“It is astonishing the lengths to which a person, or a people, will go in order to avoid a truthful mirror.” – James Baldwin
Since its early days, Marvel’s magic has been a byproduct of their devotion to prioritizing substance over style.
Characters with humble origins, victims of trauma, or members of a marginalized society, despite possessing extraordinary abilities, were presented as more human than god-like.
Enter the creation of the first Black superhero, Black Panther.
Created in 1966, not only was Black Panther a strong example of potential realized for a marginalized society, his existence proposed the question; What if the resource rich Africa weren’t colonized, and its people progressed independently in secret?
What leapt from the pages was the fictitious black utopia Wakanada. Vibranium, one of the world’s most prominent resources, is rooted in the soil of Wakanda. With it, its people succeed in cultivating the most technologically advanced society on the planet.
Just as he first appeared in Fantastic Four issue 52, the cinematic version of Black Panther, is introduced in “Captain America Civil War”, before embarking on a solo outing.
Upon discovering Chadwick Boseman was chosen to portray T’Challa, I was skeptical. Although a fine actor, T’challa required a special blend of regality, strength, and presence. Above all else I asked, could he illustrate an African accent without it appearing forced? Fortunately his portrayal in Civil War, was one of movie’s highlights.
In CW, T’Chaka, father of T’Challa, was murdered, resulting in his son hell-bent on erasing his killer. After learning of the true cause of his father’s demise, T’Challa decides no longer to allow vengeance to rot him from within. The powerful scene hinted at the stripe of king we’d be introduced to in “Black Panther”.
Fast forward to 2018, The Ryan Coogler lead “Black Panther” with its predominately Black cast, is graciously offered as a love letter to the Black community.
The story begins with Prince T’challa still in mourning, bothered by the weight kingship imposes. Still haunted by memories of holding his patriarch’s lifeless body, he’s more driven by duty than purpose. In other words he accepts the crown for the sake of Wakanda, but lacks vision.
That conundrum is what fuels Black Panther’s coming of age story. Beneath its celebration of Black excellence simmers a complex story involving the burden of leadership, political agendas, betrayal, disenfranchisement, and lastly, but most importantly…accountability. We’re forced to consider a man or woman’s legacy is predicated on how often they’ve held themselves, and others accountable.
During T’challa’s coronation, the intimidating M’Baku, leader of the Jabari Tribe, challenges him. After besting M’baku he claims his birthright as king, and during the second portion of the ceremony visits the ancestral plane. There he meets with his father, and quickly communicates the unsureness of his new responsibilities.
During his counsel, his father squelches his insecurities by stating ‘It’s hard for a good man to be a king.’ The gravitas of his statement reveals the gray areas woven into the fabric of leadership, and foreshadows the plot of the story.
As I mentioned prior, accountability is the film’s propulsion. I believe it’s best we analyze how the theme affected Black Panther’s pivotal characters.
Immense uncertainty rendered him lost in the shadows of his father’s legacy. A member of Wakanda’s 1%, T’challa is a child of privilege. Consequently similar to his predecessors, he may have lacked the awareness to fully empathize with the ills of those on the ground. When presented with the notion of allowing refugees into Wakandan borders, and sending foreign aid to outsiders, he became conflicted. This is when we saw a glimmer of his identity radiate. Was he going to mirror his father’s policies, or push Wakanda into a different direction?
No greater challenge of the aforementioned occurred when the sins of the throne, in the form of Eric “Killmonger” Stevens, arrived. Prior to his cousin’s entrance, T’challa discovered his father murdered his brother, Killmonger’s father, in an attempt to save Zuri. Left behind by Tchaka, Killmonger, then a child, discovers his father’s lifeless body. The two return to Wakanda never speaking of the occurrence.
