Wakanda Future Do You Imagine? A Critical Examination of the Aesthetics, Culture, Politics, and Symbolism of the Blockbuster Film ‘Black Panther’
Black Panther has become a cultural phenomenon unlike anything we have seen in recent times. What makes its meteoric rise so unique is the fact that it has thoroughly dismantled the racist Hollywood myth that films starring majority black casts are not globally profitable. In its opening weekend, Black Panther earned over $200 million in the United States and over $169 million internationally. It has broken box office records left and right. The entire African Diaspora has celebrated its arrival with a kind of revelry that surpassed even the fan-person might of Trekkies, Star Warsoes, and Harry Potterians. It has been a wonder to observe and participate in the merriment.
But the film has an impact that extends far beyond pure entertainment. As a cultural object, there are aesthetic, political, and symbolic elements that can be — and, perhaps, must be — analyzed. To engage in this analysis, I called on three individuals with whom I have had earlier successful dialogues: Valerie Complex, who engaged me to discuss the film, Wonder Woman; Isabelle Masado, who broke down the importance of the television show, Queen Sugar; and Lawrence Ware, with whom I discussed, in two parts, the film Get Out.
Before we got started, I asked each of the participants to please take the BBC quiz to determine which Black Panther character best described us as individuals. Valerie and Lawrence both got Erik Killmonger. Isabelle got Nakia. And I got Shuri. With that out of the way, we began our dialogue.
WARNING: This dialogue contains SPOILERS.
Robert Jones, Jr. (RJJ): So to kick off our discussion, I would like to pose a question to the group, please answer this question however it suits you: Did Black Panther live up to the hype for you?
Valerie Complex (VC): It exceeded my expectations in terms of characterization and narrative. In that regard, the film is a revolution and a revelation. A revolution because look at how culturally relevant it is. Look at how important the film has been for black folk the world over. Many folks (mainly white and non-black males) don’t get why it’s a cultural revolution. I’ve told them it’s not up to them to understand, just support the movement or get the fuck out the way.
Isabelle Masado (IM): I couldn’t care less what non-black people think of this film.
I’m not quite sure what I expected of Black Panther. I just knew I wanted to see black excellence and powerful women on screen. So in that regard, the movie blew it out of the park for me. When I was in college, my friends and I spearheaded a project a la “the Africa they never show you,” where we went to different American middle and high schools to teach young people that Africa is not at all the civil-war and famine-ridden place they see in the news. We spent a lot of time trying to show these kids how much like them we Africans were. We spoke of highways and Internet and video games and airplanes. We told them that we wear the same clothes and speak English too, have cars and televisions and supermarkets. We so desperately wanted to show them that we, too, are civilized by displaying how much like them we are.
The world of Wakanda was like, “Fuck all that! Yes we have spears, live in huts, have plates in our mouths and mud dreadlocks, ride rhinoceros to battle and worship our ancestors.” I sat in the theater with both pride and shame, realizing how Eurocentric my approach was back then, to categorize progress as anything farthest away from indigenous Africa as possible. Wakanda said, “No. We are all of those things you said we are, and there is, in fact, nothing wrong with that, nothing primitive or shameful about it. Behold all the ways in which we are glorious.”
Black Panther exceeded my expectations because it reminded me of the ways in which I had turned away from my culture for wanting the rest of the world to see us as “evolved.” Progress and indigenous culture do not have to be mutually exclusive. So really, the visuals of Wakanda are what made my heart explode.
Lawrence Ware (LW): To be quite honest, I was rather terrified about the film. I needed it to be good. Good enough to fix sugar levels. Good enough to cure hypertension. Not because I wanted white folks to fund another, but because I love the character. It wasn’t miraculous, but it was quite good. By far, the best Marvel film. To me, it is more of a character study than an origin story. It’s about answering the question about the kind of nation Wakanda wants to be — and the limits of power.
RJJ: I’m with Isabelle to an extent: I couldn’t care less what non-black people think of this film. But at the same time, I want to remember the ways in which I’m privileged over some others in terms of my proximity to Massa’s house here in the West/United States, my male privilege, my non-disabled privilege, my cisgender privilege, etc. I want to be open to some criticisms, while at the same time exposing Anti-Blackness.
VC: Exposing Anti-Blackness is where I am at, and it is so easy to do. So maybe that element doesn’t need us. Thanks to social media, people expose themselves.
IM: When I speak of not caring about non-black perspectives, “black” here includes global Blackness, not just us in the U.S. To me, Black Panther is a conversation between us black people and how we relate to each other with the legacy of slavery/colonialism. Non-black people are allowed to have opinions, of course, which might even be valid. But they are not my priority. This is a family reunion in which we celebrate each other and also call out the ways in which we have failed each other.
RJJ: Just today on Twitter, a non-black person was coming at me about American privilege without acknowledging how her white skin and part-European ancestry marks her as a creature of privilege as well. Pointing that out made her defensive and she came for me and a bunch of other people (some of whom were non-black) too.
VC: Same folks that want black women to be labor mules for their cause.
RJJ: SING IT FOR THE PEOPLE!
But to answer my own question:
My expectations of the film were tempered by several realities:
- It is a Disney film.
- It is a Marvel Comics property conceived and created by white men.
- It is an American film produced by the propaganda arm of kyriarchy, Hollywood.
- The notion of superheroes, in general, comes out of a particular and peculiar imagination steeped in violent, masculinist, patriarchal fantasy. Attempting to fit certain marginalized (that is non-white/non-heterosexual/non-cisgender/non-male/non-disabled) identities into that paradigm usually has the effect of turning the marginalized into a proxy version of the oppressor.
But I also had hope because I knew it was being written and directed by black-ass people; and that black-ass people — in all of our marvelous pitch-black melanin — would be starring in the film. And that would, perhaps, at least balance out the inherent problematics of the brand, medium, and distributor.
I also knew that whatever issues were present, my nieces and nephews would be inspired by the pure symbolism of seeing people who looked like them accomplish a fantastic set of miracles and deeds, and that small act would allow them to dream. In that sense, Black Panther completely lived up to the hype for me. As a piece of art, as a vehicle from which there was another way to view Black Africa and the Black African Diaspora, as a medium that allowed dark-skinned black women to be centered, intelligent, strong, vulnerable, beautiful, political, funny, and exceptional — Listen to me fam, when my niece told my sister that she wanted to be Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), then was like, “No, I want to be Okoye (Danai Gurira)!” me and my sister both felt such a sense of pride that:
- My niece had CHOICES!
- That she saw this jet-black, shaved-head black woman on screen and wanted to be HER even though almost the entire world has been telling my niece since birth that a dark-skinned, bald-headed black woman is not what anyone should want to be.
We were in awe of that kind of power and I immediately thought about who might be scared of this happening. By the way, we saw the film in a theater in Brooklyn. Almost my entire fam rolled out. There were nine of us: My mother, my sister, my partner, my sister-in-law, my niece, and my three nephews. We had the whole row to ourselves. I dressed in complete Black Panther gear. My mother fried a GANG of chicken and we was in there eating it like it was a famtee reunion. We made a whole event of it.
IM: Black as hell, and I’m all the way here for it!
LW: I saw it first after it opened Thursday night in an IMAX theater full of interracial couples (black men and white women) and a number of white men. It was an aggravating experience. Many of the white men were embodying what they thought were hip-hop moves any time the beat dropped on the score. The interracial couples were into the film, but I was disappointed that I was not able to enjoy it in a thoroughly black environment. A few days later, I watched it again at a Jack and Jill screening in Oklahoma City and got the full black experience. There were people dressed as black comic characters. A number of folks in dashikis. There was face painting and African dancers. It was a big, beautiful black blessing.
