How Captain America used isiXhosa for the Black Panther

The Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, makes "Captain America: Civil War" compelling viewing. (Marvel)

The Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman, makes "Captain America: Civil War" compelling viewing. (Marvel)

I think we can all agree that Captain America: Civil War is a kickass movie. It has balanced action, a huge cast of heroes who take part in a battle royale and a story that manages to be both epic and personal. A really fantastic film. 

A highlight of Civil War is the introduction of a new Spider Man, played by Tom Holland.
But it’s seeing the Black Panther in action that really sells the movie. The prince of Wakanda has his own story arc, setting up Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa before his own solo movie. As a South African, watching him speak Wakandan and realising that I didn’t need subtitles to understand him was magical. That’s because the language of Wakanda is largely isiXhosa. I guess you could say that it just clicked in as a natural fit. “The language we used for Wakandan is called Xhosa,” Civil War codirector Joe Russo told Entertainment Weekly

That’s massively important. We have got our own terrible history of abuse, violence and apartheid: a history that will still take many years to heal. And then you’ve got Wakanda, a fictional nation, which is the polar opposite of what South Africa has been through. 

In the comics, Wakanda is not only home to the Black Panther but also the most technologically advanced country on the planet. It’s a nation that has never been conquered, having easily fought off the likes of Dutch, British and American forces over centuries: countries with shady governments that would stop at nothing to destabilise Wakanda and claim the vibranium ore that is found only in that land. It’s one of the reasons Wakanda was for many years an isolationist country, before it began reaching out and attempting to better the world, giving it a future that lies in the stars. 

Civil War is going to be an important movie for the entire continent. To see a hero who echoes the best of Africa, a warrior-king in vibranium threads who, in a way, embodies the lessons taught by Nelson Mandela on compassion and action, is inspiring. It makes me want to pump my fist up and shout RSA! RSA! RSA! 

The Black Panther movie is scheduled for a February 2018 release date, alongside Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2, Thor: Ragnarok and others in the third phase that stretches into 2020.

This article was first published on on 6 May 2016. 

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