shows.

* Green Day’s Bille Joe Armstrong has checked into rehab, following at outburst at the iHeart Radio gig in Las Vegas this weekend.

* Bruce Springsteen turned 63 and invited 60 000 fans to his birthday party in New Jersey on Saturday night.

* Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker launched his PeaceEarth initiative last week, and spoke at Sunday’s session of the Social Good Summit.

* Mumford and Sons release their new album today, after imitating the Beatles and performing on SNL this past weekend.

Pic: emmys.tv