If there is any Hollywood movie that Indians should love for myriad historical reasons, it is Black Panther. The movie is based in the fictional African country of Wakanda. It has themes of colonisation, racial uprising and overthrow of white supremacy. At the same time, it is also a film that has managed to leave the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) feeling perturbed enough to censor the word “Hanuman”, much like they would do with the "offensive" middle finger. Yes, the same mythical ape god who helped Ram rescue Sita from the clutches of Raavan, the demon king.
In the film, Black Panther's rival M'Baku, who belonged to the Jabari tribe, says "Glory to Hanuman”. Needless to say, that word found itself edited out when the film was released in India, no doubt to make sure Hindu sensibilities were not offended.
But why should they be? In the comic’s lore — created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby — the Jabari tribe does worship a divine figure similar to Hanuman.
According to a report by The Quint, the Jabari tribe, in the comics, worship a gorilla god called “Man-Ape”. The filmmakers decided to rename that god to “Hanuman” in the adaptation. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Winston Duke, the actor who plays M'Baku in the film said that the name “Man-Ape” was abandoned by the adaptation for obvious reasons. Over time, ape, monkey and other simian words have been used as racial slur for Africans and those with African roots in both real life, and in popular culture depictions and metaphors.
He added that: “They haven’t been affected by colonialism and all the narratives that are associated with developing a sense of inferiority and people comparing them to animals. To them, this is just who they pray to, and they find their strength and agency in this religion. So being a bit gorilla-influenced was a sense of pride for them.”
A Twitter user called Shivam Bhatt, in a thread, tried to explain the possibility of Africal culture being influenced by India.
In every sense, Hindu mythology has often treated Hanuman like a superhero. He can fly. He has super strength. He is righteous. And all this, when Hanuman was not a god himself. Additionally, the reference of Hanuman in Black Panther makes more sense from a tribe of good-hearted vegetarian renegades who help those in need.
In addition, it would only have been a smart move to retain a reference that large numbers of Indians understand fully, in a movie about black power. So why does the word "Hanuman" offend Hindus? Or why is the CBFC afraid it would do so?
For good reason, perhaps. Cinema in India manages to offend extremist groups rather easily. The Padmaavat controversy is enough to exemplify how touchy right-wing groups can get about references to mythology. In addition, back in 2015, several people did get riled up over another Marvel movie that had a reference to a Hindu god.
In the trailer of X-Men: Apocalypse, the film’s titular character and prime antagonist Apocalypse, a powerful mythical mutant, said, “I have been called many things over many lifetimes: Ra, Krishna, Yahweh.”
Needless to say, that reference never reached Indian audiences because it was censored when the film was released.