Why museum professionals need to talk about Black Panther

by Casey Haughin, ’19

*Spoiler Warning: opening sequence plot details discussed in article*

The seminal film Black Panther has become an international sensation in the week following its release. Notable for its impeccable dialogue, witty banter, and nearly all POC cast, Black Panther provides a platform to discuss a multitude of topics on a national scale. With issues such as police brutality, the ever-present effects of slavery in Western society, and black identity approached in the film, it is easy to gloss over one of the more exposition-driven scenes of the film that engages with the complicated relationship between museums and audiences affected by colonialism.

Killmonger, the Wakandan-American who aims to take the throne to avenge his father and liberate the black world using vibranium technology, is introduced in the film as an adult while surveying the collection of West African artifacts in a fictional British museum. Clearly, this is referencing the British Museum, but uses the facade of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for the exterior. A flustered white, female curator runs up to talk to him about the collection, describing the items in a patient and patronizing tone. They move through a few artifacts, him asking questions and her spouting off answers about their “discovery.” When she comes to one item, an axe, Killmonger corrects her assessment of where it is from and states that the item is Wakandan. He then tells her he is going to take it with him. She becomes flustered and tells him that the items are not for sale. Killmonger then becomes visibly angry with the curator, asking her if she thinks her ancestors bought them fairly. He then goes on to say that the guards had been watching him closely since he walked in, more concerned about his black body in the space of the museum than she was about the coffee in her hand that he had poisoned. The scene ends with the museum staff dead, and Killmonger leaving the scene with the vibramium weapon and a mask he dons in later scenes.

The scene takes no more than five minutes of the movie, and the tension between colonial history and race only escalates from that point on. However, we as museum professionals need to talk about the inclusion of this scene, especially regarding its function in a film that was cut from nearly four hours long in its first iteration to a solid two, a film that so many young people will see and one that is poised to become a cultural touchstone. The museum is presented as an illegal mechanism of colonialism, and along with that, a space which does not even welcome those whose culture it displays.

And is there anything incorrect about that?

It is worth considering the aspects of the scene that are realities in the modern museum. African artifacts such as those shown in the film’s museum are likely taken from a home country under suspicious circumstances, such as notable artifacts in real-life Britain like the Benin bronzes which now reside at the British Museum. It is often the case that individuals will know their own culture as well as or better than a curator, but are not considered valuable contributors because they lack a degree. People of color are less represented in museum spaces, and often experience undue discrimination while entering gallery spaces. Finally, museums are experiencing an influx of white women filling staff roles, leading to homogenized viewpoints, and lack senior staff with diverse backgrounds. With these truths represented in such a short but poignant scene, the tension between audiences and institutions is played out to the extreme.

It is uncomfortable for many institutions to even broach the subject of the museum’s complicated relationship with audiences of color, but Black Panther has created an impeccable opportunity for institutions to begin a dialogue with their community. So many people will see this film; the scene may only reinforce their conception of museums, or it may open their eyes to the realities of the complicated relationship between the universal museum and colonialism, and museums need to be prepared to actively engage with this topic rather than avoiding the uncomfortable truths that are now out in the open on cinema screens.

The first step after this movie is to publicly confirm the reality of the situation; museums need to step up and acknowledge the fact that Killmonger’s anger in the exhibition and the experience he had were not entirely fictionalized, but rather a magnification of museum practices in the modern world. The next step is to listen. Listen to people of color, to communities, and to whole countries who see themselves both robbed by and cast out from international institutions. By communicating openly with the audience of a museum, professionals can determine how better to adapt their practices and make the institution a place that is relevant and respectful for all visitors. Until a truly symbiotic dialogue is established, this scene in Black Panther will represent the reality of museum politics where fact is truly more alarming than any fiction.

*Edit: 24 Feb 2018: East African artifacts corrected to West African artifacts.

*Edit: 1 Mar 2018: ‘half-Wakandan’ corrected to ‘Wakandan-American.’



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    1. So glad, I watched the movie FIRST, this article could’ve given a *SPOILER ALERT* as a disclaimer. No REPOST, due to.


      1. Glad to see a spoiler alert has been added, though it’s described as minor about the opening scene, but “Killmonger, the half-Wakandan who aims to take the throne to avenge his father and liberate the black world using vibranium technology” at the start of the second paragraph is a pretty damn big spoiler!

