'Black Panther' Is at the Center of a New Controversy

Marvel Entertainment

The world waits in anticipation for Marvel’s Black Panther, but the new superhero film is alleged to have stolen paintings by British-Liberian artist Lina Iris Viktor in Kendrick Lamar’s tie-in music video “All the Stars.”

On Saturday, Viktor’s lawyer sent Lamar’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment, a letter of copyright infringement regarding the use of patterned artworks in Lamar’s “All the Stars” that bear an uncanny resemblance to “Constellations I,” a 2016 series of paintings made by Viktor.

Viktor says she was contacted by Disney and the filmmakers of Black Panther twice to feature her work in an array of tie-in media. Both times she rejected.

In the new music video for “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar featuring SZA, a portion of the video features Lamar walking past ornately-dressed figures in front of a black and gold wall pattern with various geometric and animal shapes. The design of the wall is remarkably similar to the paintings made by Viktor, who was notified by friends who saw the video. In an analysis of “All the Stars,” the culture website OkayAfrica even references Viktor, noting that her “work and influence” can “clearly be spotted.”

In an interview with the New York Times, Viktor says “It’s an ethical issue” because “what the whole film purports is that it’s about black empowerment, African excellence.” Meanwhile, “they’re stealing from African artists.”

Far left: A frame from "All the Stars" by Kendrick Lamar and SZA. Middle and far right: 'Constellations I' by Lina Iris Viktor.

Lina Iris Viktor

Copyright lawyer Nancy E. Wolff, who also serves as president of the Copyright Society of the USA, told the New York Times that the video’s directors, Dave Meyers and the little homies (Lamar and partner Dave Free) will potentially argue the images are not the same, but because the style “is so strong … it’s just going to look like it’s the same.”

“It’s really tricky because style is not protected,” Wolff told the New York Times, “but I can see why everyone assumed this artist was involved.”

In the letter arguing on behalf of Viktor, the New York/London-based artist is seeking “to discuss a resolution of all her claims, consisting at a minimum of a public apology for the unauthorized use and a license fee.” Viktor also told the New York Times that it’s principles, not compensation, that she’s fighting for. “Cultural appropriation is something that continually happens to African-American artists … and I want to make a stand.”

Lamar, a multi-time Grammy award winner, was picked by director Ryan Coogler to make and curate music for Black Panther. Last week, on February 9, Black Panther the Album: Music from and Inspired By was released and became an instant hit on the internet. The video for “All the Stars” currently has over 10 million views on YouTube.

Marvel’s Black Panther will hit theaters on February 16.

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