The U.S. Embassy in Togo was honored to be able to bring the movie Black Panther to a theater in Lomé. The premier also served as the perfect launch event for a new super hero comic book created by the Embassy and a group of young Togolese illustrators.
In our streaming age, when people are more and more likely to watch films on tablets or even smart phones, it’s nice to be reminded from time to time of the power of the communal film experience. I thought of this when I attended the Togolese premiere of the new movie Black Panther.
Black Panther is a big-budget superhero movie based on the Marvel comic book, which tells the story of T’challa, the king of the fictional, technologically-advanced African country of Wakanda. Black Panther is a major, crowd-pleasing, action-packed, and star-studded Hollywood movie. More importantly however, with its African storyline, production design drawing on diverse African cultural motifs, and cast featuring almost exclusively actors of African descent, Black Panther is a groundbreaking effort to redefine how Africa and Africans are portrayed on the big screen.
This was certainly not lost upon the audience I saw Black Panther with in Togo. T’challa is a common name in Togo and a few people in the crowd joked that Black Panther must actually be Togolese. Others wondered if the film’s all-female Wakandan military unit was modeled on the famous women warriors of next-door-neighbor Benin. Above all people cheered to see African traditions and cultures represented so positively.
As the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Togo, I’m proud that my section was able to play a role in bringing Black Panther to Togo. Working with Canal Olympia, the French media chain which has been constructing cinemas across West Africa and which opened Togo’s only movie theater in 2017, we organized a gala “Night of Heroes,” which served both as the premiere of Black Panther and the launch event for a new super hero comic book called “Scarf”. In the comic book, the hero, “Scarf,” fights against human traffickers.
Human trafficking, which is a crime involving the exploitation of children and adults in forced labor or sex trafficking – is a serious issue in Togo, and neighboring countries. It takes many forms in Togo, including forced child labor in the agricultural sector. In Lomé, children are subjected to forced labor in domestic service and roadside vending, or are exploited in the commercial sex trade. Traffickers often recruit victims from the rural north for exploitation in the more urban southern cities. Children from Benin and Ghana are recruited and transported to Togo for forced labor and sex trafficking. The comic book is part of the Embassy’s efforts to educate people in vulnerable communities about the problem. In March, we plan to kick-off an outreach campaign to distribute the comics in these communities, accompanied by information sessions led by facilitators from a local anti-trafficking NGO and representatives of the Togolese government’s anti-trafficking in persons cell.
The creation of the comic book and the organization of the launch event were truly team efforts. Africa Regional Services, based in Paris, provided the funding to design and print the comics. The Embassy’s Political Section, which has the human trafficking portfolio, provided funds for the organization of the launch event. Local partners like Canal Olympia and AGO Media provided invaluable assistance.
As Black Panther went from being a highly anticipated film to a cultural phenomenon, it was encouraging to see so many people’s enthusiasm about being a part of the project. On opening night, it was clear why. Being in that packed theater as the crowd gasped, roared with laughter, and stood on their feet applauding, was for me, an incredibly moving and inspiring experience. Let’s hope Hollywood continues to make movies that challenge the way Africa is represented on the big screen.
About the Author: Michael Pryor serves as a Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Lomé, Togo.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.