The Roots of Marvel’s Superhero, Black Panther

7 min read

The Real Black Panther Wakanda Forever blanket

Marvel’s Superhero, Black Panther steeped in real life African mysticism and culture

You might ask why we are talking about a Black Panther marvel series, Its a good question. Take a close look at the blankets that are draped of the kings guard in the above image and you might recognize them. They are in fact our very own Basotho Heritage blanket and yes this is the only place in the United States were you can get 100% real Basotho heritage blanket.

Scattered across Africa lie the roots of Marvel’s latest creation, Black Panther with the movie sequel “Wakanda Forever” set to take the silver screen by storm in 2022. The first Black Panther movie was a long-overdue box office hit that showcased Ruth Carter’s remarkable costume design talent that carries over into the sequel but may include a few new surprises.

What a Marvel-lous choice.

It’s so refreshing to be able to able to relate to the fantasy world of superheroes and the wonderful new creations that come to life when we imagine the possibility. Wakanda may be a fictitious kingdom lost somewhere within the beauty of Africa but there is a tangible essence to the beauty captured in the colorful Wakanda-styled attire. 

Pride Loyalty respect - Wakanda Forever

Ruth Carter imagined royalty, pride, honor, respect, and prestige when she selected culturally significant items that include fabrics and jewelry from across Africa to assemble a fitting wardrobe for a dignified Wakanda nation. The repeating triangle patterns detailed in Black Panther’s suit are symbolic of the sacred geometry of Africa and being fit for a king surely this sacred allure must adorn the breastplate of a superhero.

Throughout the costumes featured in the 2018 Black Panther movie are snippets of real African daily dress and to ensure continuity in the sequel, these breath-taking costumes with a few new additions will once again grace the silver screen in Black Panther – Wakanda Forever. 

We all know superheroes are fictitious characters that allow us to fleetingly escape the harsh realities of the world we live in. But to briefly escape we have to believe in fiction, even just a little. 

Making superhero movies using real-world settings is part of the trick that makes the audience and fans comfortable enough to let go a little. Superheroes must be relatable from a human sense and although we may never acquire their powers, we certainly can emulate their overall dress code. 

For people not familiar with the nations and cultures of Africa, some of the costumes may seem a little farfetched like the idea of wearing blankets in what seems to be a warm Wakanda climate. Yet blanket wearing in Africa is as normal as yellow cabs in New York City.

A marvelous idea indeed - bridging reality with fiction especially with tangible costumes that depict the hidden gems of African cultural dress. 

The storyteller through costume

Ruth Carter is the mastermind behind Wakanda’s stylish and regal wardrobe but being a fashion designer is not quite her primary talent. Ruth is first and foremost a storyteller and everything else stems from her ability to create a flow of words that translate into detailed pictures of the story she imagines and shares. 

The Afrofuturistic new world of Wakanda came about through a melting pot of creative thought of which Ruth was a part. She was able to mesh together a sci-fi glimpse of the future and present-day African cultures many of which date back centuries.

What Ruth got right is that African people show a lot of pride in their clothing because it not only defines the person but also defines the greater community built on honoring their ancestors. Such is the Basotho blanket that forms part of the daily attire of the Sotho people of Lesotho which Ruth resonated with and included in the Wakandan wardrobe.

This reminds me of the movie “Out of Africa” where Meryl Streep playing Karen Blixen claimed to be a good storyteller and all she needed was the first sentence to begin the story. Creativity flows differently in people and Ruth Carter has her unique way of telling a riveting and believable story without the use of words. 

Basotho blankets in Wakanda.

A true sign of respect is correctly portraying the ethics and sacred cultural expressions of a nation. Ruth Carter and her team of more than 30 designers and buyers travel Africa in their bid to create the ultimate Wakanda wardrobe. Their instructions were simple; to learn about the culture and to get permission to portray any cultural items in the movie.

Basotho blankets had a role in Black Panther and with the blessing of the people of the Lesotho kingdom, their blankets became part of the Wakandan protective attire. The magic power of the Wakandan (Basotho) blankets emits a force field, but in reality, the Basotho blanket has a more subtle force field that protects the wearer from harsh weather conditions and helps to regulate the body temperature from within. It’s just the natural magic of pure Merino wool at play.

