One of the top-grossing films of all time, ‘Black Panther’ continues to sell out and mystify audiences around the world. Marvel has always done an exceptional job bringing comic book characters to the big screen but this superhero film may be more meaningful than anything Marvel has produced yet.
The blockbuster action movie was written, directed and starred black artists. It infused what happens to be the purest expression of Afrofuturism -- science fiction and fantasy that reflects the African diaspora. And even though Africa is divided by countries with diverse cultures and traditions, Black Panther incorporated them to create the fictional nation of Wakanda. In addition, co-writer Ryan Coogler also used the film to explore the difference between being African-American and being African. And he took time to pay homage to the kidnapped schoolgirls that sparked the Bring Back Our Girls Campaign.
Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Nakia, is a Wakandan spy, a war dog. When we first meet her, she appears to be captured by terrorists along with several other women. However, she is actually in the middle of a rescue mission; the kidnappers are taking the abductees to their camp when black panther intercepts the convoy and frees the women and the young boy they had converted into a soldier. Across the movie screen, we see the location of the rescue -- the Sambisa Forest of Nigeria. Rather than diverting from the plot to explain the significance, the scene is brief and we’re aboard black panther’s jet and headed to Wakanda.
But this is fiction, of course.
On the night of April 14, 2014, members of the Islamic sect, Boko Haram, kidnapped 276 female students from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno, Nigeria as they prepared for exams. This militant group who primarily used the Sambisa Forest as a hideout had already been terrorizing Nigerians for years but the sheer size of this mass kidnapping drew worldwide attention and served as a shocking introduction to the atrocities and humanitarian crises caused by Boko Haram. The Boko Haram war was in a relatively remote area of northeast Nigeria—an area that most of the world had ignored.
Soon after news broke about it, the social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls spread around the world. The Bring Back Our Girls movement was created by Obiageli Ezekwesili, former Federal Minister of Education of Nigeria and Vice President of the African division of World Bank at a rally in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. The hashtag was record-setting and the movement attracted support from Michelle Obama, the Pope, Malala Yousafazi, etc. Hundreds of thousands of concerned citizens around the world joined the movement by posting selfies with a sign that read: Bring Back Our Girls.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, was unmoved by the world’s sudden outcry and attention to Nigeria’s upheaval. He had even threatened to sell the girls as young as seven in the market and “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves.”
It’s estimated that over the years, thousands of other girls and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram. Those who’ve escaped or were freed testified that they were forced to fight, cook, clean and bear children. Some of the kidnapped girls died in childbirth or in military raids. They also revealed that pregnant young women, a woman with a baby on her back and even children as young as 7 or 8 were used as suicide bombers and deployed as human weapons. These poor abductees brought destruction to markets and even camps of desperate people fleeing the violence. It’s surmised that the girls who are currently living amongst Boko Haram were possibly married to Boko Haram fighters or forced to become combatants themselves.
While most of the world has moved on from this horrendous story, the movement continues to be as active today as it was four years ago. The organization has two websites, www.bringbackourgirls.org and www.bringbackourgirls.ng, and still demands that the Chibok schoolgirls abducted on April 14, 2014, be rescued by the government. Per the Nigerian website, they have been working tirelessly with the Nigerian government to:
Improve communications on Nigerian security happenings with daily briefings on the rescue of the abducted girls.
Create communication channels that help inform the public on safety measures being taken to protect Nigerian citizens.
Provide a provision of rehabilitation services, such as counseling and healthcare, as well as witness protection, to all abducted girls who have escaped or been rescued.
Take measures to ensure the protection of children of school age to curb future abductions and sexual violence.
Pass the Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill (VAPP BIll) that protects girls to ensure persecution of those responsible for sexual violence once captured.
The Nigerian website also has a ticker that tracks the number of days, hours, minutes and seconds the schoolgirls have been kidnapped. And they have a header which I’m sure is updated when they learn of any news. As of today, it reads:
57 ESCAPED, 4 FOUND, 106 RELEASED, 4 INFANTS WITH OUR GIRLS, 19 PARENTS DEAD, 113 STILL MISSING!
Please note that neither the organizers of the movement nor the Chibok community has asked for money. If you come across an organization using the #BringBackOurGirls movement to raise funds, it is a fraud.
If you are not in Nigeria, activists are asking you to contact your elected official and urge them to pressure the Nigerian government to bring back our girls.
If you happen to be in Nigeria, there is a standing protest in Abuja, the nation's capital, that meets every day at 3 pm at Unity Fountain.