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I have always been troubled by how history portrays black people…sometimes a lie is perpetuated by omission.


    2. The video says is that it was turned over to archaeologists and has remained in Mexico ever since. Is it being preserved and properly cared for with all necessary consideration in a Mexican museum or archival institution? If so, that is fantastic. The video doesn’t not make it clear. Or is it just sitting in some politician’s bookcase, or has it been sold to some rich Mexican antiquities collector?

      Is this video advocating that politically-minded or patriotically-minded activists should just march (or sneak) into museums and start taking things? Just because that journalist is Mexican doesn’t mean that he has the right to do such a thing. I understand that people feel these objects were stolen in the first place, BUT stealing is wrong, no matter who is doing the stealing.

      Such an ancient document could easily have been irreparably damaged when he hurriedly slipped it into his briefcase and make a break for the airport. I completely understand wanting objects repatriated, but as a museum professional myself the number one consideration HAS to be for the object itself, to ensure that it remains intact and is properly cared for.

      If it was destroyed or damaged during the heist, is that better than it remaining in France? What if while he was escaping the museum, he was forced to scuffle with guards, or what if any other number of scenarios had occurred, and the object was torn or broken? I feel his heart was in the right place, but he was not thinking. Proper channels must be followed to ensure the object is cared for. In the video, it states that Mexican authorities tried to get the object, and French officials refused. Once, twice, fifty times? What were the details regarding the negotiations?

      In Canada, at least, there has been a push in recent decades for First Nations and Inuit objects, for example, to be repatriated to the peoples that created them. However, many of the peoples who created the objects admittedly do not have proper facilities for caring for the objects, and so they remain at those museums, where they are preserved and cared for. When those peoples need the object, for a ceremony or other event, they are able to come to the institute to use them. At the Royal BC Museum, for example, you walk through the aboriginal peoples section, and often you will notice small signs stating that an object is missing for such a purpose. This seems the best way to handle the repatriation of such objects, as it ensures the artifacts are cared for in the best possible way, a larger audience is able to view and learn from the artifacts, yet the people who own the objects can also come and use them when needed.

      Again, regardless of how these objects came to be in these museums, whether they were “collected,” “bought,” or “stolen,” is irrelevant. The fact remains that they are at those museums now. What matters most is that they are preserved and properly cared for using the best techniques and technology available. As long as the peoples who created the objects originally are able to view and even use the objects as needed, does it really matter in which institute the object remains?

      As other people have mentioned, look at the ancient objects in the Fertile Crescent that have been badly damaged, destroyed, or lost forever due to the fanaticism of groups like ISIL/ISIS! It sickens me to think that these priceless, irreplaceable, historically and culturally significant artifacts are now gone forever, destroyed by the very people who should have cared most about those objects: the people of the lands from whence those objects came! This is why it is critical that such important objects remain in the hands of museum professionals who will protect and care for them, even if those professional institutions are foreign to the objects themselves.

      In the main article, the writer also mentions listening to ethnic groups, nations, etc. That is fine. I agree with this in theory, HOWEVER, intense research, consultation with experts (and not just one who claims to be an expert), and negotiation with LEADERS must take place. Let me relate a real life example that I once experienced. We have a number of aboriginal “peace” pipes in the collection at the museum where I work. These two guys walked in one day, and started asking to see the pipe that belonged to his people; a pipe that was stolen from his people long ago. His description was completely vague: basically what I just typed. Our curator went in the back, and pulled out a specific pipe, and brought it up front to show the men. One of the men started saying he could feel power emanating from the pipe and that the spirits were telling him that this was the pipe he was looking for. He then asked us to turn it over to him then and there. Our curator said, no, and explained that we would have to do further research and go through proper channels with officials and elders, etc, regarding the repatriation. The men were disappointed and left. We never heard from either of them ever again. SOOO… you must be ever so careful when listening to such people, that you aren’t duped by charlatans pretending to be “experts.”

      I fully agree that repatriation of artifacts is critically important, BUT it must be handled in such a way that political and/or patriotic considerations take a back seat to the proper preservation of the artifacts themselves.


