It wasn't long after the release of the new teaser poster for next year's MCU film Black Panther that the internet was set ablaze — and not by that extremely fitting hashtag #BlackPantherSoLit. Keyboard conspiracy theorists were sounding the alarm that the white genocide was a comin', and the absolute surest sign of the impending racial apocalypse was a superhero movie poster.
According to overly concerned critics, the image composition of the teaser poster looked "too militant," and seemed startlingly similar to a 1967 image of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton sitting confidently in a wicker chair holding an African spear and a rifle. Aside from the fact that Black Panther lead actor Chadwick Boseman holds no weapons in the poster, there are some uncanny similarities.
For instance, both men are seated with their arms resting atop the armrests of their respective chairs. Both are dressed in stylish black outfits and — maybe most remarkably — both men are African-American. Yet, in spite of those those senses-shattering similarities, the #BlackPanther film poster actually takes some of its visual cues from an older image that, like the Newton photo, has deep historical significance.
King Olateru II
The more obvious visual reference is a 1959 photograph of the Nigerian King Olateru Olagbegi II (1910–1998). Olateru II was the ruler of the ancient city of Owo, which was once the capital of the Eastern Yoruban city-state. In the photo, which was taken outside his palace, the king sits under the shade of a large velour umbrella, framed between two ornately engraved elephant tusks.
Olateru II, who reigned from 1941–1968 and again from 1993–1998, was described during his reign as the epitome of a modern and traditional ruler. During his legendary lifetime, he was also said to have fathered over 140 children, resulting in the studly label: "Father of many nations."
It is the regal image of Olateru that is being channeled by the poster of the enthroned T'Challa, superhero king of the fictional Wakanda. It's an homage that is made apparent by the tusk-like elements rising from the left and right sides of T'Challa's throne. In the mid-1970s, the photograph of Olateru had a similarly influential effect on another little-known promotional image.
In 1975, the Anheuser-Busch Company began commissioning different African-American artists to produce paintings for a series of 28 prints designed to increase awareness of various African leaders throughout history. The series was called The Great Kings and Queens of Africa. One of the most recognized prints in the series was an image of the famed military strategist, Hannibal (247–183 BC), ruler of the ancient North African city of Carthage.
Released in 1977, the Hannibal print was painted by artist Charles Lilly, and shows the unmistakable influence of the Nigerian king Olateru II. In the print, Hannibal — whose army was famed for riding on the backs of elephants into war — sits on a high-backed wooden throne framed by two large elephant tusks, their tips accented with large gold rings. It's a masterpiece.
Sold in sets of four, ads for The Great Kings and Queens of Africa prints were carried in the pages of publications like Ebony and Jet magazine for decades. Subsequently, the prints were found adorning the classroom walls of conscious educators across the country. In the process, the images forged an indelible impression on several generations of young African-Americans. Director Ryan Coogler was probably one of them.
And while it is certainly possible that the teaser poster for Coogler's eagerly-awaited Black Panther also shares a vague resemblance with the iconic photograph of Huey P. Newton, the overwhelming influence of the photo of a Nigerian king cannot be denied. Let's leave it to those uber-paranoid keyboard conspiracy theorists to give it another try.
Speaking of conspiracies, are you also equally disturbed by the fact that we have to wait until February to see Black Panther?