Originally published at City-Journal.org.
Richard Wright did not expect his neighbor’s houseboy to be a fan of Mickey Spillane when he visited Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast, in 1953. The boy had knocked on the door of the black American novelist’s bungalow to ask for money for a correspondence course to become a detective. “From where did you get this notion of becoming a detective?” Wright asked. “In a magazine. You know, sar. One of those American magazines.” Wright tells him that being a detective is not a good profession, barely better than being a stool pigeon. “Do you know what a stool pigeon is?” “Yes, sar. I know that from the movies, sar.” “American movies?” “Yes, sar. I see a lot of them.”
On further questioning it becomes obvious that the young man has no idea what being a detective really means; he imagines that if he becomes one, he can go around locking up Englishmen for stealing the Africans’ land. “His view of reality was warped,” Wright reflected. “It was composed of fragments of Hollywood movies and American pulp magazines and he had lived his life so far from such manufactured dreams that he was unable to tell what was plausible or implausible in them.”
The new Marvel Comics film Black Panther seems to have left many of its viewers with the young man’s problem in reverse, unable to tell what is plausible or implausible in their Hollywood-based picture of Africa. No one over the age of ten actually thinks Wakanda is real, but several of the actors have said that the movie is meant to suggest “what would Africa look like if it was not colonized” (Lupita Nyong’o) and to “prove to the colonialists that if they had not interfered with Africa we’d be so far advanced” (John Kani).