This Black Panther Oscars

The influence of Black Panther, an American film phenomenon depicting a fictional African nation, made its presence felt on the red carpet at last week’s Oscars, the most prestigious awards show on the planet.

“The princess of Eritrea has arrived," is how the staff at E! described Haddish on the red carpet. She ululated at one point as well, a traditional Eritrean exultation.

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The crème and black colored embroidered dress that Eritrean-American comedienne Tiffany Haddish wore to the 2018 Oscars was a zuria from Eritrea. She wore it to honor her father, who passed away, and was from that country. "He said one day I would end up here, and if I ever end up at the Oscars to honor my people,” the comedienne said of her late father. Zuria’s are traditional dresses made with handwoven fabric. The cape that goes over the dress is called a ka’ba – it is traditionally worn by women at their wedding or on special occasions. “Shoutout to every Eritrean and Ethiopian woman preparing to ululate tomorrow if Tiffany Haddish arrives at the Oscars wearing a zuria/Eritrean dress," tweeted Rahawa Haile. Only the louche rapper Fifty Cent, it would appear, disapproved of the look.

The dress fit in with the theme of diversity being celebrated at this year’s event. The “traditional” dress at the 90th Academy Awards is usually European, with names like Armani, Marc Jacobs and de la Renta. Zuria’s, by contrast, are hand-embroidered with handspun Ethiopian cotton that are worn in Ethiopia and the Eritrean lowlands.

Black Panther, clearly, has been a tipping point in African fashion. It has now crossed one billion dollars worldwide, and is a phenomenon of the business of entertainment. And Haddish’s dress is in consonance with the times, on the heels of Black History month. As Black Panther topped the movie charts (for the fourth week in a row) on the occasion of the Oscars, it was only fitting that the cast “shut down” the red carpet, as noted by style bible Vogue. “Won the red carpet” is how described the event. Chadwick Boseman yelled “Wakanda forever” from the red carpet to cheering fans. Not since the pan-Africanism movement in the 1970s has there been such an interest in the Dark Continent’s style.

Of course, the African press picked up on Haddish, and this African style moment. “It's only a matter of time before (H)ollywood and (A)merican fashion designers take ‘inspiration’ from Tiffany Haddish's zuria," tweeted Wedi Halay. Sisters Kay and Bo Anuluoha, who own the African clothing store Kathula in Los Angeles have noticed an uptick in African style: “we were having a lot of people coming in, they were having African-themed baby showers, and this has been maybe for the past several years,” told Marketweek. “At least once a week, we’d have people coming in with a 'Coming to America' themed party.” The article also notes the influence of the Ghana Must Go bag on fashion and Stella McCarthy as being “bitten by the Africa bug.”

And it was not just Haddish at the Oscars, Lupita Nyong'o wore an African hair style. Afrocentric style is quite in, largely because of the Black Panther effect. “Crown inspiration: the Amasunzu hairstyles of Rwanda. By the incredible hands of @vernonfrancois,” was the comment of Lupita Nyong'o on Instagram. Vogue, of all places, described it thus: “The Amasunzu—grown, cut, and built into a series of crescents—was once a sign of marriageability, worn by men and woman as a suitor signal of sorts.”

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Then there was the “head stamp” heard round the world. Danai Gurira was a stunning figure on the red carpet, with an elegant hairstyle inspired by African tribal art. Danai wore Gabriela Hearst, but gave a nod to Mother Africa when it came to the way she wore her hair. “A three-dimensional design stretched from the temple of Gurira's head to the nape of her neck,” is how described it. Gurira painted the design white with eyeliner.

Black Panther has earned $530 million of the billion total in domestic ticket sales. “By the end of the weekend, Black Panther should have around $561 million in 24 days, giving it the third-biggest 24-day total behind only The Last Jedi ($572m) and The Force Awakens ($812m),” notes Forbes. Those of us who have been around a bit know the old conventional wisdom that African-American cast films are bad for business. They, the “analysts” told us, would not sell overseas and could only rely on a small market (African-American) in “urban” precincts. All of that has been proven false by Black Panther, a diverse film cast with African-Americans in the pivotal roles that has broken domestic and – most important for the Hollywood bottom line – international box office.