IM: If I may add, what exceeded my expectations too were the ways in which gender dynamics were handled:
- The love interest, Nakia, which threw colorism out the door. It’s standard in Hollywood for a dark-skinned man to be paired with a lighter skinned woman. And yet here, we see T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is so in awe of this dark-skinned woman with barely any make up on, that he freezes when he sees her. He looks at her like she is God.
- The male gaze is hardly present, if at all. This goes down to the smallest details like the choice of clothes which prioritized functionality over sex appeal. Even Shuri’s (Letitia Wright) walk mattered to me because women are often required to still maintain this sort of sultry gait along with their power, a la femme fatale, if you will. But Shuri is awkward in her walk, with sartorial choices that are both free and unconventional without making her seem like the tired trope of a dork with no social skills. The Dora Milaje have shaved heads. Okoye could care less about a wig. Nakia is a badass chasing the bad guy in South Korea with no shoes on. I mean, the kickass power of these women was obvious, but I lived for the tiny details like that.
VC: Now, the revelation comes in terms of Black Panther expelling all the excuses Hollywood gives when it comes to stories starring black people. “Black movies don’t sell over seas.” “We can’t write good roles for black women darker than a paper bag.” And whole bunch of other bullshit they come up with. You see, the revelation is we have buying power. We have the numbers to make or break a production. I give Ryan Coogler props because he employs women. Not because they are women, but because they are talented.
RJJ: Val, you know what I think? I think Hollywood been knew that their myths about the inferiority/marketability of black cinema were based on bigotry rather than research. But the job of Hollywood is to promote kyriarchy. We bend over backwards to try to prove to white supremacists that we’re worthy by their standards of success. It’s a waste of time. They already know we’re worthy; they’re simply afraid of us knowing it and the whole world knowing it, too. Because if we are successful, in their minds, it means they are not. They’re frightened that the fear might be reality.
IM: Praise dance to this truth right here! White supremacy, especially in Hollywood, is far from foolish. I’ve stopped operating from that premise long ago.
VC: The Hollywood system is built on racism. It can’t be anything else.
RJJ: No, it cannot. And it makes me think of something else that I think might be commentary. Notice that Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan; and we’ll get to him more later) has a girlfriend/partner in crime, Tilda Johnson aka Nightshade (Nakiyah Be), who is lighter than she appears in the comic. There were so many things I thought about that bit of casting.
- It’s unusual that where there is a dark-skinned black woman and a light-skinned black woman, the light-skinned black woman is made to be the villain.
- Is this commentary on African-American men’s colorism?
- She’s less complex here than she appears in the Nighthawk comic book written by David Walker. In the comic, she’s a genius anti-hero who helps Nighthawk fight white supremacy. I have so many other questions that are pretty much moot since Killmonger murdered her.
[EDIT: After this dialogue, I was made aware that the character that appears in Black Panther, despite earlier reports, is not Nightshade.]
VC: I thought Reginald Hudlin purposely made the villains in the comic of lightskin?
IM: From a storytelling standpoint, I’ve learned that it’s easier to root for the demise of a villain if you know less about them and they are not likable. I suspect this is the strategy they used in order for us to quickly move on when Erik shoots her.
VC: Marvel has admitted Killmonger is one of their best villains. However, something that was brought up by Jamilah Lemieux is that Kilmonger’s anger is aimed at, and carried out upon women. More so than men. Did y’all pick up on that?
RJJ: YES. Killmonger did three things in particular that made me stop supporting his point of view:
- He killed Nightshade.
- He choked the elder Wakandan woman.
- He slit the throat of one of the Dora Milaje.
What that said to me was that no matter how legitimate Killmonger’s claims, he was taking the toxic masculinity route to get it, using the common patriarchal tools of misogynoir, femmeantagonism, and surely blaqueerantagonism to achieve his goals. He ventured into real Umar Johnson territory and I could not support him once he crossed that line.
As an aside, here’s one of the things about the movie that has me twisted, though:
The white CIA agent guy was working with the white dude Klau to get the vibranium for the United States so the U.S. could up its imperialistic, white supremacist ante, but Erik Killmonger wanted the vibranium so that he could free black people everywhere — and Killonger is the bad guy and CIA White Dude is the ally? That’s mad sus. Where they do that at? Wakanda, apparently. But like I said, Killmonger still displayed horrific misogynoir. And his strategy was not well thought out. He was going to just distribute weapons to black people around the world.
- How could he ensure that those weapons would remain in the hands of black people?
- How could he ensure that the black people who received the weapons would use them in service to black liberation and not use them to oppress other black people?
The film only tangentially deals with white supremacy. It names it as a source of strife, but gives the strife a black face. I imagine that is only way a film like this can be made: focus on the so-called black-on-black crime that is a symptom of white supremacy, but white supremacy can only, at best, be alluded to. Black Panther, like Wonder Woman before it, can only be acceptable if it doesn’t destroy the status quo. Hollywood is the propaganda arm of American kyriarchy. In order to be represented, in order to participate in The Order, the marginalized have to prove that we can be proxy white cishet non-disabled patriarchs — only in blackface or in drag of some kind.
The first step is participation in capitalism, period. These are all capitalistic enterprises, reliant on some marginalized demographic’s suffering. That’s where the implications begin. So our expectations of media must be tempered by that. Audre Lorde was a prophet: “[M]aster’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” So we, all of us, are somewhat to fully trapped inside this paradigm, seeking a kind of deep transformation which the system only permits to transpire superficially. We cannot change the rules of the game; we can only decide to stop playing. Stopping comes at great risk and tremendous cost. And too few of us are willing to give up the scant comforts afforded to us to take those risks and pay that cost. We already have nothing. To be asked to have less than nothing may be an ask too great. And death is too permanent.
VC: When has the CIA ever been reliable?
VC: Killmonger wasn’t looking for liberation through anarchy. He was looking to become a dictator. That is what makes the execution of his cause problematic. But I know people found problems with Killmonger’s portrayal. The “hood thug turned villain king.” And I get it. But I thought the situation called for that. They abandoned him in 1990s Oakland. What did people expect?
IM: I thought he was equal opportunity. He also killed Klau, thought he killed T’Challa, killed Zuri, and well, the warriors he killed just happened to be women.
VC: Yeah, but it shows he doesn’t have a moral compass.
RJJ: But if you’re killing the people who look like you, who are supporting you, as well as those you claim to want to defeat in order to free the people that look like you and support you, how can you be believed and supported? It becomes, as Val pointed out, a vainglorious, egotistical power play that isn’t really about liberation, but about power and control.
IM: Val is so right about Erik’s lack of morality, but I think he deserved much more nuance than he was given. Again, this speaks to the necessity of having an unlikable villain so we can root for the hero and be less angry about his death; that in addition to really just wanting to quell the fear of Whiteness, to let them know that such an ideology could not survive. Or so I think. Having said that, I also think that Erik’s attitude of “I know better than you because I’ve lived in the West,” is also not far fetched. I wasn’t even born here, yet the few years I spent here, I went back home and acted like I was my people’s messiah coming to save them from themselves. That imperialist attitude is so easy to adopt.
As for Agent Ross, I most definitely did not see him as an ally. This innocence is just Whiteness’ ability to carry presumed innocence as default, a thing we don’t always realize we are doing. Ross’ loyalty was to his country. He risked his life to prevent the weapons from going out into the world because he knew the U.S. wouldn’t survive the collective wrath of global Blackness powered by vibranium. He’s no hero to me.
RJJ: There is definitely a commentary on the mutual bad blood between Continental Africans and African Americans in this story. Growing up, I remember it being “the thing” for us African Americans to call anyone from Africa “African Booty Scratchers” and to regard Africa as a savage land filled with backward, primitive people. I also remember that when Continental Africans, Caribbean Black People, and others from the African Diaspora arrive in the United States, it’s customary to regard African Americans as lazy, slave-mined criminals who are in the position we are in simply because we are a degenerate people with a degenerate culture with a tangential-at-best connection to the African continent. These senses of disinheritance and disrespect between us are owed to white supremacy. A movie cannot resolve these tensions, but look: It has it us here discussing them and that’s a first step.
