Now that we have had the weekend to take a voyage to Wakanda and get an immersive experience of a culture that seems to encapsulate the fully actualized qualities of the Black diaspora, let us take a second to unpack what it showed and taught us through this cinematic journey. Here is a fair warning to anyone who has been on standby and has yet to see the epic film Black Panther — there will be SPOILERS in this article, so proceed with caution. While the Marvel Studios brand holds a tight edge over its competition in creating monumental heroic films, Black Panther has had an impact like none other. From its cultural influence to breaking box office records as the most pre-sold tickets of any Marvel film Black Panther began delivering historic value before it actually debuted on the big screen, but that is not where the history or the lessons end.
Wakanda is a fictional place, true, but it was hard to ignore the very relevant and on the mark concepts that paralleled with the African and African-American experience. For example, Erik Killmonger Michal B. Jordan’s character who grew up in Oakland California, also the birthplace of the Black Panther Party, was at the core a hurt child overexposed to the warlike elements of a poverty-stricken environment and raised by a father who was hellbent on changing it much like that of the Black Panthers of the 1960s. When looked at deeper Killmonger’s character which was an over-villainized dramatization of many of American’s Black revolutionaries including Marcus Garvey, Huey P. Newton, and Malcolm X showed the harsh reality of how abandonment and inflicted systemic and psychological warfare can breed a radical. Erik was not only a child of Wakanda that was displaced he was a representative of a dual culture that had the lens of someone who knew better was out there but had been left lovelessly to fight for himself.
After watching the film it can be argued the issue with Erik Killmonger was not his message of building a unified defense for disenfranchised people, but his approach to willingly tear down the moral ethics of Wakanda to do it. His questions and statements spoke specifically to the correlation of African-Americans in America. The museum scene where he sees artifacts from Africa and his country on display and completely removed from its origins was very symbolic to his own displacement from his homeland. The infuriation was obvious as a museum guide with no direct cultural connection to his heritage is labeled as an expert on things gained by force. His final words in the film, “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped off the boat because they knew death was better than bondage” felt like a heroic stance to be engraved in history with those who refused to accept a fate of torturous servitude. Erik Killmonger’s ability to teeter the line of villain and radical hero proves that method is the defining ingredient between the two.
Another concept that Black Panther writers got completely correct was the role of women in a society of power. Arguably the women stole the show. In Wakanda, women are not just the aide of men they are the generals of protection, balance, knowledge, and passion for the entire country. One of the most profound parts of the depiction of women in the Black Panther film was their ability to stand completely equal to men without any sense of threat to the male ego or position. The women of Wakanda are the seamless thread to its functionality. In every way, the stereotypes of how women are often perceived were perfectly put to rest in Black Panther. The gender roles of protection and leadership being strictly male were completely disproven. Whether the women played a warrior, counselor, spy, tech-futurist or mother they were all protectors. The role of Shuri, the lovable and brilliant tech wizard, gave perspective to what a world of technological advances could look like with a compassionate little sister overseeing the operation. Like many other industries tech is very male-dominated, but in Wakanda tech is a woman’s masterpiece.
Lupita Nyong’o plays the devout lover and spy, Nakia, with an unyielding loyalty to her King while Danai Gurira portrays the ferocious General Okoye whose unwavering protection of the thrown at one point divides them. Even in its tenses moments of a nation divided Nakia and Okoye show how strong disagreement does not imply a lack of diplomacy. They both with equal amounts of passion fought indirectly for the same things from different vantage points. Black Panther showed how women are not one dimensional and how their perspectives and influence can empower an entire nation. Furthermore, it showed that when given the ability to fully materialize their highest selves women are the fabric of society. The womanism displayed in the film shows a society where women are the parallel influencers of the world. As many trends have shown, specifically, black women are the drivers of culture and progressive change and in Black Panther, their positions were no different. They were able to protect the men while also loving, healing, and nurturing them. They were able to see clearly the needs of society and fight for what will make it better and balanced. They were decisive, fearless, and desirable. None of which is a quality that only exists in a fictional space. Black Panther showed us what a society void of gender competitiveness looks like, and it was beautiful.
Lastly, the wisdom of a ruler was shown in full effect with the role of the Black Panther himself, played by Chadwick Boseman. The most profound part of his role was the moment when he was able to see the value in his enemy and the role his predecessors played in the turmoil. HIs knowledge to course correct and undo the traditional values that later played out like a curse was a lesson all can receive. When T’Challa entered the ancestral space the second time and rejected death but left the traditions of his ancestors there with him we were able to see an emergence of a new King. The Black Panther embodied the bridge between radical justice and wise action. The symbolism of the movie might have been some of its most profound aspects including the real West African symbols that could be found in some of the clothing. Specifically, the dwennimmen that could be seen on the clothing of former King T’Chaka, in the ancestor’s space, which is a symbol that means “even the strong need to humble”. It serves as a perfect representation of the humbling moment of recognizing how their abandonment of the children of Africa and Wakanda lead them to fight against years of pinned up resentment. Accepting that wrong allows for the new King and Black Panther to course correct it.
All in all this film was a trip through countless layers of understanding and a true division of perspectives. It opens the door for so many much-needed conversations about unity and understanding while also boldly addressing the injustices committed against the disjointed people of Africa globally. The lessons from Wakanda have the capacity to inspire us to address the gaps in our own mentality on what Afro-Collectivism could look like. It silences the idea of women in limited positions and being a form of competition in any role they play. It will charge the youth of girls and boys to be leaders in the tech space with a childlike curiosity that could advance and protect society. While Wakanda might be a place in the mind of some amazing writers the lessons it spawned are realistic attributes to a world made better for those often displaced in it.