Monday, March 5, 2018

Some thoughts on Wakanda as a metaphor for what world superpower nations should do, and which none of them have ever actually done

** DISCLAIMER: This post contains PLOT SPOILERS for the recently-released movie Black Panther. **

Not only is Black Panther my new favorite of the almost twenty Marvel Cinematic Universe installments to date, it’s also the first of these movies that I’ve been able to connect with my blog’s subject-matter. In the midst of a movie series primarily focused on intergalactic wars and high-tech military conspiracy-theories come to life, the long-awaited introduction of the fictional African nation of Wakanda is incredibly timely, with its explorations of the clashes between conservative and liberal worldviews, the post-colonial experience of Africans and African-Americans, and responses to the worldwide refugee crisis by nations previously untouched by mass immigration.

The largest of these themes—conserving the nation’s interests above all else versus seeking to benefit the world beyond its borders—was obviously highlighted intentionally by the writers to parallel some of the most prominent international tensions today. It even features the classic anti-immigration argument, presented by Wakanda’s security advisor W’Kabi, his words “You let the refugees in, you let in all their problems” sounding taken straight from a 2016 presidential campaign speech. On the flip-side is Princess Shuri’s counterargument about Wakanda’s moral imperative to share its ample resources to help brighten the technological and humanitarian Dark Ages in the world all around them.

Newly-crowned King T’Challa (the Black Panther) starts the movie following in the footsteps of prior monarchs, squarely on the conservative side of the fence. By the end of the movie, after seeing that conservativism backfire violently with the political coup staged by his bitter American cousin, he finally sees Shuri’s point that helping make the world a better place is more important than trying to forever keep Wakanda pure of contamination from any outside influence. He starts implementing his new worldview through the establishment of international outreach centers, the first being housed in the very building in which his father King T’Chaka was willing to murder his own brother (father of T’Challa’s American cousin) in the name of neutralizing a potential threat to Wakanda’s secrecy.

Contrary to Wakanda being a metaphor for our world’s real-life superpower nations who are seen as having a moral imperative to heavily influence the rest of the world, what Wakanda really shows us is what not a single one of those power-nations has ever actually done. It presents a “what if” scenario showing us what it could be like if, instead of authoritarian empires that destroyed the cultures, governments, and religions of the nations they claimed to know what was best for, nations such as England and the United States and Russia had offered their resources as value-adding additions instead of mandated replacements for resources they wanted to forcefully take from native people.

In contrast, it’s what T’Challa’s cousin Erik Killmonger tried to do that is an exaggerated metaphor for the actual results we see every time a powerful nation has tried to play world-savior by continuing to convert, beat down, belittle, and expect nothing but ignorant savagery from its conquered citizens. He is the poster-child for the oppressed becoming the oppressor, who instead of trying to equalize, seeks only to invert the power-imbalance in a revenge plot fueled by motives that are no more pure than those of the first offenders, and thus only ends up hurting the very people he says he is trying to champion the cause of.

That, however, does not make him a two-dimensional and pure evil villain. While he has obviously become psychotic on his journey along the blood-soaked trajectory he got derailed onto after the murder of his father—which represented not only betrayal by his own family but by a nation that could have but refused to help ease the suffering of people their color everywhere else in the world—Killmonger does make valid points in his condemnation of Wakanda’s historically selfish conservativism that its rulers have always valued above the lives of anyone outside its borders.

If, instead of following his valid points up with violence and talk of a weapon-based Wakandan world empire, Killmonger had instead challenged T’Challa for the throne so he could break the wall between Wakanda and the rest of the world for the purpose of using the nation’s resources to help catch the rest of the world up with what Wakanda has shown is possible with science, healthcare, and resource-management, then instantly T’Challa would have become the villain, and we’d be cheering when Killmonger donned the leftover Black Panther suit to continue his ritual combat with his cousin.

After all that, I’m more excited now about the potential for a sequel to Black Panther than I am about seeing The Avengers: Infinity War. I was glad to see in the trailer that part of Infinity War takes place in Wakanda, so in the meantime at least we'll get a taste of what’s to come for this awe-inspiring African nation that I really, really wish was real.

Image: "Elemental Man" by Karla Joy Huber, 2007; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, metallic paint pen, white-out pen

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