      1. you took a real long time to say ‘listen, i (don’t) hear what you’re saying but white is right and obvi its in the hands of experts who can fully appreciate it now so shrug’

        like you wrote a dissertation to basically say you don’t actually care about who created it and where it belongs lol.

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Wow, this post screams white man’s burden. These objects belong to the peoples in question. They are free to do whatever they want with the objects as far as I’m concerned.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes I noticed that as well, the security said ‘West African Exhibit’ as that appears to be the most colonised part of the African continent.


  1. Is use of indigenous African artifacts by Americans of African descent who may not be aware of their own ethnic specificity..a form of cultural appropriation? Or is the imposition of constructs of race generated by European colonizers to be both reified and accepted uncritically?


    1. I tell you what, after we actually have the conversation about the House bill to explore the idea of reparations, and then have the conversation about reparations, and then get the reparations, and then have the time, resources and trauma informed processes to trace specific familial connections back through the dehumanization of Africans in the Americas, then, and not before then, can you waggle your pitiful pink fingers on the keyboard to insinuate any sort of equivalence between European, American and Australian theft on the one hand and Africans in the diaspora reclaiming a systematically denied cultural heritage. Until then, keep your poison to yourself.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. The point is that the artifacts are being used BUT not by people of African descent…so to answer, yes; it is not only a form of cultural appropriation, it is cultural appropriation.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. That’s a very good question and a good topic to be discussed sir. The sick part of it is in my opinion, some of the descendants don’t even know that they are descendants of a particular tribe because of the effects of colonisation. A real shame.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read six paragraphs of, “But not ALL men…!”

    Take some time to ask questions and reflect on this. Your post is shameful.


  3. “The seminal film Black Panther”… Author lost me with the first line. Seminal doesn’t mean important. This film literally cannot be seminal yet.


    1. *Spoiler Warning: opening sequence plot details discussed in article*

      Also, you still haven’t seen Black Panther yet? Is it still considered a spoiler of you’re just late to the party?


  4. Black Panther isn’t about “POC” – it’s about Africa, and people of African descent. You mention the word Africa/n just twice and only in relation to objects.

    The objects looted by the British from the Oba’s palace in the Kingdom of Benin not only in the British Museum but are also in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC and museums in Boston, Oxford, Berlin, Vienna, Philadelphia etc etc

    The issue of the Benin Bronzes and other looted objects go beyond issues of workforce diversity, interpretation or audience participation. The looted objects must be returned.


  5. Look up the book “Exhibiting Cultures” if you want a solid 500 pages of multiple authors having the exact dialogue you claim we haven’t been having in the museum world. Display/curatorial practices actually change much more frequently than the public imagines.

    Look up “repatriations programs.” Museums have been giving massive amounts of their collections back to their homelands since decolonization and paying people for the right to keep objects since the 60s. So like, three times your lifespan.

    Also, you want wipepo to be less ignorant of what they’re looking at from other cultures and to get better at displaying it. How can you learn from an object that literally isn’t present?

    Also, the reason a huge chunk of art from the African colonial period is preserved in the West rather than in Africa is because of climate. There have been tens of thousands of pieces considered for repatriation which have in the end stayed where they are (often not even on display) because of better climate control and conservation labs. As more facilities that can make sure pieces don’t fall apart come into existence, especially in Africa, the rate of repatriations has increased, and will continue to do so.

    Your critique, as well as the film’s, have more to do with perception by Americans, (who on per capita visit a museum less than once a year) than actual practice. We’ve been dealing with these issues for over fifty years in the museum world.

    Yes, we actually do think about the exact things we do in our industry. Even though, as you say, there are white women, “reception theory” has been the prevailing wind in display/curstorship since the late 70s/early 80s. (That’s the one where THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT IS PAYING ATTENTION TO AUDIENCE EXPERIECNE)

    But I bet you say very similar things about a lot of industries that you’ve never worked in. It’s quite fashionable to talk down everything without ever understanding it from the inside.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol

      So many Fallacies in this Post. So many White Lies (Pun Intended. So much Insecurity. I don’t know where to begin.

      *You lie bold-faced that climate is the chief reason whey artifacts are not return

      This is contrary to the fact that there are museums in Ghana & West Africa that house artifacts from the same time period, with no Problems. This is contrary to the fact that countries have museums that are perfectly capable of housing artifacts

      *How can you learn from an object that literally isn’t present?

