Sit Y'all's Paranoid Asses Down – The ‘Black Panther’ Poster Isn't ‘Too Militant’

Chadwick Boseman's enthroned image pays homage more to legendary African rulers than the Black Panther Party's Huey P. Newton.

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. Keyboard conspiracy theorists were ringing the alarm that the white genocide was a-coming, and the latest sign of the racial apocalypse was a superhero movie poster.

Credit: Marvel

According to critics the image composition for the poster appeared startlingly similar to an iconic image of the Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton sitting confidently in a wicker chair––holding an African spear and a rifle. And aside from the fact that Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman holds no weapons, 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. But despite those senses-shattering similarities, the film poster takes its cues from another image that, like the Newton photo, has deep historical significance.

Credit: Blair Stapp, 1967

The image in question is a 1959 photograph of the Nigerian King Olateru Olagbegi II (1910–1998). Olateru was the ruler of the ancient city of Owo, which was once the capital of the Eastern Yoruban city-state. In the photograph, which was taken outside his palace, the king sits under the shade of a velour umbrella, framed between two ornately engraved elephant tusks. 

Oba Olateru Olagbegi II, the Olowo of Owo

And it is this regal image of Olateru to whom homage is paid with the poster of the enthroned T'Challa, the superhero king of Wakanda. An image that is most apparent in the tusk-like structural design elements jutting from the left and right sides of his throne. In the mid-1970s, the photo of Olateru had a similar influencing effect on another promotional print image.

In 1975, the Anheuser-Busch Company began commissioning artists for a series of prints created to bring awareness to various African leaders throughout history. The series was called The Great Kings and Queens of Africa, and one of the 28 prints in the series featured an iconic image of the great Hannibal (247-183 BC), ruler of the ancient North African city of Carthage.  

Credit: The Anheuser-Busch Company / Artist: Charles Lilly

Released in 1977, the Hannibal image was painted by artist Charles Lilly, but shows the unmistakable influence of the photo of the Nigerian king Olateru. In the print, the celebrated military strategist – whose soldiers were famed for riding elephants into war – sits on a high-backed wooden chair framed by two large elephant tusks whose tips are adorned with gold rings. 

Sold in sets of four, ads for Anheuser-Busch's The Great Kings and Queens of Africa print series were carried in the pages of publications like Ebony, Jet magazine for decades––and the prints themselves were subsequently found adorning the walls of classrooms across America. And in the process, the print images forged an indelible impression on several generations of African-Americans.

Now, while it is certainly possible that the teaser poster for Ryan Coogler's eagerly-awaited Black Panther shares a slight resemblance with iconic photograph of Huey P. Newton, the influence of the photograph of the Nigerian king Olateru cannot be denied. But let's leave it to those uber-paranoid keyboard conspiracy theorists to give it another try. 

Speaking of conspiracies, are you also equally disturned by the fact that we have to wait until friggin' February to see Black Panther?