Kenya Theatres Rake in ‘Wakanda’ Millions

lupita nyong’o who stars in the movie with Letitia Wright. PHOTO | COURTESY
lupita nyong’o who stars in the movie with Letitia Wright. PHOTO | COURTESY 

‘‘Black Panther’’, a movie that stars Lupita Nyong’o, has become the biggest money-maker for theatres in Kenya.

So far, an estimated 230,000 East Africans have watched the film, half of them being Kenyans, earning theatre investors about Sh112 million, according to Movie Jabber, a Kenya-based cinema and pop culture entertainment company. And the numbers are rising.

In a country where one would think that the norm is to buy pirated CDs off the streets, Jotham Micah, a business development manager of Movie Jabber said ‘‘Black Panther’’ has set a new record.

‘‘The previous record holder in terms of attendance was ‘‘The Fast and the Furious’’ but ‘‘Black Panther’’ has shattered that ceiling and I don’t see any movie coming close any time soon,” he said.

Just as the actors and actresses are armoured and adorned, movie-goers have also gone to great lengths to wear bold African attire during screenings or travel long distances to watch it. Some are travelling across countries with various companies, even buying out entire cinemas for people unable to get tickets to go enjoy the experience.

Its popularity has extended to Sudan where film lovers are requesting for screenings.

“We got a request from Sudan asking if we could take the movie there, but they don’t have a theatre so that wasn’t possible. We’ve also heard from the theatres around Nairobi of people coming in from Uganda and even Senegal, and I know people from Malawi have been travelling to nearby countries to watch it,” said Jotham.

One such person is Brian Munyao Longwe, a Kenyan who relocated to Malawi’s capital Lilongwe with his family about two years ago.

The SimbaNET Malawi general manager said he lives there with his wife and three teenage children. After ‘‘Black Panther’’ premiered to rave reviews and hype on social media, it became a topic of discussion at the dinner table and yet the closest cinema is in Lusaka, Zambia, about 830 kilometres away.

He decided to put out a call on Facebook asking anyone who would want to join him on a road trip earlier this month to go watch the movie in 3D.

“I got an overwhelming response. So I did some research on the cost to hire a 12-seater van, ticket costs, accommodation, food and more and found that by pitching $10 each, we could all go and watch this movie,’’ he said.

Before the trip, he asked for Wakanda fashion advice.

‘‘What colour of shoes should I wear with this suit to the ‘‘Black Panther’’ screening tonight?’’, he asked his social media followers.

He was talking about a greenish-bluish polka dot jacket, a bold colour that many conservative African men would shy away from wearing.

The responses ranged from ‘‘That jacket looks like it can give you super powers...Match it with akala {African flip flops made from tyres} to...The socks must be yellow.’’

Instead, he wore a ‘Wakanda Forever’ printed t-shirt.

“I wanted to make it a fun experience for my family and so we went all out for the children. We even printed out mock ‘Air Wakanda’ boarding passes for everyone who joined us to Zambia, as well as Wakanda t-shirts. It was such fun!”, he said.

Brian loved comic books growing up in Nairobi and the fact that this is a Marvel movie featuring a Black African superhero, is reason enough to watch it.

On the D-Day, 12 people made the trip.

“We left Lilongwe at 5 am, arrived in Lusaka at 7pm and headed straight for the theatres, watched the movie and left for Lilongwe after breakfast the next morning, fully satisfied!” he said.

Daphne Ogega, a Kenyan who lives in the US, bought her Wakanda dress from South Africa, but watched the movie in a Nairobi theatre.

Loi Awat, a Kenyan script writer said she has watched it three times already, and many more to come, never mind that tickets averagely cost Sh1,000.

“Although I am not really a fan of the superhero genre, I enjoyed it as an African who has always been drawn to the plight of other Africans around the world. ‘‘Black Panther’’ is just an absolute thrill to watch!”, she said.

‘‘The attention to detail, amount of work that went into this, entertainment value…everyone did a good job on this movie and black excellence shines on the screen. And the cast is absolutely beautiful —they are black gods and goddesses and enchanting to watch. I keep going back just to get lost in that,” she said.

Loi adds, “Black Panther’’ represents the mainstreaming of a conversation she has been dying to have; a conversation between Africans across the continent and around the world, about history, present and future.

‘‘This is a conversation that has been going on among those of us that attend meetings of the pan-African movement and celebrations of African Liberation Day in Nairobi every year, but in my experience it has never been as mainstream as it now is with this movie,” she said.

Trushna Buddhdev Patel of Crimson Multimedia, a film distribution firm described the movie as the all-time highest-grossing film.

Even globally, it continues its climb up the box office charts and has earned about Sh128 billion ($1.27 billion), according to this week’s estimates.

The superhero film officially crossed two big box office milestones: It surpassed ‘‘Jurassic World’’, a science fiction and ‘‘Frozen’’ to become the top 10 movies of all time.

For Kenya and other East Africa countries, it is Lupita who is spurring the record movie ticket sales.

So far, in Mombasa alone, about 11,500 movie-goers have visited Nyali Cinemax located in upmarket Mombasa.

Sapna Sachania, a manager at Nyali Cinemax said the movie is doing well.

‘‘This is the seventh week running and the cinema is always packed,’’ she said.

Most of the filmgoers, she said, proudly don African attire to attend the screenings.

“It is like they want to relate with the movie,” she said, adding that most people prefer watching it on 3D.

Jotham of Movie Jabber adds that this film has introduced people who have never been to the cinema or who haven’t gone for a while.

“Cinema is different from watching a movie on your laptop or TV...there’s the big screen, sound, popcorn and’s a fantastical out-of this-world experience,” he said.

Additional reporting by Eunice Murathe