There is an unanswered question that we regularly have to examine as Ethiopians, a nation with a great past. We seem overshadowed by the heroes of our past, such as the victors of the battle of Adwa, unable to move forward. This is a subject I often refer to, as it manifests itself in many ways.
Two weeks ago, an event that brought yet another high note for black power took place, the release of the widely viewed film Black Panther in Addis Abeba. Matti Cinema reportedly made over a million Br within a week on this film alone. This Hollywood sensation has taken the world by storm, especially communities of African descent.
The film’s success is, in my mind, a sign of how starved African communities are of seeing themselves as heroes instead of victims. This is one of the few blockbuster movies that does not depict Africa as a continent of despair and conflict.
The significance of this movie is more notable to people of African descent in the United States and Europe, where people of colour are a minority, as this is one of the rare moments when their own community recognises them.
Yet my beef is not with the community far away, but with those still trying to find a place inside their home. My beef is with Ethiopians who think anything related to African victory is solely about them.
Many Ethiopians still cling to the ideology that they are not Africans, but instead are members of a race wholly of their own. Students looking to study abroad have admitted to me that they tick “other”, instead of “Black” on the forms that ask them to identify their race and ethnicity.
What is “other”? Do people believe there is a race that is biologically identifiable as Ethiopian?
This view has now reached its peak with the rise of Black Panther, a superhero film that paints an enchanting picture of African power and perseverance.
With many of my countrymen taking credit for the success of a fictional character, it has become awkward for me to scroll down my Facebook page.
Are we the only African nation that has accomplished great things? Is that why we believe this film is about us?
The director of the film has been honest in sharing that he drew inspiration from the different countries of Africa, including Ethiopia. And yet, Ethiopians were ready to lay claim to the movie by drawing similarities as strong as hair strands.
This also shows how weak our connection is to Africa. If we knew more about our continent and its historical triumphs we would not have a similar impression as the rest of the world, that Africa’s story begins with slavery or that the continent’s greatest achievement is in convincing others that we are worthy.
Africa’s past haunts us still. But the future is bright.
It shocks me when Ethiopians disown their African roots. We have indeed played a vital role in the continent’s history. However, we are quick to disregard those roots to elevate our own. We are highly isolated from African nations even though Ethiopia is the home of the African Union. Ethiopians do not celebrate African pride but rather Ethiopian pride; the latter is disconnected from the former.
Ethiopia may not have been colonised, at least not by force, but we have willingly adopted Western lifestyles. We uphold a colonialist frame of reference to beauty and our history.
This spectacle surrounding Black Panther is just another example of the worldview of Ethiopians. Many see the film as a victory, though not their own. Yet history is just that; it is a past that we should draw inspiration from but not cling to.
It is the victories against colonial forces that have made us great. Today the battle is elsewhere and less evident. Many have identified it before and continue to do so – it is the battle against poverty, the poverty of our nations and of our minds. Our African countries are being robbed in many different ways and we must take control of our thoughts and resources.
Many may think that Black Panther is a victory of sorts. In my opinion, it is merely a candy dangled in front of a starving child. It is not a real meal.
Yet we hope that this is the start of something revolutionary in Hollywood. We hope that more African stories are told in a positive light. People of colour being represented in Western entertainment is an important step. It is now time that a holistic approach to understanding Africa takes the front seat.
We should realise it is more important that we embrace and document our own stories, especially now as the demand for more of them is evident. We need to claim our voice and stories. We need to find inspiration not only from ourselves but from one another.
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