IM: For real! And I love that the movie didn’t spoon feed us a resolution. We have to sit with ourselves and figure it out.
VC: You know I’m noticing Black Panther is bigger than just a movie. It’s like a rabbit hole. The deeper we dig, the more we find. As we keep getting off topic: that’s not a bad thing. It just shows how fast this conversation can branch into other topics. No Marvel film has caused this much discussion. No superhero film has caused this much discussion. Maybe I’m wrong but what other movie has people talking like this?
IM: I can’t think of one. The criticism I find about the movie, honestly, are not flaws in the storyline, but just things pointed out for us to figure out ourselves. Well, other than queer, trans, and disability erasure. I don’t mean to downplay that at all.
RJJ: The queer erasure was intentional. As I understand it, there was a queer flirtation scene in the original cut, inspired by two queer members of the Dora Milaje, as depicted in the source material. That scene was edited out as “unnecessary,” which is another way of saying “Might offend non-queer members of the audience and fuck with our coins.” The horror of this is that, as my good friend, rapper RahRah Gabor pointed out, if an African nation that has never been conquered by white western intervention doesn’t have any visible queer people, it promotes the belief that queerness is tied to white colonialism, which is not only:
- false, but also
- a very dangerous idea.
IM: I heard about that too, and your friend makes an excellent point which I hadn’t even considered. The way that this movie has shattered so much of our understanding of an Africa unsullied by white supremacy, queerness would have been an excellent addition to this vision for us to really revisit this idea that it’s a product of Whiteness. What a brilliant, yet saddening point.
RJJ: I actually had to tell my niece and nephews the tea. I told them that Okoye and Ayo (Florence Kusumba) were in love with each other in the comic books. One of my nephews asked, “Well, then why does Okoye like the guy now?” And I said “It could be possible that Okoye likes men and women, but more likely, it’s that Hollywood and most of the world don’t really like gay people, especially if they’re black.” And they were sad because they know their uncles are gay and they love their uncles and they can’t understand why love between two people can receive this kind of backlash.
VC: I wonder how much of that was Coogler or how much of that was Disney.
RJJ: That’s a question that needs an answer. There are quite a number of non-queer (and queer) people in the audience whose opinion is: “So what? Queer people don’t always have to be represented. Not everything is erasure. Just enjoy the Blackness and be glad” as though Blackness and Queerness are incompatible and never intersect; like Blackness is over here by itself and Queerness is over there with Whiteness and other undesirable pathologies. Or, at the very least, that Queerness shouldn’t be seen nor heard, but can exist within the confines of closets and bedrooms, out of the sight of “decent, respectable” people. That sounds like Whiteness’ approach to The Other to me. But okay.
To shift gears: What was your favorite scene in the film?
IM: I’m not sure I could give you just one.
- Wig throwing scene because I’ve wanted to do that one too many times. Especially to questions like “Is that your hair”?
- The whole coronation scenes from the waterfalls to the burial to see the ancestors because I have such a complicated relationship with indigenous spirituality, of both longing and guilt.
- When the girls from fictional Boko Haram look at Nakia with awe, and as the spaceship rises in the air, knowing it’s black people in there.
VC: I like the opening animation scene and the animated credits. Odd choice I know, but I really like the way that was done.
LW: When N’Jadaka (Killomnger) said his name with his chest! NIGGA!
And I low-key love his gold teeth.
And “Hi Auntie” is the blackest thing ever said in the MCU.
IM: LOL! For real!
RJJ: LOL! I have three favorite scenes:
- The fight in the South Korean club. When Okoye uses her wig as a weapon? CHILE! And then when she throws the spear at the car? Whew!
- When Shuri calls the CIA agent “colonizer.”
- When Nakia infiltrates the Marvel Universe version of Boko Haram and frees all the kidnapped women and girls and also a kidnapped boy forced to fight with Fake Boko Haram.
It annoyed me, though, that Shuri kept offering Wakandan secrets up to the white dude. I was like, Shuri! Why come?
LW: I did appreciate that in the climax, it was Shuri that gave him instructions. However, I’d have been fine without that white presence.
VC: He didn’t need to be the one driving the ship. Shuri could’ve gotten in there and done it herself. Was she really so vital to the battlefield effort that she couldn’t steer the ship herself?
RJJ: They had to give white boy something to do since he was otherwise unnecessary and useless.
IM: Please allow me to tell you why the Boko Haram scene is particularly significant for me when they look up at the sky as the ship rises up. In Cameroonian-French slang, we have this expression we say: “le blanc est fort,” which translates to “the white man is badass/genius/awesome.” We say this for anything that impresses us. Doesn’t matter who invented the thing we’re impressed by, the blanket statement is “le blanc est fort,” because the default assumption is a white guy made it. Which of course, is deeply problematic.
So to see these girls, that young boy, look up at the sky, in awe, perhaps dreaming of being like that. And they are literally looking up to black people
Y’all…I’m crying as I’m typing this.
It seems like such a tiny thing, but man. I can’t explain to you what that scene did to me.
My aunt calls me her “white girl.” Not just because I’m lighter than my cousins and siblings, but because she wants to praise my intelligence. That’s her way of uplifting me as high as she can. So what’s higher than just intelligent Blackness is proximity to Whiteness.
This stuff goes deep.
So yeah. That scene is bae.
RJJ: Wow. MERCY. That’s beautiful, Isabelle.
LW: Lawd. Thank you, Isabelle.
VC: Why are we getting a Black Widow movie when Nakia should definitely get a spy spin off? And that annoyed me as well, the white man gets to be a hero. His role should have gone at least to another white woman, if the character just had to be white.
IM: Val, I agree with you that the opening sequence was breathtaking. Also, Amen to a Nakia spin-off. She is a total badass! As for the CIA agent: He was no hero to me at all. He was as self-serving as they get, protecting his country. I don’t believe for a second that he was trying to protect Wakanda. I mean, I guess, kudos for a taking a bullet.
RJJ: That white CIA character seemed like an add-on to appease white members of the audience since studies show white people have a very difficult time relating to people of other races in media. His presence annoyed me and he felt very much constructed as a “not all white people” cipher. You know what else bothered me? Bucky. Here he is, the second white dude healed by Shuri, and Killmonger is dead. And Bucky was the one that killed T’Challa’s father! Although, to complicate that, Killmonger proved himself an immediate danger to black women, more immediate than the behind-the-scenes white supremacy that the movie told us, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle, was the reason behind his murderous rampage. But T’Challa could have ensured his redemption. Killmonger did not have to want to die except in the minds of the writers.
VC: It’s a slippery slope, which is why I’ve stayed on the fence about that particular issue. But as far as the agent goes, the film didn’t really need his character. He wasn’t important to the narrative in that way. And I was curious to know if the only outsiders allowed in Wakanda were the CIA agent and the Winter Soldier — two white men.
IM: Yooooo! I didn’t realize! I have a hard time dealing with Killmonger’s decision to die. I can’t tell if this is just a racist plot line to ensure his ideology doesn’t survive, or a decision that is very much in character for someone who thinks he knows freedom better than his people because he’s lived in the West. I know from experience that you couldn’t tell me nothing when I went back home. I was 100 percent sure I knew better than everyone else. Took me some time to be humbled.
VC: The thing is, Killmonger’s father (N’Jobu, played by Sterling K. Brown) didn’t have to die. I’m still wrapping my head around why that was a decision. But I’m going to assume that Killmonger died in a similar way to his father.