The older Killmonger avenges the death of his father by challenging T’challa, besting him, and seemingly killing him in contest-claiming the throne. The result of T’Challa’s “death” becomes his defining moment. With his body retrieved, and nursed by way of the heart shaped herb, he revisits the ancestral plane to confront his father. Within that moment KING T’challa emerges, scolding his father for his misdeed, proclaiming his predecessors were wrong for neglecting those in need, and vowing to return to reclaim the thrown. His defeat gifted him with purpose, as loss tends to do for those willing to learn. Upon reclaiming the throne he mends broken relationships, and uses his privilege to create opportunity for the misfortunate. During a lectern, revealing the presence of Wakanda to the world, he proclaims “The wise build bridges while the foolish build walls”. No longer conflicted he recognizes his responsibility to his people, of all variations.
“You cannot let your father’s actions define your life. You get to decide what kind of king you want to be.”
She was the life’s blood of the movie. Her willingness to risk her life for her convictions encapsulated the movie’s central theme of accountability. Although a war dog/spy, who operated in the interests of Wakanda, she never hesitated to express her disapproval of the nation’s isolationist policies. Her missions allowed her to operate on the ground with the suffering. There she saw the ills the royals could eradicate if they chose openness over secrecy. When she expressed her concerns to T’challa she succeeded in setting in motion the path to redefining the policies of the throne.
Through her I discovered another theme the film attempted to communicate: the importance of a healthy relationship among people of color. We so desperately need each other. The bond she and T’challa possessed, was a brilliant example of two Alpha personalities working in unison for the betterment of the whole. Far too often ego thickens the concrete separating the sexes in the Black community. T’challa trusts her, as she does him. When he becomes disillusioned by his father’s acts, she counsels him.
The moment T’challa is bested in combat she possessed the foresight to retreat with the women to regroup. She retrieves a heart shaped herb, with plans to provide M’baku the means to rid Wakanda of Killmonger. She and the women discover T’challa, rescued by the Jabari Tribe, clinging to life. The hope the scene emanates, mirrors the ambition her presence conjures through out the movie. In various ways Nakia’s support helped T’challa fight his uncertainties. Her quick thinking and willingness to act in the interest of others saved lives. One might be so bold to proclaim a Black woman’s love saved the world from chaos. We must hold others accountable, not by force, but by action, and commitment.
Aside from being the comedic pulse, her importance reverberates on and off film. Representing the antithesis of how young Black women are portrayed on camera, she embodies the intellectual potential of the Black populace. Her ability to envision, and produce the most technologically advanced nation on the planet, is a prime example of said potential.
For decades people of color have allowed the plaguing culture of anti-intellectualism to proliferate. The ideology stifles the potential of its patrons, and empowers pseudo-scientific articles such as Charles Murry’s, “the Bell Curve”. For example Murry presents data stating Black IQ scores are lower than Whites. The presentation is misleading, but by supporting its agenda by way of anti-intellectualism, we feed the bias. We must hold ourselves accountable demanding more accurate representations of Black intellectuals. We must support our mentally gifted, who are also representatives of our community. If we truly believe we are not monolithic, we must express it by way of action.
“Because of deeply entrenched racial discrimination, more black people have died from lightning than have become professors of computer science…the black computer science professor is an endangered species“- Philip Emeagwali
As the data science industry evolves, and artificial intelligence becomes more commonplace in the home, we will need more engineers, programmers, and problem solvers. Preparing our youth for a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) is of dire importance.
Shuri, supplied with an endless stream of Vibranium, embodies an equation that has given birth to many civilizations: Resources + opportunity + information = innovation. Yet be that as it may, there is no physical weapon on earth more powerful than an ideology. We must be mindful of the ideologies we allow to power our minds. Wakanda’s advancements existed because of an allegiance to a thought process.
Note, in order to heal her almost lifeless brother, she needed to trust in the unseen. The degree of humility required to put faith in the unknown is something we all must possess. As an engineer, it’s one of the many scenes that stayed with me.
I believe Shuri’s place in the film rests accountability on the shoulders of the audience. Will we demand more Black intellectuals be represented on screen? Will we support our gifted youth? Will we defy the data, grab hold of the narrative, and own brilliance?
The Kingdom of Dahomey existed between 1600-1894. Its king/kingdom were protected by a group of soldiers some called the most feared women in history. The attack force called themselves N’Nonmito (‘our mothers’), outsiders referred to them as the Dahomey Amazons. Vicious, well trained, and at a moment’s notice, would remove the head of anyone who dared threaten the king. The Dora Milaje were inspired by that group of dominant women.
