Black Panther Made Cosplay an Important Moment For the Culture

Imagine walking into your local movie theatre and entering the world of Wakanda before you even get to your seat, surrounded by fellow Black people wearing Ankara floor-length skirts, kente dashikis, Agbadas, boubous and black berets. It’s the ultimate manifestation of a black renaissance that has been brewing, especially on social media, for years now. And it was brought to life thanks to Ryan Coogler’s highly anticipated Black Panther movie.

Black Panther shattered projected numbers during its opening weekend, grossing roughly $404 million worldwide (and counting). The Marvel film has secured the biggest opening weekend in February ever, the biggest opening for a Black director, and the fifth-biggest domestic opening of all time. But it’s social impact only begins at the box office — on social media, the film has amassed an engagement of over 2.2M* across at least nine hashtags. People aren’t just buzzing about the amazing plot line and relevant social commentary; they are sharing photos and tweets about their own metaphoric trips to Wakanda, as black people went out to movie theaters around the world wearing Black Panther-themed Cosplay.

You most likely saw this meme on your Instagram feed multiple times over the past few weeks:

Black Panther Memes If you thought this was a joke, you were highly mistaken. This meme was more of a Call-to-Action that in some part ignited a massive Cosplay moment in black culture. The red carpet-worthy fashions inspired a social media phenomenon that takes #FortheCulture to a groundbreaking level.

Cosplay or Costume play is defined as the act of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, especially from Anime or Science Fiction. 

While Cosplay is popular among Sci-Fi and Marvel film lovers around the world, it was widely embraced among the black community during the opening weekend of Black Panther. Black people dressed up in regal African-inspired garb — not just for the fun of it, but as a symbol of their pride in finally witnessing super heroes and heroins that reflect the multidimensional aspects of their identity. Just a few years ago, wearing an afro on the red carpet or on the runway was considered controversial. Less than six months ago, a federal court made it legal to discriminate against employees with dreadlocks .This fashion phenomenon fueled by the Black Panther movie is much more than a fleeting social media hashtag. It is a form of social commentary that acknowledges the black community’s unapologetic reclamation of their identity.

The #WakandaStyle phenomeon sparked some minor criticism on social media, with some people claiming that participants were ’taking it too far’ or ‘misinterpreting’ the true concept of the movie. But the accurate references to African heritage and spot-on commentary about issues spearheaded by the African diaspora simply cannot be denied. The fashion and culture prominent throughout the film pulled inspiration from multiple regions and tribes of Africa (such as Erik Killmonger’s tribal markings similar to the Mursi and Surma tribes of Ethiopia or the outfits worn by the Dora Milage warriors inspired by the Ahosi of Dahomey and Massai people of East Africa), inspiring viewers to seek out more knowledge of our heritage and celebrate together, face-to-face, by using fashion to make a collective statement. Beyond that, it ignited a massive exchange of information among viewers on social media as fans solved the countless easter eggs dispersed throughout the film.

The Sun recently published an article regarding the film, @BlackPanther, in which the all woman army; the ‘Dora Milaje’ warriors, are inspired from The Ahosi of Dahomey, or the ‘Dahomey Amazons’. The reason why I am so excited 😁 is because when my twin @tk_wonder and I did our ancestry DNA last year, we discovered some of our ancestor’s lineage is from the Dahomey Amazons. Read more below 💪🏾 ••• The all-female military regiment, created by King Houegbadja in the 19th century, were chosen for their incredible ability to fight men. ••• Often recruited as virgin teenagers, the fierce women would live in the royal palace in what was then the kingdom of Dahomey – now known as the modern day Republic of Benin. ••• They dedicated their efforts to weapons training, protecting the king and wars of conquest, according to a Unesco project about the warriors. ••• The women made up different units, each with its own battle songs, and were allegedly equipped with Danish guns and their own uniform. ••• Dahomey women were trained to be strong, fast, ruthless and fought to the death, according to reports. ••• Training exercises resembled a form of gymnastics, including jumping over walls covered with thorny acacia branches and being sent on 10-day “Hunger Games-style” expeditions in the jungle with only a machete. ••• They also learnt survival skills and insensitivity training, with one initiation test involving seeing whether the women were merciless enough to throw bound human prisoners of war to their deaths from a fatal height. -The Sun #blackpanther •••

A post shared by Cipriana Quann (@ciprianaquann) on

Black History Month usually focuses on the groundbreaking figures of the Civil Rights movement, but Black Panther pushes us to recall our lineage as Kings and Queens before bondage. Because of this, Black Panther represents a shift in pop culture that extends far past its achievements at the box office. It offers a literal representation of what we’ve been trying to say through hashtag movements like #BlackGirlMagic and #BlackBoyJoy — we are powerful, woke and ROYAL. So we might as well dress the part.

*Hashtags Calculated in Social Media Statistics

#blackpanther – 1,773,376, #blackpanthermovie – 112,227, #blackpantherpremiere – 10,604, #blackpanthersolit – 13,741, #blackpanthercosplay – 6,850, #blackpanthermarvel – 1,942, #wakanda – 174,372, #wakandaforever – 158,935, #wakandastyle – 3,499

The author acknowledges that some engagement from hashtag ‘#blackpanther’ will be in reference to the Black Panther party and in no way related to the Black Panther film. With the hashtag ‘#blackpanther’ not included, projected social media engagement is approx. 550K on Instagram.

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Gabriella Layne

Editor-in-Chief of The Strut Magazine

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