      Learn about Objects by going to that Country to Studying the artifacts. Or from Books & the Internet like most People do
      Display by being Leased them like Normal or by Displaying replicas like many Museums and Galleries do anyway

      *Museums have been giving massive amounts of their collections back to their homelands since decolonization and paying people for the right to keep objects since the 60s. So like, three times your lifespan.

      Museums have also been publicly refusing to return national treasures to their Nations for decades. Not only to West African nations. But to Greek, Chinese & Egyptian countries also. Countries that are globally renowned for their Artifacts Collections & well Capable of Preserving & Displaying them. The British Museum’s response was to shamelessly say that repatriation was unnecessary & attempt to cast itself as the world’s museum & caretaker of other’s national treasures. Disgusting.

      *But I bet you say very similar things about a lot of industries that you’ve never worked in

      What a Ridiculous and illogical statement, who no precedent. You don’t have to work in an Industry to know that something is wrong about the way things are

      *Your critique, as well as the film’s, have more to do with perception by Americans, (who on per capita visit a museum less than once a year)

      Nice. A Racist Dog Whistle Statement that has Nothing to do with Theft and Display of Artifact. Shameful & Gross.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Your article, while making good points generally, would have been so much more effective had you not chosen to embellish or fallaciously describe the scenes you discuss. The curator was not “flustered,” did not “run up to” Killmonger, or use a condescending tone. In fact, the scene as presented in the film suggests that he asked to speak with her.

    The irony here is your whole (and wholly appropriate) attempt at launching a dialogue around the subject of acquisition is undercut by your attempt to portray the scenes in question as other than they are. Unfortunate that you chose that approach.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, she was and did. Hence, Killmonger’s statement that she and security were too busy watching him to be aware of the poisen in her coffee. The film makes it very clear that she os approaching Killmonger from a place of racial bias.


    2. Agree. Also, not sure what was condescending about her answers. He asked questions of a docent who is there to educate and she answered them in about the same way you see docents around the world approach their own particular expertise to an interested person.


      1. I thought she was flustered too. My initial assumption was that she was higher in the organization than a docent (like a department head) and perhaps there was some pretext to the meeting that called for the gallery to be emptied and the additional security. Certainly Killmonger’s background could have trained him to pose as a wealthy collector/potential donor.

        On replay, maybe she was flustered because she was being poisoned and starting to feel pain. (That seems like a pretty likely choice for the actress.) Or maybe Haughin is right that it was being approached as a racially-tinged security issue. But I did find her behavior a little out of the ordinary.

        “Condescending” I can see either way. I think the actress did a pretty believable job of hitting the note of “professional tone in a strange situation.” Whether or not you find that condescending is probably a bit of a Rorschach test.


    3. As a museum professional with 14+ years of experience, I did read the actress’s performance as conveying a tone of condescension or, at the very least, disinterest on her part. Here’s what I saw:

      I can’t recall if she introduced herself as a curator or not, but a position of knowledge and authority was implied. For the sake of identification, let’s call her the curator. As you noted, it’s also set-up that he asked to speak with someone about the artifacts. If I were approaching that situation, I would be prepared and looking forward to having a more detailed discussion with a patron who exhibited obvious interest beyond what many visitors show, enough to request to speak with someone. Now I’m not assuming that we as a movie-going audience would be asked to sit through an in-depth depiction of a high-quality museum interaction, (there’s a whole process of establishing rapport, finding out what the visitor is curious about and then what the deeper questions their questions raise might be, etc… ) there just isn’t time or probably interest for most people, but the interaction depicted was superficial even by cinema standards. When he asked about an object, all that curator related was the general time period and location. That’s going to be on the label in any museum. That doesn’t tell you what something is. For someone who wants to dig deeper, enough to seek out staff, this can easily make you feel like you’ve been brushed off, like your desire to understand isn’t being taken seriously. Even a single sentence about cultural context, use, etc… would have indicated a good-faith effort to connect with the visitor. If someone that I supervised were to interact that way with a visitor, we would have a serious discussion about their interpretive approach and they would be seriously re-honing their skills before interacting with the public again.

