Black Panther and the Social Contexts
**this is not a “think-piece”. Well, I don’t think it is, anyways*
I know, I know. I already wrote a Black Panther piece here. But then I saw it again and it was so necessary for my overall perspective. While the first time I saw it, I caught all of the major points of the movie, the second viewing enhanced my perspective and forced me to really think in the social context within the characters and the plot of the movie and comic.
I said this in the last post and I will say it again – Black Panther was perfect. Everything about it from a cinematography stand point was spot on and perfectly captured from beginning to end. I could tell that the production teams put in a lot of research and time towards making this one of the best Marvel movies ever to hit the big or small screens. The care that was taken and the intentionality was evident. From the historical contexts within cultural rituals, costume designs, and even the language, this movie served up some fantastic homage where it’s due on all fronts. As a result of the greatness of this film, Black Panther shattered many Box Office records and even clocked in over $400M worldwide in its first opening weekend. It did amazingly well and I will be seeing again a third time.
Let’s get into this.
From the social standpoint of the story of Black Panther and the land of Wakanda itself though……there are a lot of thoughts around this for me. Wakanda is the land that Black Panther is from. It is the only land in the world that has not been colonized by white people in some way. In order to keep this land natural and uncolonized, it’s always been marketed as a “third world country filled with impoverished people and farmers” for the outside world. Black Panther has never had a problem with this perception because it keeps the land safe and uninhibited by white supremacy and the colonization that the entire world endured over centuries time.
The problem with this is: The land of Wakanda is actually extremely advanced. It is so advanced that it is actually the most technologically advanced land in the entire world, with enough resources, renovation, and technology to help other people, most namely black people that are products of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and beyond. Wakanda is advanced enough to not only help everyone with the needed tools and resources to help enhance and improve their lives, since many struggle as a result of the white supremacy and racism worldwide, but Wakanda is also wealthy enough all around in war and weaponry. Basically, Wakanda can help people disadvantaged black people advance through education, technology, and financial resources AND their army and weapon advancements (with their huge minefields of vibranium, that they use in literally everything around them, which strengthens their land to the nth degree), are infinitely strong enough to fight off and properly defend white colonizers and supremacy in such a way which will turn the world on its axis.
The story gets deeper as we learn of Erik Killmonger, the son of Black Panther’s uncle, Prince N’Jobu, who was sent to America as one of Wakanda’s spies, fell in love with an American woman, saw the immense suffering of the black population there, and started giving secrets away in an effort to help the American people without permission. Prince N’Jobu was severely punished for this with death and in turn, his son, N’Jadaka (changed his name to Killmonger), was left behind where he studied, trained, and prepared himself to one day face Black Panther and try and avenge the throne in Wakanda.
Killmonger is positioned as a “villain” in the movie, but in reality, he is not. He is moreso an anti-hero. He is a villain because he went against Black Panther, and properly challenged the social and economic structure of Wakanda, but overall, he is no villain. At his core, what he wants is to help the world in the ways that Wakanda is capable of doing but won’t. Killmonger is the product of childhood abandonment as he was abandoned by the country he is a product of (Wakanda), his father was killed by his brother, King T’Chaka, and in turn, he spent his life learning and teaching black liberation and empowerment all over the world, whilst also training to avenge the throne in Wakanda
It is difficult for me to see Killmonger as a villain because of all of this. Though his methods of execution were terrible (him killing his girlfriend, who was portrayed as his partner in crime and support, and harming the old woman in Wakanda by choking her for not immediately following a harmful order he gave made my stomach turn), he is no villain. But because of his anger and poorly constructed tactics that bred from that anger, he is also no hero. Also Killmonger is a hotep – one of the worst kinds, most notably because of how he treats women in the film.
“Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, because they knew death was better than bondage”-Erik Killmonger
Can we consider Black Panther as a villain? There is a part of me that does not want to do this, because I love the character (Chadwick Boseman is amazing and stunning and just perfection to me), but for black liberation and support, he just may be the villain. Black Panther largely protects the land of Wakanda from the outside world, even at the expense of leaving other black people behind to literally fend for themselves. He concedes to help the outside world via community centers in the inner city, starting in Oakland, California, but (so far) no revolutionary measures that will help avenge black people from the perils of white supremacy. That is a bit of an All Lives Matter approach while Killmonger was wholly onto #BlackLivesMatter.
One of the most wholesome heroes to me was Nakia. Nakia was a revolutionary in her own right. From the beginning of the movie, she was doing the work and saving kidnapped children and helping the homeless and had been for years. She constantly talked to T’Challa about getting Wakanda involved in mission efforts that would bring about some real change with the resources that Wakanda was afforded. Her impact was so strong that she even influenced T’Challa’s decision to open up Wakanda to the world and really help disadvantaged people all over. Nakia also saves T’Challa when he dies in combat with Killmonger by taking one of the heart-shaped plants that are grown and used to strengthen the panthers. Nakia is integral and she doesnt boast or need the front-end attention in order to be considered the hero that she is. She is amazing. She is the true hero.
I love this movie. Absolutely love it! I’m going to retract – I don’t want to consider Black Panther as a Nvillain, because he did end up telling his father about how absolutely wrong he was for his approach to protect Wakanda by killing N’Jobu and abandoning N’Jadaka and isolating themselves completely from the outside world when they had the means to help in so many ways. But his approach is a slow step in the right direction, I would say. The approach to create community centers for the inner city in Oakland and work with white leaders around the world, versus creating those community centers and working to liberate and strengthen black people around the world via the use of vibranium to go against the oppressor and “take back their power” speaks to me of the All Lives Matter angle, whereas Killmonger wanted this liberation to be black-centered in a world where we are struggling unfairly.
On a real note, this movie is truth to our social climate in real time. There is so much work that needs to be done on all sides, from the way we treat each other to the way that others view us to the way we view our kinfolk and skinfolk far and wide. This movie put to the forefront all of our societal issues within 2.5 hours of time and it was amazing to see. Truly amazing.