Also it should be noted that "We have intellectual property rights over the blankets and their design and that is why all our blankets come with a warning for people to be on the lookout for counterfeit blanket," says Kritzinger manufacturer marketing manager of the Basotho blankets in South Africa. So beware of knockoffs especially those saying that they are real Basotho blankets 

The Seanamarena Basotho blanket is the crown jewel of the range of Basotho blankets and its name means “to swear by the chiefs” which fits right in with the people of Wakanda.

Director Ryan Coogler had never been to Africa and when Marvel asked him to direct the 2018 Blockbuster Black Panther, he made it his mission to visit Africa. He needed to understand African culture from a first-hand perspective if he had any hope of being a success. 

Ryan went to work and for the most part, he immersed himself into the African communities he visited and often went off on his own to get that “deeper connection” with the people.

I’m sure Ryan was blown away on his visit to the Sotho people because the Basotho blanket features prominently as part of the King’s guard in the movie. The colors, patterns, and textures must have been an attention grabber, but the practical benefits of Basotho blankets may have led to creating the sci-fi powers illustrated in the movie.

The real Wakanda forever basotho heritage blanket man wrapped in the seanamarena

Scatterlings of Africa

Johnny Clegg passionately known as the white Zulu was one of South Africa’s great musicians. His song Scatterlings of Africa is synonymous with how the nation of Wakanda formed its identity as a nation comprised out of 5 different tribes.

The Ashanti kingdom of Ghana was comprised of 8 different clans that were autonomous in language and culture but fell under the authority of the Ashanti king. This makeup of nations occurred throughout Africa and was not the result of borders being drafted during the colonization of Africa.  

From the Basotho blankets of the Sotho people, we venture out to portray some of the many African cultural influences that shaped a future world called Wakanda.

  • Zulu Nation, South Africa: Traditional disc-shaped bridal hat.
  • Maasai Tribe of Kenya: Deep red shawl and long spears.
  • Ndebele Tribe, South Africa: Golden ring is worn around the neck and wall paintings.
  • Himba people, Namibia: Distinctive thick locks of hair with fluffed ends.
  • Dahomey, Benin: All-female military units that have existed since the 1600s.
  • Igbo, Nigeria: Horned mask called Mgbedike which means “time of the brave”. 
  • Mursi, Ethiopia: Large lower lip ring.
  • Ashanti, Ghana: Kente cloth scarf.

Several other influences relate to jewelry and past relics housed in museums around the world that were incorporated into the décor and costumes used in the movie. All these African cultures came together to create a believable future nation which may lead some to believe that we live in a simulation without superheroes. 

Rooted in African cultures lies strong messaging and when it comes to jewelry and fabric designs, it is almost a given that there are strong virtues weaved into this non-verbal form of communication. Throughout the history of African cultures, royalty has always been revered and only the finest, creations, fabrics, and designs are authorized for royal use. 

If one looks at the origin of Kente cloth for argument's sake, the use of different colors all have a significant meaning and are mostly related to virtues like peace, harmony, love, passion, pure spirit, and healing. Below is examples where red and black included in the Kente cloth patterned design are used to honor the ancestors.

  • Red: passion, ancestors' blood, political, and death
  • BlackSpiritual awareness creating a bond with ancestors, strength, and heritage.

Reflection on Wakanda Forever 

It was important for Ruth to break the stereotypical mold that many African cultures are cast where ignorance and savagery would usually be the norm. She must be applauded for the exemplary manner in which she truthfully portrayed the humility embedded in the cultures of Africa where honoring family and elders prevail.

Although it has taken several decades for the superhero Black Panther to upgrade from a comic book character to a full-length feature film it was certainly worth the wait. From July 1966 when Black Panther first appeared in “Fantastic Four” to 2018 with Black Panther gracing the silver screen, was a long time but perhaps timing is everything and the wait was a necessary step to completeness.

Chadwick Boseman played T’Challa the Black Panther in the 2018 movie but sadly passed away in 2020 from colon cancer. He played the role so convincingly that the decision not to recast or digitally replicate the character for the sequel was reached as an expression of gratitude to Boseman and to honor his legacy.

The cast and crew of Marvel’s Black Panther deserve a standing ovation for a job well done. 

Wakanda Forever!

Steve Watts
Steve Watts

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