      Now of course this is a movie, and we shouldn’t assume that someone in the film-making industry is going to be familiar with best-practice for a museum interaction, but given the centrality of the tension between colonialism and living cultures and the ripples of those interactions to the entire story, and especially to this establishing scene, I find it hard to believe that the way this scene was played out was accidental. It generates a shared sense of frustration that is so important to the audience’s relationship with the character (though hopefully most of us would vent those frustrations differently than what happens next). Granted, this is just my interpretation of the scene, but I’m not alone in interpreting it that way- whether or not this was the intended effect, many people are reading it that way because they are seeing something played out on screen that they have experienced. The majority of people reporting this sort of interaction fall into three broad categories (with a large amount of overlap): low-income (real or as perceived by others), young, and POC (especially Black or Latino). So whether or not the scene was designed to convey that sense of condescension or dismissal, it’s a valid interpretation rooted in real-world experiences.

      Long-winded, but I wanted to try to be as precise as possible with what i saw and why, to hopefully cut-down on the ambiguity that comment-thread conversations are usually subject to.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very complicated area, and it can be difficult to discuss without triggering a strong emotional response.

    While many artifacts in the world’s museums were illegally or unfairly collected, and many institutions were in many cases originally founded as instruments or expressions of colonial power, it’s important to see them for what they are today. Just about every square inch of the world has been contested, won, lost, occupied, abandoned, and repopulated over and over again. Who has claim to which land, artifact, practice, or origin story? In the long view it’s all of us. It’s my belief that many, if not most of these artifacts belong to mankind. In many cases who better than our great museums to preserve and share our world’s most profound treasures?

    No doubt many artifacts, particularly objects with a living cultural role, should be returned or repatriated. But let’s try to look at the long view, and let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Great article. The movie itself will make a lot of people uncomfortable. But I hope it opens some conversation in this racialized world of today.


  9. What about the systematic looting of the fertile cresent: Sumer, Mesoptamia, Babyon by the French British and Germans. Look at the cluster$/^& that region is now, with Daesh destroying Nineveh, parts of Palmyra and the dog’s breakfast looting of cultural heritage by THEIR OWN PEOPLE today. Thank the Lord and the sauce for those early looters otherwise we would know NOTHING of the beginnings of civilisation or their magnificent reliefs and the origin of writing, agriculture, admistration and empire building with trade ties as far as INDIA and RUSSIA.


  10. I see no real solutions posed in this article. If I come into your home and steal an heirloom, then later acknowledge your right to to be upset, does it make everything better? “Have a conversation” has become the non-solution solution to racial injustice. At best it just wastes everyone’s time. At worst, it patronizes the people who were already wronged.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Everyone is completely ignoring the fact that almost all of these artifacts would no longer exist had they not been brought to these museums outside their countries of origin. That should be a huge consideration when discussing who they properly belong to. Museums preserve history for every one.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Am I the first to question the line “influx of white women”? The implication is that women have narrower perspectives than men, that white women are incapable of a broader world-view than the white men they are replacing. How “diverse” were the perspectives of all those white men who built these museums, and filled them with artifacts? As a museum professional, who happens to be a white female, I am anxious for my institution to diversify our presentation, to include the indigenous, black, French, Scottish and English perspectives as equally important to the development of the local culture. We all need to adjust our perspective, to broaden our world-view, and perhaps it is white women who will lead, for a change.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think the implication is that the museum world being primarily filled with people of any one particular demographic necessarily limits the perspectives being brought to the table.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi, thanks for bringing up this topic. I’d encourage you to check out this initiative, “Untold Stories” which is under the direction of Sanchita Balachandran, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. https://www.untoldstories.live/ Although it is from the perspective of art conservation/preservation of cultural heritage, it is an effort to tackle some of the topics you’ve just outlined – lack of diversity/inclusion in museums and the lack of cultural sensitivity when working with museum objects. Currently, many professionals in the field of art conservation are working to create a more inclusive community and discussions are taking place on a national level at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Institute for Conservation.


  14. Two small things that are problematic in this article:

    1. Black Panther doesn’t have “an almost-all PoC cast” – it has an almost all *Black * cast. It’s erasure to use the phrase POC when you mean Black. Black isn’t an insult, it’s an accurate descriptor, and Black people have unique experiences that are different from those of nonBlack PoC, so it’s actually respectful to be specific.

