Roxane Gay, Yona Harvey, Ryan Coogler and other Black storytellers successfully envisioned what Wakanda—a futuristic African country unencumbered by colonial baggage and enabled by control over precious resources—could be in their “Black Panther”-focused projects. Five fans drew upon that work to launch the inaugural Wakandacon, a three-day convention celebrating Black geek culture of all kinds, in Chicago on August 3-5.
The Verge reported yesterday (August 13) that the convention grew out of a desire to celebrate a culture that the broader geek community generally sidelines. Despite not having previous experience with conventions, Wakandacon organizers Taylor Witten, Lisa Beasley and Matt, Ali and David Barthwell decided to avoid White event company profiteers and the kinds of issues that plagued the failed Universal Fan Con.
“Spending the time that we did on getting the philosophy right really helped at least us understand what we were trying to do,” David Barthwell told The Verge. “Because, I mean, we could have gone in a lot of directions. Everything is expensive. So it’s like, ‘Okay, what is this? Does this support the mission? Is it about one of those…things that we’re trying to promote here, or is it just someone who’s really cool that we would love to take some selfies with?’”
To that end, the organizers emphasized transparency and sought to make the festival safe and accessible for its predominantly Black attendees. For instance, when the hired security firm showed up with firearms, the organizers and host hotel both “asked the off-duty and retired cops to lock up their weapons or leave; they chose the latter.”
A Chicago hotel was transformed over the weekend into the mythical African nation of Wakanda as about 2,000 “Black Panther” fans attended the first-ever WakandaCon https://t.co/zJuisHmn2m pic.twitter.com/cBXvyyfByy— CNN International (@cnni) August 8, 2018
The gamble paid off, with The Verge reporting “several hundred Black attendees” and an environment that was safe for Black comic fans and cosplayers of all ages. “People were really respectful,” Ali Barthwell recounted. “They asked to take photos with people in cosplay, and those people got down on kids’ level to pose for photos. It just felt like everyone was just a little more comfortable.”
Learn more at TheVerge.com and check out the following tweeted highlights from the weekend in Wakanda(con):