African Culture and Fashion in American Film Industry

Winter ABC 2021: Day 15

 It is week 4 of the Winter ABC Blogging Festival and the theme is Fashion and Culture. This is a golden opportunity to illustrate how African culture and fashion influence the film industry in America. The representation of modern Africa and her rich colorful heritage is becoming a trend in America. Infusing African fashion into American-centric pop culture. The African-American seeking mitigation to reconcile with their roots by incorporating Africanism in both fashion and culture.

Movies mirror culture and it is vividly displayed in The Black Panther blockbuster that hit the screens in early 2018. We are introduced to a fictional African country Wakanda, rife with diverse ethnic groups across Africa. The costumes are inspired by several indigenous authentic African print and designs that are portrayed as the contemporary culture of Afrofuturism. The costumes are based on the Pan-African flag with bright and flamboyant colors. Wakandan populace represent the Tuareg people of the Berber traditional confederation of the Sahara and the mining tribes resembles the Himba of Namibia with red ocher body paint and leather headpieces.

The Wakandan Elder of the Tribal Council Vs a girl from the Himba Tribe of Namibia

W’kabi and the Border tribe look is inspired by Basotho blankets from Lesotho, with similar riding skills as the Basotho riders but in the movie, they ride rhinos instead of horses. The Border plains are rocky and mountainous like Lesotho landscapes. Queen Ramonda’s crown is a hat known as isicolo worn by traditional Zulu women from South Africa. Nakia from the Spy River tribe embodies the Suri of Ethiopia and their earthly certain way of life. Accessorizing their outfits with shells and leaves. The Dora Milaje Warriors wear stacked neckpieces, bangles from Kenyan and Tanzanian Maasai women. The leather harness used in the movie was made by a South African designer. They’re a representation of the Dahomey female soldiers of Benin who fought French imperialists in the 1600s.

Overall production style and architecture is based on West and Southern Africa. The elders of the Tribal council each have looks that trace back to distinct African cultures, like the Himba women, the Mursi of Ethiopia known for lip plates that stretch the lower lip with a wooden plug. The main language adapted in The Black Panther is South African Xhosa language which is also a part of Zimbabwe’s 16 official languages. The mining of a fictional mineral vibranium exemplifies African wealth in diamonds and gold. Sound tracks for this movie featured South African female artist Babes Wodumo and classical orchestra backed by a Xhosa choir. I love the strong progressive narrative of African women in positions of power, displayed in this movie.

The 1988 movie Coming to America is a classical American production influenced by African nuances. I haven’t watched the sequel that was released two months ago, so this review is based on the first movie. Again, we have a fictional African nation, Zamunda. Unlike the Black Panther, Coming to America is a diluted version of African culture and Eurocentric euphuism. Minimal efforts where put in comprehensive research to depict the true African culture in its progressive and true nature. For instance, Zamunda people keep wild animals such as lions and elephants as pets. This is a typical ignorant stereotype that paints Africa as a virgin tropical jungle. The constructive aspect was putting the African aristocracy on an equal pedestal with the white man and securing their social stature in the American hierarchy.

King Jaffe stoicism represents the all-weather African tyrant. The costumes imitate everyday styles from Cote d’ Ivoire, Gambia and Senegal. The women of Zamunda wear colorful animal print dresses and turbans that are enthused by west African dress sense. The male royalty folded cap is similar to Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta. The king and prince drape taxidermized animal heads on their chest inspired by Haile Selassie, the last empire of Ethiopia.  

King Jaffe drapes taxidermized Lion head on his chest inspired by Haile Selassie, the last empire of Ethiopia.  

The 2020 musical film Black is King produced by Beyoncé references various African traditions. It is a musical version of the Lion King in human form, reshaping the African narrative through clothing and display of Africa’s beautiful landscape. Through fashion, Black is King reveals the varied African cultures. There are flashes of traditional symbols that convey different ethnicities. Africans are celebrated in each scene, Beyoncé dresses like one of the Yoruba goddess of rivers and fertility, Oshun, jewelry pieces influenced by the rulers of Akan people of Ghana and Ivory Coast. She also wears a gown inspired by the Mossi people from Burkina Faso known for their dance tradition with gowns made from voluminous thick fabric.

Head turbans are the focal points of each of Beyoncé’s ensemble. A non-verbal celebration of African fashion that stems from Nigeria, Ghana and Southern Africa. She also wears the Zulu women’s isicolo hat. Beyoncé duplicates the Herero headpiece of Namibian women and dances with a calabash balanced on her head displaying the powerful Herero femininity. Another outfit made out of cowhide Burberry finds its inspiration from the Nguni shield that is also made out of cowhide and cow-horn head gear inspired by the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia. The leopard print jump suit that she wears is drawn from, the Zulu warriors who drape their shoulders with leopard skin.

Cow-horn head gear inspired by the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia.

Black is King is a reclamation of the African culture and reconstruction of black identity. The inclusion of the African-Americans into the African heritage. Smashing together the Black American culture with black Africans to create oneness and a single black identity.

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