RJJ: Killmonger is such a tough and complicated character to analyze. The film implicates so many people in the creation of that kind of person: Wakandan isolationism and American imperialism married to create a vengeful figure meant to stand in, in many ways, for all African Americans. He wasn’t nuanced enough to do that, though, in my opinion. He does, however, illuminate some ugly truths about what white supremacy does to the black mind: misogynoir, anger turned inward and thus, outward toward other black peoples, but rarely at the source of the problem. Killmonger only hinted, haphazardly, at how he was going to defeat white supremacy — shockingly, starting with white women — but pain overruled sense.
The film seemed to say that Killmonger had become the oppressor he despised. But it also asked whether Wakanda had done the same. Which brings us to that bogus-ass U.N. scene where T’Challa addresses the world. My twitter buddy Nikki D. (@DontAskMe4) summed up my feelings on that:
“And I cannot reconcile with T’Challa bastardizing Killmonger’s message, twisting it to help ‘people of the world’ when it was his people worldwide that needed the help — NOT everyone in the damn world. Nor can I reconcile the idea that Killmonger is bad for ‘destabilizing governments’ with no acknowledgment that it was on behalf of the SAME U.S. government that Ross worked for. They work the same, but one was left out on a limb as bad while it was okay to work with the other? Nah.”
VC: Oh my God, yes! Your friend is on point. It sounded “All Lives Matter”-ish. I guess they tried to reconcile that with T’Challa buying up buildings in Oakland. But modern-day Oakland is gentrified so who are the programs really for?!
RJJ: Killmonger needed a better plan, and the film’s insistence that he didn’t have one seems to be a product of the limits of imaginations within a white supremacist paradigm. Killmonger with a better plan (and sans misogynoir) would have been the hero of the film, making Black Panther the villain.
IM: Yeah T’Challa’s message was watered down BS. I was side-eyeing it the whole time. Keep in mind, I wouldn’t even mind that he wanted to help the rest of the world with the genius and power source of Wakanda. But I know the ways in which Africa, or Blackness really, is the mammy of the world. How it has been pillaged and exploited for the benefits of the world, at its own detriment. I can’t separate Wakanda opening up to the world from the inevitable exploitation of Blackness and it’s rejection at the same time. I wish he had gone to the African Union instead. That speech would have made a lot more sense.
Oh, Robert! Why you gotta make me think of Black Panther as the villain? I don’t want to think this critically. Don’t make me!
VC: It was off putting. Because it’s like now you wanna help the world? What will that look like? Well it does make you think how Wakanda just let black people just live in peril and did nothing when they could’ve helped. That’s enough to make anyone bitter.
RJJ: Another thing that had me feeling some type of way: The safe, white-approved, charity, incremental approach to freedom.
So T’Challa is building his embassy in the hood — a place Shuri, disappointingly, looked down upon when she arrived. He’s going to give disadvantaged kids access to education and such. Great. Is that access going to challenge the status quo or simply give the children a respectable enough veneer such that they can participate more fully in the status quo? And then, they land the Wakandans spacecraft in the neighborhood basketball court and the first things the black children (shout out for allowing at least one black girl to be playing basketball with the fellas in this scene) who run up to the ship want to do is break it up, steal its parts, and sell them?
I grew up in the hood, fam. You know what the kids in my neighborhood — if they even had it within them to walk up to a strange ship that landed in our neighborhood, which they wouldn’t because they would be too suspicious and would imagine that it was some government conspiracy or police trick to kill them — would have wanted to do? They would not have wanted to break it apart and steal it. They would have wanted to fly in it and have heroic adventures. In whose imagination is crime the first, natural, and instinctual response of black children in the hood?
Sigh. Well, let me say something nice:
By far, for me, the most realized characters, and my most favorite characters in the film, were the black women. I also liked M’Baku (Winston Duke). His tribe is basically just Wakandan Ques. LOL! When he had the white dude thinking he was going to kill him and feed him to Jabari children, then was like, “Psyche, we’re vegetarians,” the whole crowd was cracking up. Also, according to the Black Internet, Duke is one of the most beautiful people on the planet. LOL!
IM: M’Baku is bae. My level of thirst could only be quenched by the sweat of his muscles and his corny jokes.
RJJ: Isabelle, I cannot. I have not a single can left to give. LOL!
IM: I’m ashamed. But also not.
LW: M’Baku is a wonderful character in the film. And given the racist origins, they did an amazing job of re-imagining.
VC: I’m a lesbian, but the men of Black Panther had me extremely confused for two whole hours. Just throw the whole me away.
RJJ: Val. You know what? LOL!
LW: And boffa y’all a mess.
RJJ: Fam, what do you think about Wakanda operating as a patriarchy? Do you think there is a such thing as “benevolent patriarchy”?
LW: No. No such thing.
VC: No. Because someone, somewhere will want absolute power and will use patriarchy to get it.
LW: And even though the women are the best part of the film, it is still a patriarchal system Now, I would love to see them follow the story of the comics and make Shuri Black Panther. It would turn it into a story of a patriarchal system becoming matriarchal. That would be amazing.
IM: Law, you bring a great point of remaining the racist origins of M’Baku as Ape Man, and really the whole aesthetic of the movie, with the spears and rhinos and huts. All of it felt natural without the undertone of “primitive and savage.” Also, kudos to Okoye who says, “Guns, so primitive.” I did a praise dance when she said that! As for benevolent patriarchy, maybe this is wishful thinking on my part but I didn’t see any issues with it, because it’s not as though the women as a whole are powerless or helpless.
RJJ: Yes, Law. What was his racist comic book name again? Man-Ape? Chile. It’s even worse at DC Comics. DC has no real equivalent to Wakanda. They have something called the Floating City, a city of black African men who worship, wait for it: Mars, the Roman god of war, and are ruled by Wonder Woman’s black sister, Nubia. They are warlike, though. However, in the DC version of Africa, the most advanced civilization on the continent is a place called Gorilla City, which cloaks itself in a similar way as Wakanda. It’s ruled by intelligent apes. Its king is named Solovar or some shit. One of Gorilla City’s rebels, Gorilla Grodd, is an enemy of The Flash. Comic book racism has long and twisted roots.
VC: But Grodd got reasoning, though. But even he is treated more intellectually than Killmonger. Again, why can’t we be thinking villains?
RJJ: Because thinking black people, of any sort, are a threat. That’s why DC Comics made Mister Terrific the third smartest man in the DC Universe behind Batman and Lex Luthor.
I just want to put out there that according to Ancestry.com, I am 91% African. And of that 91%, I am 31% Benin/Togo, which means that I am more Benin/Togo that I am any other ethnicity. I’m also interpreting that to mean that I am a direct descendant of the Dehomey Amazons upon whom the Dora Milaje are based.
IM: SMH. Y’all gon’ make me mad illuminating this racist treatment of black characters. It makes my blood boil.
VC: I’m scared to do that ancestry test. One, I don’t want it to tell me I’m European. And I don’t want the government harvesting DNA from its people. But I wanna know.
RJJ: Back to the problematics of Wakanda being a patriarchy: Nakia has to leave Wakanda in order to help other black women because her own country knew what was going on, but was like “Nah.” That kind of cruelty in the face of cruelty strikes me as being only made possible by patriarchy. And it is only his love for Nakia, and his guilt over his father’s erasure of truth, that T’Challa decides to open Wakanda up. Though opening it up to white people is going to prove a grave error.
LW: Yes, Robert. I agree. It shows that, in many ways, Wakanda is like the white folks they fear and despise. In trying to keep whiteness at bay, they have begun to embody much of it in their patriarchy and callousness. Which is why ideology is more important that the body you inhabit.
RJJ: Except that they ain’t going out committing genocide and stealing resources and starting wars and claiming it’s divine right and Manifest Destiny. At least, not in the movie. In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Black Panther comic, Wakanda got its start through genocide and colonialism. But yes: Ideology > Identity.
IM: I’m not about to acknowledge Ta-Nehisi’s Wakanda. That’s in a different dimension. Don’t judge me.
