Behind Wakanda’s utopian vision

Submitted by SJW on 14 March, 2018 - 1:15 Author: Sameem Rahimi
Black Panther audience

Firstly, I like Black Panther as a character. My first introduction him was in the highly acclaimed (and short lived) ‘Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ TV series from 2010.

The portrayal of this character was that of a stoic, no nonsense, quiet member of the team, who relied on his instincts and intellect to overcome more powerful enemies.

I then decided to read up on him and encountered him in the Fantastic Four comics taking on the ‘Silver Surfer’, again using his superior intellect to take on the all-powerful herald of Galactus, and defeat him. In my eyes, Black Panther was effectively the closest marvel had to Batman, a rich dude who made up for his lack of powers with his cunning and intellect.

From a representation point of view it’s great this movie was produced, and even better it was so well received. Comics have a variety of heroes from different ethnic/national backgrounds and although black characters have appeared in comic book movies before (Blade, Spawn), never has one been made about an African superhero.

In this regard, we should praise this film and hope it will allow more blockbuster movies to be made about cultures and societies that aren’t based in North America and Europe.

That being said, I’ll be frank and say I didn’t enjoy the film. This movie takes place after ‘Captain America: Civil War’. T’challa (Chadwick Boseman) is the new king of Wakanda, an isolated technologically advanced African nation powered by the mysterious element “vibranium”, and now tasked with defending his kingdom from outside powers.

His first task is the apprehension of the Augmented criminal/thief, Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), responsible for stealing vibranium and killing several Wakandans in the process. The brilliant Michael B. Jordan also appears as the ruthless Killmonger, an ally of Klaue’s with links to Wakanda.
Maybe it’s because I’m fatigued from lots of superhero movies. The SFX, the super advanced aircrafts, the futuristic cities, have been done before, and weren’t anything new.

The action was formulaic, and considering this was a film about a man imbued with the spirit of the panther god, I felt the Black Panther’s portrayal was disappointing. There was no attempt to illustrate his genius or cunning.

What about the story, though? The story does have political themes, in my opinion bad politics. Let me explain.
Wakandan society, despite its advances, is a tribal society ruled by a monarch, the Black Panther. Despite Wakanda’s wealth and power, it actively pursued an isolationist policy (not letting anyone in or out of the country), at the request of its ruling elite.

It hid itself throughout the ages, aware of the colonisation and pillaging of the rest of the continent. This is not solidarity. This is addressed by the introduction of the character Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan’s character becomes the primary antagonist. Why is he significant?

By far the most interesting character, an African American (of Wakandan blood and T’challas cousin), he experiences first hand the discrimination and prejudice in White America that his countrymen haven’t.

This breeds within him solidarity towards not just his fellow African Americans but Black people oppressed across the world. It leads him to pursue the Wakandan throne, in an attempt to emancipate his people across the world by using the kingdom as a means to provide them with arms to defend themselves. I wouldn’t call him a revolutionary. He doesn’t pursue power via revolutionary means but by the formal means (trial by combat) of the Wakandan elite.

He accepts the throne and the title of Black Panther, and in doing so embraces the prevailing order, the archaic and oppressive practices of the Wakandan elite. This isn’t a revolution.  

Overall, what can I say about the movie? It’s certainly colourful and vibrant. You can see what the writers and the directors of the movie are going for.

Wakanda is presented as the near-ideal African nation, a techno-utopia that thrived as it was untouched by colonialism, and T’challa as Plato’s Philosopher King.

However this film isn’t progressive, and its important to mention this. Look across the liberal media outlets hailing this as a progressive breakthrough. In reality all it does is perpetuate certain regressive ideas.
Particularly the way an undemocratically appointed ruling elite can be allowed to have tyranny over a large population.

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