At the Academy Awards on Sunday night, Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, introduced Best Picture nominee Black Panther in one of the segments during the show where clips from the eight Best Picture nominees were shown to the audience.
In his introductory comments, though, Noah hid a subtle joke that only made sense if you spoke Xhosa and the joke subverted his entire speech.
Noah is from South Africa and he speaks Xhosa, which is one of the most common languages spoken in the country. It is also the language that Marvel Studios chose for the Wakandan language in Black Panther. Noah played on that connection in his intro by pretending as though he actually grew up with the fictional King T'Challa of Wakanda (played by Chadwick Boseman).
"Growing up as a young boy in Wakanda, I would see T'Challa flying over our village, and he would remind me of a great Xhosa phrase," Noah said. "He says 'abelungu abazi uba ndiyaxoka' -- which means, 'In times like these, we are stronger when we fight together than when we try to fight apart.'"
However, that is not actually what that phrase translates to in Xhosa. It actually means "White people don't know I'm lying."
Noah's joke has been taken in two ways. One, it could be a basic joke about the ignorance that most people have about Africa in general, so that they might actually believe that Wakanda is a real country. However, a second view of the joke is that Noah was making a statement about the limitations of making cheery surface proclamations about unity while the truth is much more complicated. You could even read a criticism of the film that ultimately won the Oscar for Best Picture, Green Book, which was criticized for giving an unrealistic view of race relations in the 1960s. Noah seems to suggest that we need to communicate with each other honestly and not just put a good face on a lie.
Black Panther made history on Sunday night by becoming the first Marvel Studios film to win an Academy Award, as it took home three awards (Best Costume Design, Best Production Design and Best Original Score). It was already the first Marvel Studios film to ever receive a Best Picture nomination.