LW: Man. Bump an alien.
IM: But also, it’s not as if Nakia snuck out right? She wasn’t a fugitive. She must have been backed up by her country. At least I hope so.
LW: She was on a mission, yes. The details of it are not clear.
RJJ: Fam, as we’re talking, I just received this news:
“The numbers are in and Black Panther is a monster hit. More than that, it has already earned a place in the box office history books in just its first three-to-four days of release. The movie earned a $201.8 million Fri-Sun weekend and will earn an estimated $235m over the Fri-Mon holiday. So, without further ado, I wanted to take a moment to note the copious big ways that the Ryan Coogler-directed/Chadwick Boseman-starring superhero spectacular has already planted its flag in the sand. Please enjoy eight box office records that Black Panther has already broken and ten more where it came awfully close to the top of the mountain. Let’s put ‘All the Stars’ or ‘Opps’ on your music device of choice, open up that Box Office Mojo tab and dive in!”
LW: Damn. That’s amazing! I can’t believe it made that much money. I’m interested in seeing the longevity.
VC: OUTGROSSING JUSTICE LEAGUE. Let Jesus be a fence!
LW: I hope people go back.
VC: I’m going back.
IM: Thank for the breaking news. Honestly, I feel as though this movie is an incantation, casting spells of joy, healing, empowerment, safety, and home. I use this word “incantation” a lot because I believe black folks’ ability to survive and thrive gloriously in a world determined to decimate it is nothing short of magic. I am so in awe of us and I feel goosebumps that I am in this space, this moment in history, and with you all, unpacking our joy and survival. I just love us and I’m so grateful. I’ve seen it twice so far and will see it again when I come back from Morocco. I’m leaving tomorrow.
VC: I don’t see white people making potato salad and green-bean casseroles for Star Wars premieres.
LW: Ohhhhh. You bougie. Oops. Bourgie. Didn’t mean to make you a common bougie person
IM: Val, stop! LOL!
VC: Let them eat mayo.
RJJ: It requires multiple viewings in order to unpack all of the sociopolitical text and subtext, as well as just taking in all the beautiful melanin.
LW: One thing that struck me about the film: Wakanda is hidden. And they are isolationist. Strongly protecting their legacy and their identity. If you take it as an allegory: It could be us. Black people today. The way we fight to protect our culture. Trying to hide things from white people using hashtags that they don’t know about. Because we know that if they find out, they will try to colonize it. Our food (there is a white-owned chitterling restaurant here). Our music (Macklemore, Kenny G). Our style. Everything. So if we look at this through that lens, then Wakanda is us. And I think the movie is fascinating on that point.
IM: Truth. Someone likened T’Challa to Trump because he has an actual wall and keeps people out of his country, refusing to get involved in outside politics. And before you ask: Yes; yes they are.
LW: LOL! Yeah. I think that misses the point. LOL! It’s a reading, but it a very basic one. Because trump is a colonizer.
IM: And I thought, you clearly don’t understand the history of black hospitality. How every time we open up, we are met by pillaging, exploitation, wrung dry, and rejected.
LW: T’Challa is worried about the corrupting influence of Whiteness. And he is right to be.
IM: Rightfully so.
VC: Because colonizers must have things.
LW: Whiteness ruins anything it touches by means of colonialism.
RJJ: And thinks it improves anything it touches.
IM: A sense of entitlement that shocks me every time. Whiteness is an invasive species. It cannot cohabitate.
LW: Just today I was in the airport and this group of four white folks just took over a wide space and were talking to each other.
IM: This read. We ain’t shit and I love it.
LW: It bothered me. I thought to myself in the words of Shuri: Colonizer! Speaking of her, she is the smartest person in the Marvel Comics Universe.
IM: Hands down!
RJJ: Actually, in the MCU print version, the smartest person in the world is a little black girl named Lunella Lafayette, also known as Moon Girl.
VC: OMG! Okay, so I think they can fit Lunella in part two. Like what if she’s just one of the kids Shuri happens to be mentoring and turns out she’s smarter than Shuri hacking all Wakanda’s shit. And when Shuri has to don the Black Panther suit, Lunella gets to operate all the cool tech stuff.
What, if any, responsibility do you think Wakanda owes to the black people of the rest of Africa and the African diaspora?
LW: They saw what was happening. And had the means to stop it. That is willful negligence. Then, let’s take Rwanda. If that happened in this timeline, they have culpability there as well. Killmonger is a misogynist. And patriarchal. But on that point, he was right.
IM: Well damn, Law! You gonna make me go back to Rwanda? But you’re so very right though. And I love that even though we imagine Wakanda as black utopia, we’re now exploring our own shortcomings, and checking ways in which we have failed each other. Wakanda, you got some ‘splaining to do!
RJJ: But Killmonger, and his father, were also working with an Apartheid Afrikaans white dude to further their goals. How do you work with Anti-Blackness to end Anti-Blackness? How does that work?
LW: I can see him rationalizing it as a means to an end. He is wrong. And I didn’t say his tactics were right. But he is right to say that Wakanda has a responsibility to other black folks.
IM: Most def. Killmonger is our conscience, calling out our bystander effect, and he did it well. He was uncompromising in his dedication to black people all over the world, though he was willing to kill whoever, including Wakandans.
RJJ: If Wakanda wishes to consider itself a black or benevolent nation, it sure does have a responsibility. But what if it doesn’t consider itself those things? What if Wakanda just wants to think of itself as Wakanda?
I recently finished watching Africa’s Great Civilizations hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. It reiterated some uncomfortable truths I had learned. These are the broad strokes and there’s some nuance and complexity I’m leaving out in the interest of brevity, but Congo, for example, was one of the largest slave holding nations — prior to European colonialism or even European contact — in the world. Congo conquered other African nations and tribes and peoples and enslaved innumerable numbers of black Africans. Then, later, they had engagement with Europe and began to trade with Portugal. They discovered that Portugal was interested in utilizing slave labor. So Congo began selling/trading slaves to Portugal.
But Portugal, in its budding Whiteness, began to enslave not only the non-Congolese Africans, but also the Africans regarded as Congolese (which sometimes included more than just the Africans who lived in Congo proper). Congo was outraged and demanded that Portugal acknowledge that Congo was distinct from the other Africans it was enslaving and that it must stop enslaving Congolese people at once. Portugal was like, “Y’all are all n*gg*rs to us” and kept right on enslaving Congolese and non-Congolese African alike. So much so, that the once powerful and thriving nation of Congo lost so much of its population, that it fell from power.
This is a hard truth to swallow, but that was the beginning of Blackness — an identity forged by Whiteness to separate African from European and to lump all Africans into one category for the purposes of dehumanizing and oppressing us — even though Africans didn’t yet think of themselves in those terms. Prior to Europe, we were not “all black.” We were Congolese and Sengalese and Yoruba and Dehomey and so on and so forth. What if Wakanda had that mindset and saw the goings on of its neighbors and the world as really none of its business because those others weren’t Wakandan?
IM: To complicate Robert’s point and add another truth that shows how what he brought up wasn’t a universal African experience:
One thing I want to add, I see a lot of black Americans relate to the anger and resentment of Killmonger against the Wakandans. And I think this parallels with the idea that we continental Africans didn’t fight for them; we just willingly handed over people to be taken as slaves. Which is yet another misleading colonial narrative that continues to drive a wedge between us. I therefore wonder if more people knew that Africans waged wars against colonialist who came to take slaves, would that change the way they feel about the rage of Erik in Black Panther?
LW: These are hard truths. And if Wakanda wanted to be isolationist, then, yes. They have a right to do so. Yet, a right is not the same as moral authority. And think that, with their weapons and technology, they could have made a real difference.While exposing themselves, yes, but in doing what is their moral duty. In a deontological sense.
