Black Panther, Nnedi Okorafor and Cultural Homage
Most people know who J. R. R. Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, and even Stephen King are. If you don't, they are some of the most notable mainstream sci- fi writers with a cult following. Their books have inspired many movies and shows and given them some of the highest recognition. The question then brought up is, what about famous women (especially women of color) that have received such acknowledgement? One woman that deserves such accreditation is Nnedi Okorafor. Nnedi is an Nigerian American, award winning novelist. She was born to two Nigerian parents who frequently took her to Nigeria. Growing up she was a nationally-known track star but was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13. By age 19 she underwent spinal fusion surgery and was paralyzed from the waist down. During that time she began to discover her love for writing and enrolled in a creative writing class in her second semester of college. By the end, she began writing her first book. Eventually she regained her ability to walk, but had found a new passion in her life. Nnedi has written multiple books, a play and short stories. She has won many awards for her work, one being the Hugo award. Something that sets her apart from many other writers is her ability to blend culture and fantasy.
It was recently announced that Marvel chose Nnedi Okorafor to write a standalone novel about a character named Shuri, from the Black Panther universe. Nnedi has also written Black Panther: Long Live The King. The news comes after the success of the live action Black Panther film. Shuri, T'challa‘s (Black Panther) younger sister is a genius. She uses her ingenuity to create suits and other forms of technology for Black Panther and Wakanda. She was a favorite of the movie, and is now getting her own comic. Shuri’ is one of the few disney princesses of color and because of her unapologetic cleverness and comicality, she has become a huge influence to many black children. Allowing her to receive her own storyline will continue to have the same influence and provide more representation for black people in the Marvel Cinema Universe. The response to the news was amazing. The story began to trend almost immediately on Twitter. Many were excited that she would finally get her own series, because they felt that she was an underappreciated character in the M.C.U. The series will be released in October, and will be about Shuri stepping up to lead Wakanda while Black Panther is lost in space.
White male writers have dominated the sci-fi and fantasy genre for decades. Few female writers are recognized, and often the ones that are recognized tend to be white. For example, only six women have been named ‘Grand Master of Science Fiction’ by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and none of them are women of color. This is a prestigious lifetime award that is awarded to few, and it seems no women of color were deemed worthy enough to receive it. Nnedi helps to redefine what it means to be a sci-fi and fantasy writer. She said herself that the genre was a “very sterile white male world”. All of her work weaves culture together with fantasy, allowing her to bridge the arts and advocacy in a unique way.
Nnedi’s books help to push forward the notion of diversity, and acceptance. Her characters are usually women of color who face some sort of social issue and eventually overcome it. She has been very vocal about the obvious inequality within the sci-fi and fantasy genre. Anytime she wins an award, she normalizes the idea of black female sci-fi and fantasy and writers. She continues to prevail in a genre that makes it hard for women of color to do so. She gives black people someone to identify with — she is a role model who will create many more black female writers.
Not only does she provide diversity and representation in the real world, but also in the fantasy world. Often many stories written do not have characters who are minorities. Other times when a character is a person of color, they are background characters (or the sidekick). Simply put it seems that, “In these fictional worlds, anything could happen: magic, dragons, travel through space and time. Anything, that is, except diversity” (Ashley Nkadi). In contrast, Nnedi’s work is heterogeneous, and uses cultural beliefs and folklore to make stories that are vivid and seem possible. For example, in her book Akata Witch, her main character Sunny is a black albino who discovers she has magical powers and joins a group of other witches to capture a criminal. In this book she shows some of the problems and stigma that albino people face, to create the perfect blend of culture and fantasy.