    2. Describing Erik as “angry”- he’s absolutely not angry in this scene. He’s direct with the staffer, and he encroaches on her personal space when he challenges her claim that the museum owns the artifacts, but his emotional tone is actually quite calm even as he discusses the museum’s injustice. If anything, I’d say he seems elated to be moving towards his goal.

    Be careful with stereotyping Black people as “angry” (ditto “threatening”, “aggressive”, etc); there’s a long and problematic history of white people framing Black people as dangerous and then killing them- dating back from lynch mobs to modern police shootings. Besides, Erik has absorbed a lot of injustice in his life, and he’s about to embark on big plans. This interaction in the museum is barely a blip for him on the road to Wakanda- it’s not important enough of a moment for him to react with anger.

    Also- it’s so strange that people are arguing that the museum curatorial staffer was doing her job properly- there are dozens of nonverbal cues showing that she’s actually racially profiling Erik- she has called security and has several guards watching him; she has her arms folded, she’s speaking condescendingly to him, and she’s visibly anxious.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Thanks for this intervention. In the museum world, this conversation is happening, but absolutely needs to continue, and develop.

    You might be interested to read about this exhibition at the city museum in Birmingham (UK): https://mediadiversified.org/2017/11/15/the-museum-will-not-be-decolonised/.

    As a white person visiting the exhibition, I found it appropriately disturbing of the institution, the collection, and my assumptions, despite considering myself well-educated.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’ve been seeing this article making the rounds over the last few days, and while well written, there are some things I can’t quite shake about it.

    One is that the film doesn’t really make the statements it thinks it’s making. For example, we’re discussing how awful it is that they were racially profiling Killmonger… Except that they were completely right to do so in the context of the film: he did kill museum staff members and stole artifacts, which were part of a larger plot to go to a foreign country (culturally he is an American, and not only that, but as a black ops, has been an active agent of American imperialism), destroy its own cultural heritage, and try using its technology to instigate a worldwide genocidal race war. Killmonger’s character arc is so discomfitingly close to Adolf Hitler’s that I’m frankly unnerved by the desire to rationally discuss his ideas.

    That’s the fictional world of the film however, and we can put that aside. For museum praxis, there are unspoken and half-spoken assumptions here that range from “somewhat unfair” to “demonstrably untrue”… The assumption that “white” people form some kind of coherent interest group, for example, which plays into progressive Marxist/Postmodernist dialectical theory but isn’t factually true… The following assumption that “white” people cannot have specialized knowledge of “POC” cultures (while at the same time having their own cultural backgrounds erased by the sheer act of being assigned “whiteness”)… The assumption that being “POC” automatically imparts specialized knowledge of cultures that are also not their own (refuted not that long ago by the fracas at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where American “POC” protesting Monet’s painting “La Japonaise” were themselves counter-protested by actual ethnically Japanese people)… The assumption that any individual of a culture gets to exercise proprietary claim over any specific artifact from that culture… The assumption that museums collections and exhibitions are automatically colonialist exercises (as opposed to collaborative or commercial)… The assumption that the specialized education and training to work in a museum is automatically form of cultural elitism or even white supremacy (as opposed to occupational competency)… The assumption that these exercises in cross-cultural collaboration, repatriation, etc. have not already been happening for some time… Even very obfuscated primal assumptions about the nature of knowledge, purpose of education, and whether museums as educational institutions are desirable to maintain…

    On the day I first read this article, a student in a group I was teaching asked me about an Indian Hindu artifact in our museum’s collection, originally purchased from an Indian collector. One of the parent volunteers was a Sri Lankan Hindu priest. After clarifying that he was welcome to correct me, I explained the artifact, and asked him if I got it right. He gave me a thumbs up and afterwards asked how he might be able to donate some Sri Lankan artifacts to our collection. These aren’t the sort of real, in the trenches, day-to-day experiences of museum work that I see reflected in this article, the discussions spurred on by it, or the film in question.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Did the museum staff know ahead of time that Eric was going to kill people? No they did not. So the extra security was in fact racial profiling. You sound like the media when it attempts to dig up all the dirt on an innocent victim of a police shooting.