RJJ: To complicate my own assertions, my very good friend, an extraordinary writer named Kola Boof, is Sudanese-Egyptian and she questions Dr. Gates’ recollection of particular African histories. She told me:
“For instance, the story of King Katanga is completely omitted (as Westerners always do) and the fact that his armies defeated the British Empire, Spain, Portugal and France before he was slain, dismembered, and paraded through his republic. That all happened after the initial Portuguese/Congolese slave trading when the Congolese realized their own people had been enslaved for decades. Also, I know that black Americans are determined to embrace the lie that white nations invented the idea of “black,” but that is just not true. It’s like claiming Britons, Bolsheviks, and Poles (all enemies who sold each other as slaves) didn’t have a shared Whiteness.
The fact is: When everyone is the same coloration, there is no need to identify first and foremost, the way Western blacks do, by skin color. Ancient Africans went by tribe and clan first, then nationality and religious identification. But in every African culture, including Congo, just as in every European or Asian culture, our art and music and names loudly recognized that we knew we were black and that being black was essential to being “normal,” “ human,” etc. Without it (as the treatment of African albinos prove), you would be rounded up and slaughtered.
Punt existed before any white race was alive. The word “Punt” in Latin translates to “black faces,” but the Americans used English to change that to “dark wooden boat.” Almost all of the history and stories Americans tell of Africa are still directly correlating with the invader periods (which go all the way back to ancient Egypt). What about Cushitic Africa and Punt before any outsiders came to rename Africa and divvy it up? And why would Caucasoids be trusted to tell you what the word “black” meant to nations of Africans who allllllll put their newborns in the sun to get blacker?”
IM: That’s the heavy burden of black existence in this world I suppose. It’s hard to just exist when so much of our contemporary history is one of suffering. Because I know for sure that such a question wasn’t asked of Wonder Woman. It made sense that the Amazons would isolate themselves, no resentment of their cluelessness. But Iget it. I, too, would have been angry to know I could have avoided the trauma of white supremacy if Wakandans came to get in the trenches.
RJJ: But what is “moral authority” but the rules made by people in power to determine what is right and what is wrong? Is there such a thing as objective morality? Isn’t morality always subjective and thus usually self-serving?
LW: I’m a theist, so I’m going to say no. But even some atheists thinkers are willing to articulate the existence of moral authority not grounded in theism.
RJJ: But those atheists would still be making those calls based on subjective ideas. “Moral authority” would have us believe that a poor person stealing clothing or food or services is a crime. But is it? Who gets to decide? Moral authority would have us believe that killing an abusive spouse or partner or parent is a crime. But is it? Who gets to decide?
LW: That’s not morality. That’s laws. I see them as different. Something can be legal and immoral. If power is what makes morality, then slavers are moral. As are white supremacist. I have to believe that power is not the source. But, instead, something higher.
RJJ: But my question is what is morality based on? Where does it come from? Who decides its shape and contours? How is it made universal?
It doesn’t spring from the ether or from nature. If it did, nature wouldn’t allow babies to die horrifically painful deaths from cancer, for example. Even the God of the Bible’s morality is questionable. He, in all of his enormous power, took a girl and impregnated her; a girl who had about as much ability to say “no” as Sally Hemings had to say no to Thomas Jefferson. Morality, thus, is a human-made construct based on what is temporally expedient for humans to decide will animate that construct. What was moral yesterday isn’t moral today and vice versa. Some say the basis is “do no harm.” Other say, “add to that: allow no harm.” But sometimes, we allow for harm in certain situations. So the whole thing about morality confuses me to the extent that I can think outside of what I’ve been programmed to believe constitutes moral and immoral actions.
Waitaminute. Black Panther has me contemplating shit like this? Damn. LOL!
IM: The theory of morality is something that honestly escapes me because it feels so complex, yet should be much more simpler than we make it out to be. I can never wrap my head around it.
VC: Morality is a slippery slope. White folks don’t see the riots in Baltimore as justified, but we do.
RJJ: Question: Where is Killmonger’s mother?
LW: Yes! I thought the same thing. Was that answered?
IM: Nope. I wouldn’t mind a Killmonger origin story in which we get these questions answers. I almost said maybe I’m asking too much with these spin-offs, but if we can ensure 50-eleven Spider-Man origin stories, we get all the spin-offs, including an animal planet documentary on what it takes to be chosen as rhinoceros in the military.
RJJ: Can we talk about the art of Black Panther? What did you make of Ryan Coogler’s direction? What did you think of the performances? What did you think of the special effects? What did you think of the costumes?
VC: I think Coogler’s inexperience with CGI is on display. However, it isn’t as gratuitous as other Marvel films.
RJJ: Really? Please expand on that. Where do you think Coogler’s CGI direction faltered? Did you find the CGI too obvious or too unbelievable?
VC: Not that the direction faltered. That maybe it was difficult to navigate going from regular movie making to CGI.
LW: The special effects were great for the most part. The final fight between BP and Killmonger was a little cartoon-like for me. I love how Coogler moves the camera. He had a singular directional vision. His long takes build tension in a unique way. The costume direction by the legendary Ruth Carter (!!!!) was everything. She better win the NAACP, BET, and Black Cookout Dominoes trophies. She can win an Oscar too. But that goes behind those awards. On the shelf.
RJJ: Oh, this jawn is going to rack up at the NAACP Image Awards. I’m biased because Coogler is low-key bae-in-my-head, but I love his work. He’s a genius. And he loves black people. Anyone who saw Fruitvale Station knows that.
But you know what I notice about just about every superhero film? The third-act CGI is where these films stumble. They are so dead-set on giving us the over-the-top climax, that they just go too far. For me, the final battle between Black Panther and Killmonger is where I sort of checked out of what I thought was an otherwise marvelous film aesthetically. Compare superhero third act battles to something like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’s third act battle. On some real shit, there is no comparison. Crouching slays the competition.
LW: Good call on that third-act CGI.
IM: Have you guys seen this? I thought Coogler was meticulous in his approach.
RJJ: That was very informative, Isabelle. Thank you for sharing that.
Did any of you get the sense that this film was on some low-key, “But what about black-on-black crime???”
VC: Someone mentioned that on Facebook.
LW: What do you mean about black on black crime?
RJJ: Can the movie be viewed as focusing on conflicts and strife between black peoples without an examination of how white supremacy set that up?
IM: Nah. “What about black-on-black crime” exists only in relationship to Whiteness.
VC: People still ascribe to that “black-on-black crime” bullshit?
IM: Which is absurd, but it’s because it’s hard to peel ourselves away from the white gaze. That shit is gorilla strong.
VC: I thought the film was more about the dynamics between members of the African diaspora, as opposed to “black-on-black crime,” which is a white construct
LW: I think that the issue is about how to be black in the world. I didn’t see much evidence for the “black-on-black crime.” For me, the driving tension is between versions of black nationalism.
VC: Yes. That. That was war. War is forever. The Egyptians once fought the Nubians. Is that also black-on-black crime?
IM: Word. People war. Dassit.
VC: Muscles and tendons around the world are tearing because people aren’t stretching before these reaches.
IM: Although in the contemporary world, very little in-fighting doesn’t find its roots in the legacy or current manipulations of the West. Even the war in Wakanda is ultimately from Erik’s trauma growing up in Anti-Black America.
RJJ: There is always this expectation for black people to be more moral than white people and if we are not, then we are savages. On the other end of it, no matter how savage white people are, they are considered civilized. That’s one of the benefits of power: Not only do you control the narrative, but you control perception.
IM: Robert you’re reminding me of “Hate doesn’t drive out hate, only love does” — the obligatory Martin Luther King, Jr. quote used by white people to police our behavior. In which we must be model citizens to deserve solidarity, or push back against oppression ever so gently.
