From a Senegalese road movie to lesbian blues goddesses, dig deep online and you’ll find gems of the less moneyed African-disapora cinema
T’Challa rules all in the Blu-ray and VOD domain this week, as new releases have largely dodged the rampaging path of Black Panther (Disney, 12A) – which may no longer be the highest-grossing film of the year, but could remain unchallenged as 2018’s most statement-making, gauntlet-throwing blockbuster, the formula film that comes closest to flipping the formula. If that’s a qualified claim, that’s because Ryan Coogler’s impressively hungry, purposeful comic-book spectacular is still operating within a straitjacket, albeit one of chic, futuristic design: it’s stifled, particularly in a protracted, place-to-place first half, by the box-ticking rigours of in-house Marvel storytelling. When freed from the business of franchise-founding, however, it pounces, bounds and even, in less feline fashion, flies: its flashes of political conscience, no-nonsense gender parity and glimmering Afrofuturist aesthetic feel collectively new. Whatever its other compromises, Black Panther is a widest-possible-audience juggernaut that leads with its blackness rather than smuggling it through big-studio customs.
How the film’s impact will shift or rearrange the identity politics of commercial Hollywood movie-making remains to be seen. In the meantime, we can hope its success encourages some crossover interest in the less moneyed black cinema that inspired it. Perhaps that’s optimistic, though either way curious viewers will have to do more digging in the streaming archives than they should to find substantial reserves of black-directed and black-oriented films. Take, for example, Touki Bouki, the raw, seductive, cooler-than-being-cool 1973 Senegalese road odyssey that arguably contributed a hair of DNA to Black Panther’s African heroism, and was visually quoted by Beyoncé in her most recent tour marketing: a genuinely iconic Afro classic, yet not streamable anywhere in the UK. (The US edition of FilmStruck has it; here’s hoping ours catches up soon.)