Athletes are using the #WakandaForever gesture as it’s a more palatable symbol of Black Power – brought to you by Disney
Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that we are now living in a time history books will refer to as the post-Black Panther era. Generations will look back at this time, study our society, and see how we adopted culture from a Disney movie and co-opted it for a more political movement, namely: the Wakanda salute.
It’s probably bad taste to quote your own tweets in articles, but, last week I said the next hot take will be that the Wakanda salute is the new raised fist. Since the release of the film, it made its Oscars debut on the red carpet, was used by the cast as a sign of solidarity after Get Out’s win, teachers connecting with their students, and now, athletes.
Manchester United football stars Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba started using it as a symbol of celebration after goals in February. It spilled into the tennis world via Gael Monfils last Thursday when Monfils spoke about the importance of the movie after he saluted on the court. “I think that movie is great. It’s great for the community, for our community, it means quite a lot,” he said. “It’s not just a sign, it’s everything. It’s everything going on, and definitely a shout-out saying I’m supporting the Black Panther’s community.”
Hot take: Is the Wakanda salute the new raised fist?— Kemi Olivia Alemoru (@kemioliviax) March 5, 2018
Sachia Vickery followed suit, using it to celebrate her win on Friday. When asked about the gesture Vickery said she did it for the love of the film: “That was definitely Wakanda Forever. I’m so obsessed with the movie. It’s taking over my life. I have seen it four times already. Literally, I’m obsessed. I have watched it twice here. I may just keep watching it because it’s been working out so well for me.”
It’s a much easier symbol to adopt than the raised fist – a gesture that means you could quickly find yourself labelled as a terrorist. When word of the Black Panther political party (a movement against police violence that also started social programs for African Americans, spread in the 70s and 80s) spread, the raised fist was a public symbol of solidarity to a very specific cause.
In the 1968 Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos both used it during their award ceremony and it lead to death threats. At the time, Time magazine wrote: “‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’ is the motto of the Olympic Games. ‘Angrier, nastier, uglier’ better describes the scene in Mexico City last week.” This month they have praised the “revolutionary” movement taking place around the Marvel movie.
It’s interesting to look at, and compare, the two symbols of Black Panther-ism. One is still thought of as a radical symbol – let’s not forget when Beyonce’s Super Bowl homage to the party (and the fist) – led to police protest and a boycott Beyonce backlash. Yet the other is praised and lauded. Perhaps because rather than being a symbol of protest, it also doubles as a nod to commercial success.
Black Panther was a wonderful film, and its success is helping to unpick the idea that black films aren’t commercially viable. What is interesting is how the lines between pop culture and protest continue to blur (see the three billboards protests against Grenfell and gun control). It’s no secret that protest is extra palatable when contributing to the capitalist machine. Each salute is a free advert for Marvel even if it is also a symbol of solidarity across the diaspora. If you start seeing Wakanda salutes in Pepsi ads soon, don’t be shocked. But as soon it turns up at Black Lives Matter marches – the praise is likely to end swiftly.