Okoye, Dora’s General, exercises the principles of loyalty and devotion to the throne. However, her existence symbolizes a dimension of Black womanhood not often presented on film—a fierce balance of feminine and masculine traits. In fact, BP’s celebration of excellence soars due to its reverence of Black women. While Shuri, and Nakia represent intellect and heart respectively, OKoye is equal parts protector, beauty, and warrior. She revere’s T’challa, and would willingly offer her life to spare his in any scenario.
I recall a moment during the first act, when T’challa was on a mission to retrieve Naka from a deep cover operation. Prior to his exit, he instructed Okoye to stay behind. She complied, although reluctantly. T’challa becomes distracted during the mission, is put in harms way, and suddenly she leaps from the shadows exterminating the threat.
I became reminded of the many times Black men have underestimated the importance of assistance in the moment.
Unfortunately our egos often shackle us. In these circumstances, our women see our miscalculation, and assist even from the shadows if necessary.
I felt the pain in her eyes when she witnessed T’challa fall at the feet of Killmonger. His body discarded, the throne falling into the hands of the unfit. I could see the conflict. When asked by Nakia to escape the city, to regroup, she chose her duty to throne. I thought of the many times women of color have had to make difficult decisions for the sake of obligation. T’Challa’s reemergence in the final act rekindles the light in her eyes. When he challenges Killmonger, and he refuses, she decides he’s not fit to be King, and immediately commands the Dora to attack. Cleary her allegiance to the throne is based on the King’s ability to lead. Okoye exists to hold the King accountable, at all times.
She will not follow an unfit King. How many times have Black women made similar statements either verbally, or by action?
We must grasp every moment to remind the media, Black women are not monolithic. They are not victims, nor are they props to be paraded for mass consumption. The Dora were not objectified. They were honored, adored, and feared by many. The Wakandan empire would not survive without Okoye and the Dora Milaje.
The desire of a Black utopia conjures visions of its citizens basking in the lands wonders. No degradation, no malice, just peace and prosperity for all those who occupy its land. Yet reality dictates all societies have their “forgotten”. The “undesirables” who watch from the shadows as the world they’ve chosen to acknowledge doesn’t reciprocate.
M’Baku and the Jabari Tribe represented Wakanda’s disenfranchised. Although choosing to follow basic traditions, by shunning Wakanda’s modernized society, there’s was still a noble ideology.
When M’Baku arrived on Challenge day, to contest the crowning of T’challa his argument was rooted in believing Wakanda needed to return to its basic traditions. He strongly believed since no previous king made an attempt to forge ties with the Jabari, it was time to take the crown by force.
“We have watched from the mountains, as you and your technological advancements have been overseen by a child who scoffs at tradition. And this man, who wants to be king, who could not even keep his own father safe. We will not have it, I said we will not have it!”
T’Challa went on to best him, yet showed him mercy. By choosing not to kill him, and demanding he yield, the act of mercy put in motion the gesture that saved throne in the final act.
M’baku’s nobility isn’t often discussed. His people retrieved T’challa from the river. They used whatever means they had to tend to him, and even though he was presented with the opportunity to gain the powers of the Black Panther, he opted to bring the women to T’Challa’s body.
After T’challa is revived, and speaks with M’Baku asking the Jabari to assist him in battle, he declines. M’Baku then proceeds to mention how no Wakandan king as ever entered Jabari land offering alliance.
However I believes by T’challa offering, his hand in comradery, thereby showing a willingness to not follow his predecessors, M’Baku considers the notion of assisting
During the battle for Wakanda, The Dora would have been defeated if not for the arrival of the Jabari. This act lands him a seat on the Tribal Council, where he can be a voice for his people.
M’Baku’s importance to the story can not be understated. During times of strife, and social upheaval, it is often the forgotten who push us back on code. His brash willingness to hold the wearer of the crown accountable, is an example of how we should all approach government. Hold on to your convictions. Be open to change, but do not cast aside tradition.
According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health:
Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.
Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites.
Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Black/African Americans are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The opprobrium of trauma is handcuffed to the legacy of African Americans. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by it. In times of strife we grasp to it, and unfortunately we demand our leaders be children of trauma. Nonetheless the psychological inferno associated with internal torture, shouldn’t be a prerequisite for leadership. Be that as it may, Killinmonger, the most polarizing villain the MCU has produced to date, strongly symbolizes a means to libration for many.
In some ways BP brilliantly plays as an origin narrative for Killmonger. We connect with his story, entitling frustration, and abandonment issues,caused by citizens of a continent who sought to disavow knowledge of his existence. Killmonger represents Black American’s demand for Africa to acknowledge their lineage and accept accountability.
Unfortunately his views, albeit sound, were skewed by his thrist to quench a revenge fantasy. In the film, his actions never represented an interest in the legacy of Wakanda. They were tied to his lust for destroying contributors to his trauma. Keep in mind, his first act as king was to destroy all chances of their being a successor.
I suspect due to his past, like many African Americans, Killmonger may have suffered from PTSD.
PTSD, often associated with American soldiers, occurs when a person experiences an extreme atrocity. The hurt associated with discovering the body of his father, and his abandonment, set in motion a series of events that lead to his demise.
By grasping aggressively on to the heels of his trauma, he deemed himself powerful. Many Blacks share his perception. Yet we must consider the outcomes associated with this decision. The tattered relationships, lost loves, unfulfilled potential, and self-sabotage, are associated with a bitter anger fueled existence.
To be blunt, he possessed an unclear vision. Once the weapons were in the hands of his war dogs, then what? Could they be trusted? If he was willing to make a deal with Klau in the beginning, who else would he be willing to work with, provided he amassed more power? He was an addict. Addicted to the adrenaline rush anger brings. Such people are never conducive to the interests of the whole.
We are desperate? Salivating for leadership, so much so that we’ve lost discernment. We must hold ourselves accountable, and not behave from a point of desperation. Doing so leaves us powerless, and giving autonomy to our oppressors, and those with self-serving agendas.
Side note, one must ask; if most Blacks are against oppression, or being oppressed? It’s a practical question that’s not often reviewed. Do we wish for equality, or do we just want to be at the top of the food chain?
I loved Killmonger. I related to his angst, as much as I related to the poise of T’Challa. Yet legacies are not built on anger infused ideologies. They satisfy for the moment, but they rarely sustain in the long term. We must deal with our trauma first as a community before we can effectively address the myriad of obstacles that deter us from success. Anger will not lead us from bondage. Strong clear calculation will be effective, for that was the method used by our captures.
In closing, please note the sins of both fathers were rested at the feet of their sons. If N’Jobu had opted to return to Wakanda with his child, refused a deal with Klau, and told T’Chaka of his concerns, what would have been the outcome? If T’Challa had taken the child home, after murdering his father, and ignoring the ills of the Black community, what would have been the outcome? Black Fathers must be mindful of how our decisions, although seemingly harmless in the moment, can impact the lives of our children.
In regards to resources that could help to reshape the narrative of our community, much like Wakanda, the Black Church must be held accountable. According to research the church as collected more than $420 billion in tithes and donations since 1980. Are they investing in Black Banks, STEM programs, financial literacy? Why are our communities still in a shambles when they are perceived as the center? Sadly, such a complex topic is for a later date.
The healing process we so desperately require will begin when we hold ourselves more so accountable than we hold others. We have US. We don’t need THEM. We need to trust US, and not seek acceptance from THEM. We have all of the love we’ll ever need if we opt to trust each other above all else.
Brilliant cinematography, exquisite acting, strong pacing, costumes, sound, and incredible storytelling contribute to the strength of BP. My only grip is the suspect CGI during the final fight between T’Challa and Killmonger.
I enjoyed how the movie paid homage to excerpts for the comics, such as T’challa being thrown from the waterfall, the battle between Apeman and BP, and the statement “Every breath you take is mercy from me”
I rate Black Panther a 10/10. Filled will social commentary, comic book reverence, humor, angst, storytelling, and the like. It is by far the most well balanced comic book filmed I’ve seen to date. Long live the king. #wakandaforever