Wakanda was the fourth most mentioned African nation on U.S. television for the month of March 2018, according to a new study from the University of Southern California. The fictional kingdom from Marvel’s “Black Panther” ranked only behind Egypt, South Africa and Kenya.
Non-comic book Africa does not include Wakanda, but does have 54 other recognized nations.
“On TV, we did not track every reference to ‘Black Panther,’ but only those that accompanied a keyword related to Africa. Even with that restriction, coverage of ‘Black Panther’ exceeded that of African travel, sports, education, health and environment in all genres of programming,” researchers reported. “One indicator of its prevalence on U.S. TV is that the Black Panther’s fictional African homeland, Wakanda, would have placed fourth behind Egypt, South Africa and Kenya in our rankings of most mentioned countries.”
The study, which looked at more than 700,000 hours of data from the month, may have been a bit skewed by the fact that the Hollywood mega blockbuster debuted in theaters just two weeks before they began gathering data.
The Wakanda finding, however, underscored researchers broader conclusion that Africa-related topics rarely saw airtime on U.S. television screens — and that when Africa did receive coverage it was overwhelmingly negative.
“The universal consensus is that African media coverage is overwhelmingly focused on negative stories such as Boko Haram, corruption, poverty, electoral crises, migrants and terrorism, while putting far too little emphasis on subjects and stories that provide a counterpoint showing the success, diversity, opportunity and vibrancy of Africa,” researchers reported.
“Even when the coverage of Africa was, on its surface, positive, it was described as often glib, simplistic, predictable and sometimes sensationalist or extreme, at the expense of showcasing regular voices and stories of Africa.”
Another nugget identified in the study was the frequent use of “Africa” as a stand-in for more specific (and less identifiable) nations. Study authors specifically singled out the 2004 movie “Mean Girls” as an example of the phenomenon.
“Although [Cady Heron] repeatedly refers to her bucolic upbringing in Africa, comparing it favorably to the vicious power dynamics she finds in American public school, no African country is ever named,” they wrote.