Why Every "Black Panther" Fan is Tweeting About This Wicker Chair

Fans have noticed similarities between a poster of Chadwick Boseman as the superheroic Black Panther and a 1967 portrait of Black Panthers co-founder Huey P. Newton. It's an important reference.

Jan 31 2018, 6:30pm

Right image: Marvel Studios. Left image: Photograph attributed to Blair Stapp, Composition by Eldridge Cleaver. Collection of Merrill C. Berman.

When Marvel Studios released a teaser poster for Black Panther last year depicting Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, the king of fictional African nation Wakanda whose alter ego is the superhero Black Panther, fans on Twitter were quick to recognize a reference to a 1967 portrait of Black Panthers co-founder Huey P. Newton in a high-backed wicker chair. Boseman is seated in a throne with a curved back, his gaze commanding, regal, and direct: and now, as the film’s February 16th release date approaches, fans have made the chair a must-have for viewing the film in an unofficial social media campaign.

In the Newton portrait, attributed to Blair Stapp, the activist sits in a rattan peacock chair with a rifle in one hand, a spear in the other. On the floor is a zebra rug. The image references colonial photography—the style of wicker throne in which Newton sits was appropriated from the Philippines in the 20th century, a particularly violent period during which the nation passed from Spanish to American colonial control, and became a favorite prop for early Hollywood stars. But Newton’s pose and straightforward gaze make it clear that he’s reclaiming the symbol for black America, and anti-colonial movements more generally.

If there were any ambiguity left, the caption under the image features words from Newton: “The racist dog policemen must withdraw immediately from our communities, cease their wanton murder and brutality and torture of black people, or face the wrath of the armed people.”

It’s not a coincidence that Black Panther, a film in the lineage of Afrofuturism set in a technologically-advanced African nation—and in which black characters are the heroes rather than sidekicks—would reference the black nationalist movement of the same name. In the trailer, a song by Kendrick Lamar and Vince Staples remixes Gil Scott-Heron's spoken-word poem "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," and stills from the film show that Oscar-nominated costume designer Ruth E. Carter is similarly bringing an Afrofuturist vision to life in the film’s clothing. The premiere featured a purple carpet in place of the traditional red, with a “royal attire” dress code that Lupita Nyong’o absolutely nailed in a purple Atelier Versace gown.

The best part: no one loves Easter eggs more than a superhero movie loves Easter eggs. Expect more black history references when Black Panther premieres later this month.

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