RJJ: I wrote essays called “Let Them Fucking Die” and “I Don’t Give a Fuck About Justine Damond,” which advocated that black people use apathy in their dealings with white people, and radically love Blackness as a way to undo the damage of Whiteness. Not antipathy, but apathy; not hate, but love. White people (and some white-identified and Christianity-indoctrinated black people) went collectively buck at the mere suggestion. They are so accustomed to black people acting as perennial support staff for white people that the idea of black people leaving white people to their own devices and dangers was more threatening to them than if I were to advocate war. That was incredibly revealing to me.
LW: T’Challa is very much like Marcus Garvey in his isolationism. To say he’s like Martin Luther King, Jr., as I have seen, is a BAD read.
VC: Well, then that means T’Chaka was all for segregation. As it has been researched: without white involvement, black communities did thrive.
LW: He was isolationist. He went to meetings with white folks. They were not invited to nan nother cookout. Hell, they didn’t know the cookouts existed. Cooked on those dope-ass vibranium grills.
LW: N’Jadaka (Killmonger), on the other hand, is about that black imperialism life. He just has that “Damn. I just figured it out” face.
RJJ: Fam, was I the only one who cheered with Killmonger killed Klau and dragged his bottee all the way back to Wakanda and dropped it right at W’Kabi’s (Daniel Kaluuya) feet? I was also mad when Black Panther didn’t kill Klau when he had the chance because Whiteness interfered and America was trying to ensure they got their stolen resources. And yo: What is it with Daniel Kaluuya always playing the dude who is clueless about shit? First Get Out and now Black Panther. Dude stay stuck on the wrong side of shit. LOL!
VC: Don’t forget Sicario. Okay, so why are Red Sparrow and Venom featured trailers at Black Panther?
RJJ: I saw that. I ignored them, though. The only trailers I remember are A Wrinkle in Time and that new Dwayne Johnson film.
VC: But why? Children are here!
RJJ: Yeah, but you know white people don’t think of black children as children.
LW: Say that.
RJJ: So I had gone in expecting that English would be the sole language spoken in the film, but there were actually a variety of continental African languages being spoken. What do you think of that?
IM: It was only one language spoken, which is Xhosa from southern South Africa. I remember when I first arrived in the U.S. in high school and my classmates would make fun of me by imitating the clicking sound, insinuating that Africans speak gibberish. It used to annoy me so much, especially because I didn’t speak Xhosa and I certainly didn’t want feel less than. The clicking sound was the nightmare of my high school days, even though I loved the language because my favorite singer, Miriam Makeba, spoke it as well. She even has a song called “The Click Song,” which I love.
I’ve since gotten over the bullying of my younger days because kids are kids, water under the popularity bridge; no biggie. Hearing the language spoken in Black Panther made me much more excited for incoming young immigrants who might endure the same bullying, and they can let people know that T’Challa speaks it and it’s a cool-ass language.
RJJ: Oh, it was only one language? I thought it was a few African languages meant to explain that Wakanda was a multi-language culture and Wakandans were multi-lingual. Aw! Well, thank you for clearing that up for me.
IM: What got me a lot more excited though, is that they had African accents! This is a huge deal to me. Code-switching is a big deal in performing Blackness, but I dare say that it might be an even bigger deal for immigrants because the moment we arrive here, one of the first things we want to shed from our old life is our accents. We know people look at us as if we’re unintelligent because of our accents. We become fodder for stand-up comedy and skits, bullies, or even ourselves when we want to talk about our parents. Additionally, having a Western accent is a status symbol when you go back home, insinuating that you are wealthy enough to have gone out of the country, and even lived outside of the country. There’s a running joke of people going to the West for three weeks tops and returning with a British/American/French accent as if you’ve lived there your whole life.
I say all this to say: How badass is it that we get to here these brilliant, awe-inspiring people speaking with a thick accent; not feeling the need to codeswitch because they’re speaking with a Westerner; or even for T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye not trying to return with a made-up Western accent?
RJJ: You know what? And I hope this isn’t read as offensive — one of the things that makes me feel connected to other black people in the diaspora is hearing their native accents when speaking a colonial language like English. When I hear “Heyyyyy!” “Because why not?” or “Eh heh!” I feel like there is blood between us and I long for home.
IM: I feel this so much! Or even “I see you!” which even translates to “Sawubona” in Zulu. There is so much of that interconnectedness that lives in the way we speak English, between African Americans and Continental Africans. It gives me so much joy.
RJJ: There’s an ocean between us, but there is, as Amiri Baraka once said, a bridge of bones connecting us.
VC: In Wakanda, they kept calling Killmonger and outsider. But was he? Or do they mean an outsider to tradition? Any thoughts on this?
RJJ: I got the sense that they meant “outsider” as in infected by Whiteness and therefore more American than African, and even less Wakandan.
LW: I just understood outsider as a person who is not culturally a Wakandan — even if he is of them by blood. Because that is what many Africans think of African Americans. Yes, we are family. And of the same blood But there is a deep cultural divide.
VC: Thanks for that response. That aspect makes sense.
RJJ: Law, you don’t think the divide is a mutual one?
I was having a conversation on Twitter with a Rwandan-Nigerian writer by the name of Dayo Ntwari, and he was explaining to me how he thinks that, based on our behavior, it’s African Americans who don’t see themselves as Africans and who align with white supremacist principles. He said that while he understood that many African Americans joined the military, for example, out of economic desperation, they still come, in the name of the United States, to African countries like his and kill African people on the command of the American government. He said that means that the “American” in “African American” has much greater sway and value, in the mind of the African American, than the “African.” He said that while he understood that Anti-Black oppression in the United States limits choices for black people in America, there is still, at the very least, an accountability than must be acknowledged for the tangibly murderous actions. Yes, they put the gun in your hand and told you to shoot, he argued, but the decision to shoot is still a decision. We can talk about what Africa owes us; that’s legitimate given how we got here. But alongside that, we must also talk about what we owe Africa. The time for innocence has come to an end.
LW: Yes. I do think the divide is mutual, Robert. Honestly, I don’t think black Americans fully know how to engage with other black folks who are not descended from slaves. There is just so much wrapped up in having survived slavery. Much of who we are is in response to slavery.
VC: I think the divide has a lot to do with what they think and are taught in Africa maybe? I hear there are regions of the continent that don’t even know black people exist in America.
LW: I think that a point of connection can be around what Whiteness does to us. Wakandans don’t know what colonialism is, but they rightly fear it. Many Africans know what it is to be exploited by Whiteness. Black Americans certainly do.
VC: I had that same thought. Killmonger is a product of that.
LW: So that is a rallying point. Where to go beyond that is an open question.
VC: Wakanda left Killmonger to fend for himself. Do you think that’s what Africa did to us? Left their descendants to fend for themselves?
Honestly, I’m learning more in this conversation than I am making comments. There is a whole world to explore and we’re just stretching the surface. Not as cut and dry as our Wonder Woman discussion.
LW: I don’t want to say they left us. Certainly some had a hand in what happened to our ancestors. However, they had their own issues to deal with. White folks were busy stealing resources.
IM: From the African perspective, let’s not act as though Africa was Wakanda while black American folks endured slavery/Jim Crow/prison industrial complex. The trauma in the U.S. and the Caribbean was happening as colonialism was ravaging the homeland as well. White supremacy has been relentlessly abusing and traumatizing all of us.
RJJ: Right, Isabelle! Lest we forget what, for example, what King Leopold II and Belgium did in the Congo, and how Namibia was Germany’s training ground for the Holocaust.
Whew. Okay, let’s lighten this up a bit: What would you hope to see in a sequel? I, for one, want to see openly queer Wakandans as well as disabled Wakandans — and I know what that means in a medically advanced society, but I believe disability is a part of nature and not all disabilities are things than need to be “cured.” I would also like to see a direct confrontation with white supremacy.
IM: I concur with the above vision of sequel Wakanda.
