I feel unprepared to go see Black Panther at the cinema. Partially because I am in the middle of moving to a new house, but mostly because I think I can’t possibly come up with something appropriate to wear. Every time I think I’m ready, I’m blown away by someone else’s attire. Black Panther has created this infectious buzz and simply showing up to watch it in comfy cinema clothes seems inconceivable.
I may be overthinking things, but Tom Ford’s famous quote “Dressing well is a sign of good manners,” seems particularly justifiable in this case. From the moment the trailer was released, social media has been in a frenzy over the attire best suited for the premiere. The opulence and regality associated with the costume design of Wakandans in the film most likely had something to do with it. After a long time, here is a movie with a majority black cast playing roles which opposed stereotypical roles for black actors. In addition to that, through costume design it reenergized the meaning of black pride. And if that wasn’t enough, Guyanese-born actress Letitia Wright has a starring role in it. There are a multitude of reasons to not only go and see Black Panther, but to do so in fine style. All in the name of good manners.
The film’s costume designer Ruth Carter knew the importance of clothing playing its part in shaping the film’s storyline holistically. In an interview, Carter is quoted as saying, “Wakandans are serious about fashion.” She stated that her vision for Wakandan clothing was influenced by traditional and contemporary African fashions and then remolded to fit the tech forward and eco-conscious country. It is from this, that viewers can fathom the possibility of such a place, taking into consideration its politics, culture and social structure. Carter said she kept four words on her mood board throughout the design process: Beautiful, Positive, Forward and Colorful.
For some, persons’ over-the-top and ‘extra’ moves seemed frivolous and unnecessary. On the other hand, the swift embracement of all things Black Panther is clear-cut evidence of a genuine desire to know and be more involved in black culture, not to mention an unpretentious delight in seeing black beauty and culture as desirable.
The negative remarks highlight our biases. Movies like Pretty Woman, Mean Girls and Sex and the City, which were centred around using European fashion to further enhance and steer the movie line, while captivating the viewer, did not receive as much as a raised eyebrow. To this day, women still idolize Carrie’s closet and the quirky remark ‘on Wednesdays we wear pink,’ a pop culture, cool girl code coined in Mean Girls.
Is it that our sense of style has been so whitewashed that anything originating from black culture is deemed questionable? Possibly. And this is another reminder that we still have a far way to go.
Perhaps this is why I feel so inclined to wear something show stopping and Afrocentric. In a world where black people still face
so much oppression and systematic racism, this film is a remarkable reminder of the possibilities which exist when we collectively recognize and appreciate black beauty and black fashion. Even though some might claim the reality of a science fiction movie is farfetched, its premise shows that together we already possess the political and social will to change and improve things even further in a series of small steps.