Party Of Oneness
The ‘Welcome To Wakanda’ Panther Party Scores As A Cultural Celebration
PHOTOS: IMANI WASHINGTON
The people attending the Welcome to Wakanda Celebration after seeing Black Panther Feb 15 knew what to expect. Well, mostly.
They knew they would be gathering at The Gateway Media Arts Lab in Mt. Rainier to bond and celebrate the success of an Afrocentric action movie that was well on its way to $230 million in box office sales on its opening weekend. It was a feeling similar to what many African Americans felt at the swearing in of President Barack Obama in 2008: vindication, hope, arrival and pure joy. They knew there would be music by DJ Underdog, food and a chance to talk with each other about how proud they were of this film and how it represents a new beginning for all their work in their respective fields toward elevating black life.
Sponsored by Gateway’s Executive Director Pat Thornton and the Prince George’s Arts and Humanities Council’s Executive Director Rhonda Dallas, the party was rich in the energy of people decked out in cultural garb and makeup (a great deal of which was provided at the door by stylist Ace Ono Carne).
Filmmaker and Bowie State University Professor Tewodross "Teo" Melchishua Williams who hosted the event provided what the people didn’t expect. In addition to the music and food, video projectors displayed action of Parliament Funkadelic, Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols and Star Wars’ Lando Calrissian. For Melchishua and many of the guests the common denominator was the culmination of black culture in a range of film genres beyond love stories, comedies and dramas.
“It was more than just the party. We wanted to showcase the release of Black Panther and the lab,” Melchishua said from his studio, Visual Jazz. The Visual Jazz Studio is a digital film and media arts collective.
Melchishua, who grew up as a Marvel Comics fan, sees the success of Black Panther as broader than the contribution of black viewers but as one based on a multiracial audience. “This is a universal film. There are others who made this successful just like they made Jay Z successful. For Marvel to put significant money behind this is great and hopefully they will want to do more of this.”
Melchishua is also part of a growing film making community in the county and he’s a voice of a burgeoning level of thought known as Afrofuturism.
“We are still defining what Afrofuturism is,” he says. “It’s a movement that consists of science fiction, technology, horror and fantasy and it pulls from African aesthetics people, culture and history. It is people of color incorporating science, fiction and history and music.
Melchishua uses Ytasha L. Womack’s book “Afrofuturism” in his film classes to teach the potential of weaving black culture into big screen storytelling about the future.
But he’s going beyond teaching. The filmmaker has a project in the works that epitomizes the notion of Afrofuturism and it’s set in Prince George’s and the DMV.
Visual Jazz Studio will produce a sci-fi, hip-hop and afrofuturistic inspired film called “The Beat” which will be developed almost entirely by local film talent. Pre-production for the film will be this Spring. Melchishua says the film project will also grapple social, political and environmental issues.
The film leader points to history as the source of the developing art form. “It’s a means of escapism dating back to slavery based on the African oral tradition of storytelling, song and signifying as Black folk were telling these tales by the fire about amazing people, incredible events, animals and creatures used to teach lessons as a means of coping and surviving their current condition,” he says.
The stories were a way of providing hope and in the face of Jim Crow and night riders.
Also a mentee of the great filmmaker Haile Gerima, Melchishua says the next Gateway Media Arts Lab and Visual Jazz event will focus on “A Wrinkle in Time” a science fantasy film scheduled for release in March. Directed by Ava DuVernay, an African American woman, the film stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine among others and is expected to be a box office success during women’s month. This sci-fi and afrofuturistic event will focus more on children and a younger audience in the Gateway.