VC: I wanna see Riri Williams or Lunella Lafayette. Shuri in the Black Panther suit. Skipping the Black Widow and Kitty Pride movies for a spy movie featuring Nakia. And a Storm movie. In addition to what y’all listed above.
RJJ: All of that, Val. Lunella and RiRi! Maybe even Prodigy — a young, brilliant, bisexual, black male superhero from Young Avengers. Truth be told, I don’t even need King T’Challa anymore. I just want Shuri, Nakia, Okoye, and the Dora Milaje. Oh, and M’Baku. Because reasons.
LW: I need more M’Baku. He would be a fascinating villain. And really, I’d love more Killmonger. Mandarin can’t do it. But maybe the altar of resurrection. I don’t know. But I’d love more of him. I want to know about his mother. His partner. His life before.
RJJ: I was about to say “The Lazarus Pit!” but that’s DC. LOL! You see M’Baku as a villain? I see him more as a hero with a different perspective.
LW: In the comics he is, and I could see him as a protector of tradition.
IM: Also, hell no the Lazarus Pit even if it were an option. Can you imagine that rage revived along with what the pit does to people? Lordt.
RJJ: Oh, I forgot about that. Killmonger would come back Extra Ashy.
IM: Noooooooooo! LOL!
LW: Oh yeah. Killmonger was so ashy. LOL! He is a founding member of Dr. Umar’s school.
RJJ: School of Stunts, Shows, Improper Degrees, and Disappearing Funds. Shade, but yes.
VC: Tariq Nasheed.
RJJ: Are there any final thoughts you have about the film, about its impact, about your movie going experience that you wish to share? Or anything that you wanted to say about the film that you didn’t have the chance to?
LW: I am just so happy to be raising black sons in a time like this. As I talked about in my letter to my son, I wish I had films like this when I was his age. And I’m so happy that the film is actually good. I would have lied and fronted if it was bad, but the fact that it is so good and so black makes me overjoyed.
IM: As glad as I am that we’re having these conversations, part of me wishes that black art didn’t have such a heavy burden to bear, to be the balm for all our social heartbreaks while also holding white supremacy’s hand to show it the way to its redemption. I sometimes wish the threats, the villains were as fictional as the rest of MCU, to allow us to not have to dive deep into our trauma while we’re trying to enjoy the marvels of Wakanda. I parallel this with Black Lighting, whose task feels so heavy that only four episodes in, I’m already tired for him. I wish we too could be lighthearted, but I’m so deeply grateful for the conversations engendered by the movie.
Above it all though, I am so uplifted by the women of Wakanda. Their fierceness, their genius, their ability to exist outside of the male gaze, to just be without apology. As Lupita said in an interview, Wakanda doesn’t try to preach feminism, it just is. It’s just natural to treat women as people, to not have them negotiate their space in the world or worry about bruising egos. What a feeling that must be! Still, I longed for people with disabilities, And queerness to be present and intergrated into the world of Wakanda not as an afterthought, but present and visible. I’m not sure who here said that disability wouldn’t exist because of the healing power vibranium. While that’s a good point, I’m not quite sure how that would make me feel as a disabled person watching this movie. So I’m hoping someone in the comments will let us know.
Also, one last thing: I’m quite glad that another way Wakanda is untouched is the spiritual aspect.
RJJ: YES! Ancestral spiritualities! Many of which would accept me and my Queerness as perfectly part of the natural order of things — unlike Abrahamic religions and spiritualties.
IM: I have such a conflicted relationship with Christianity and its legacy in colonialism that sometimes I wish I didn’t have to carry this double consciousness with me all the time. It wears on my soul.
I have a question, please: Has anyone been having a nagging underlying guilt along with their joy surrounding this movie? Was it just me? Because the whole time I kept thinking “don’t be too happy, lest they find out and do something to snatch this joy away.” I found myself self-censoring at times.
LW: I understand that impulse, but I let it go. I allowed myself to have joy. People are trying to tell us to not be happy about it. But I refuse. White folks get to dress up and have joy about Star Wars and the like. People talk about black joy but then try to quench it when it happens about something with which they disapprove. I’m ok with people not liking it or not being as invested, but don’t try to still people’s joy or police their reaction. We can get killed buying coffee, or driving to the store, or walking down the street. No place is safe. If you find joy and escape, embrace it.
Just wanted to put this tweet here:
Why Wakanda is no longer safe. They can’t help themselves.
LW: Uh. Wow.
RJJ: Yo. Whiteness finds work.
IM: Never fails.
RJJ: Even if it is a Russian bot, Whiteness still finds work.
LW: That’s a word.
IM: Well, I just want to express my deepest gratitude for this exchange. Y‘all are brilliant and I am better for having had this conversation. Thank you, thank you!
Also, if I lose my job for calling out white supremacy, I’m sleeping on one of y’all’s couch.
LW: Thank you. Thankful. And Robert’s got you. LOL!
RJJ: Thank you, everyone. This was a very enlightening and liberating conversation. Diaspora Forever!
“Among the Cast of ‘Black Panther’ Is a 91-year-old Atlanta Actress” by Nefertiti Jaquez
“An American Monster in Wakanda” by TayLynn Kel
“Black Panther and the Invention of Africa” by Jelani Cobb
“‘Black Panther’ and the Revenge of the Black Nerds” by Lawrence Ware
“Black Panther Is Inspiring Black Brazilians to Occupy Elite, White Shopping Malls” by Juliana Gonçalves
“‘The Black Panther’ Is No Call for Revolution” by Stephen L. Carter
“Black Panther Is Not the Movie We Deserve” by Christopher Lebron
“‘Black Panther’: The Key Lesson Hollywood Refuses to Learn” by Scott Mendelson
“‘Black Panther’ Ranked as Best Movie of All Time by Rotten Tomatoes” by Matthew Mueller
“‘Black Panther’ Reveals Black Audiences’ Box Office Superpower” by Jeff Green, Jordyn Holman and Anousha Sakoui
“‘Black Panther’ Turns Hollywood’s White Gaze on Its Head” by David Dennis, Jr.
“Don’t Play with Our Emotions: Black Panther and Queer Representation” by by Briana Lawrence
“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Wakanda?” by Justin Charity and Micah Peters
“How Killmonger’s Plan Simply Wouldn’t Work” by Scott Woods”
“I Have a Problem With Black Panther” by Russell Rickford:
“I Took 7th Graders to See ‘Black Panther.’ Here’s What They Said.” By Kevin Noble Maillard
“Killmonger Was Wrong, and Y’all Know It” by Jason Johnson
Rebekah Henderson and Dr. Gregory Diggs’ Off Color Podcast: Special Black Panther Edition, Part 1 (featuring H-Soul and Maria Nagawa)
“Ryan Coogler Reveals Black Panther’s Alternate Ending” by Tom Chapman
“The Tragedy of Erik Killmonger” by Adam Serwer
Valerie Complex, a disabled military veteran, is a known freelance writer and professional nerd. As a lover of Japanese animation, comics, and all things film, she is passionate about diversity across all entertainment media. Along with being a writer for Black Girl Nerds, and an approvedRotten Tomatoes critic, she has written for well-known sites and magazines such as The Nerdist, The Mary Sue, IGN, Geek & Sundry, and many others. She can be found on Twitter.
Isabelle Masado writes about body compassion on her blog, The Dear Body Project. As a black woman, she knows all too well that the personal is the political, is the community. As such, there is no discussing body compassion without talking about the assault on black bodies, trans women, and people with disabilities. Her mantra is: “How can I live in a way that makes room for you too?”
Law Ware is a progressive writer in a conservative state. A contributor toThe Root, Fusion, Slate and Dissent magazine, he is also contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been featured in the New York Times, and discussed race and politics onHuffPost Live, NPR and Public Radio International. He can be reached at email@example.com.