  17. I have not seen the film but am aware that it is of the “superhero” genre. Thinking about all of this from the perspective of someone who has worked front and back of the museum house, so to speak, I can’t help but wonder if the issues raised are being simplistically discussed. These are complex problems but superheroes good or bad will not provide real solutions.


  18. I’d like to add that museum professionals have been discussing these issues seriously, and way before the release of the film.


  19. If you want to talk about that scene, let’s. Because what I saw was a curator to took time out of her busy day to explain to a random visitor what he could have read from a guide, and I also saw that man getting all high and mighty about ‘my heritage’ and ‘stolen items’ only to then sell that priceless artefact to a smuggler the first chance he got? And getting six people killed in the process? And to add insult to injury, he then stole a mask he had no right to which was probably very fragile, and, what? Lost it in South Korea? So, I know the intent was different, but to me, that scene read as ‘museum does good job in preserving and presenting to the public treasures from the past when black thug walks in, kills people, steals things, ruins experience for everybody’. Well done.


  20. The nation of Wakanda, depicted in the film, “Black Panther,” reflects the historic empire of Dahomey. The City of Benin was the capital of Dahomey. Beautiful bronze artwork, (as opposed to wooden carvings), were unique to Dahomean artistic talent and forging skills. The female warriors depicted in “Black Panther” reflect legendary battalions of women who actually fought fiercely as members of the Dahomean army.

    Dahomey was known for its warfare prowess as well as for its artistic culture. The Broadway musical, “In Dahomey” appeared in 1903. There have been many books and other writings about Dahomey and Dahomean life and culture.

    As a result of the crimes against humanity commonly known as “slavery” and “the slave trade,” in which Dahomey was fully involved, many Black Americans do not know, and will never know, that they had ancestors who were born in, lived prosperous lives in, and even may have been members of the royal family in, the Empire of Dahomey.

    The artifacts that were looted by the British, and that are the subject of this “we stole it fair and square” discussion, were looted from Dahomey. In an article titled, “Who Owns Art?” that first appeared in The New York times on March 28, 2006, Holland Cotter wrote:

    “KARMA never sleeps. When people steal from other people, redress always comes, though maybe not for a long time and in unexpected forms. Because the history of art is, in large part, a history of theft, karmic action is always at work. Somewhere, it’s always payback time. We got a juicy taste of this recently, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art, after decades of stonewalling, agreed to return several possibly stolen — that is, illegally excavated — objects to Italy, one being the famous Euphronios krater. Yet the Met affair was small potatoes compared with orgies of art larceny in the not-so-distant past.. . .

    “(I)n Africa in 1897, British troops, in a punishing mood, stripped clean the ivories and bronzes from the altars and palaces of the West African kingdom of Benin and sent those exquisite objects home ….”

    Most African American never heard of, or ever imagined, “palaces of (an) . . . African kingdom.” Most Black folks never heard of Dahomey. They live lives that require more attention to the present that to fretting about pieces of art stolen from African nations many years ago. Indeed, if your great-great-great-great-grandfather himself was kidnapped from Africa and dragged against his will to America, and your homeland in Africa and its resources were stolen by something called “colonization,” mere stolen pieces of artwork may be very distant on your radar.

    Nevertheless, we must care. Art reflects culture and culture reflects a people. It is critically important for Black Americans to value African artwork as our own, and to understand why those artworks were considered to be valuable and, thus, worth stealing. There are elements of “Black Panther” that bring to mind Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Stokely Carmichael. This is no small achievement.

    Cotter had an interesting suggestion in his Times piece:
    “Surely the only thing to do at this point is try to turn karma around, to transform a history of theft into an experiment in sharing — to replace debate and legislation with cooperation, to replace implacable suspicion with trust, or at least gestures of trust.”

    “Black Panther” clearly is a product of imagination. It does a wonderful job of presenting to masses of people sights and sounds and concepts of race that many people never imagined before. It helps people to imagine a world of Black life of power, beauty, nobility, intelligence, value and resourcefulness that is not depicted in current popular culture. However, the fundamental basis of “Black Panther” is not imaginary. Rather, it is based, in fact, upon the real and historic Empire of Dahomey.

    “Black Panther” deserves enormous praise for filling needs, especially for Americans, on so many levels; and, for making a direct connection to Africa, (“Hi, Auntie”), that Black Americans, can appreciate in huge numbers as never before.


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