Millions of people all around the world turned out in large, fashionably exciting, numbers to greet the arrival of the latest entry in the Marvel cinematic universe, Black Panther. The movie which features a fictional African kingdom, Wakanda, whose king is the superhero protagonist with wealth that would make Warren Buffet look like a salary earner and technology that would challenge alien attacks and stand, gained popularity and acclaim, mostly as a result of its portrayals of Africa as a highly advanced society with strong independent women [big win for feminists] and free from the incursions of the western colonizers.
One of the very vocal reasons why Black Panther has recorded such a huge cinematic success is the fact that its publicity is built on the premise that it represents African society and provides black kids and adults the opportunity to see superheroes and warriors that look like them. Also, there is the aspect of promoting ancient writing system from the ancient peoples in current Southeast Nigeria, nsibidi, and the use of Xhosa language as official language of Wakanda.
The Black Panther movie, while it came as a relief to many blacks all over the world, is not the perfect, special, introspective film that many people have made it seem like. Throughout the movie, we found loopholes and blind spots, here and there, in the plot which, to the regular movie-goer, would go unnoticed, but are unmissed by the eye of a careful observer.
In an article titled “Black Panther is not the movie we deserve”, Christopher Lebron rightly opines:
“The change that the movie supposedly heralds is black empowerment to effectively challenge racist narratives. This is a tall order, especially in the time of Trump, who insists that blacks live in hell and wishes that (black) sons of bitches would get fired for protesting police violence. Which makes it a real shame that Black Panther, a movie unique for its black star power and its many thoughtful portrayals of strong black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men.”
Black Panther strives to show African society and politics in a positive light and help to boost the self-esteem of many Africans all over the world, but what they end up doing is portraying an African society where the white man is the good guy and the black man is the bad guy.
In this installment, we will discuss a major blind spot and discuss others in subsequent installments of this review series.
Misrepresentation of the African Society
One major blind spot that runs throughout the Black Panther movie is the gross misrepresentation of (Black) African society. Wakanda the independent nation-state that represents the African community is a technologically advanced nation that has grown through massive utilization of the vibranium that fell into their country years ago in a meteor. The country develops the vibranium so well and is able to conceal their civilization through a force field that shields them out of the world, and as a result, they do not know the effect of colonization, because they were never found.
The movie strongly portrays an African society that is free of western influence, a sharp contrast to the reality of African society. This particular issue has sparked a lot of controversy amongst viewers. While some say it is a very shoddy way of atoning for the devastation that western interference and influence has caused our society, others say it is a fictional depiction of the possibilities that lay in store if Africans had not allowed western incursions. Both parties are arguing the same thing under different banners.
As the movie progresses, Killmonger, the cousin of the current King of Wakanda, T’Challa (The Black Panther), returns to Wakanda after years of living ostracized in the United States and challenges the King to a battle for the crown.
While many viewers saw the fight between the king and his cousin as an epic battle that ultimately determines the fate of the kingdom of Wakanda, others say it does not really represent black culture in a good light, and the reason for this is simple; why does the antagonist/villain have to be a black man?
Christopher Lebron, in his article, puts it thus:
“By now viewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.
These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer (with Joe Cole), Ryan Coogler, makes viewers choose. Killmonger makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne through traditional rites of combat. Killmonger decisively defeats T’Challa and moves to ship weapons globally to start the revolution. In the course of Killmonger’s swift rise to power, however, Coogler muddies his motivation. Killmonger is the revolutionary willing to take what he wants by any means necessary, but he lacks any coherent political philosophy. Rather than the enlightened radical, he comes across as the black thug from Oakland hell bent on killing for killing’s sake—indeed, his body is marked with a scar for every kill he has made. The abundant evidence of his efficacy does not establish Killmonger as a hero or villain as much as a receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangsterism.”
In his review of the film on La Review, Slavoj Zizek, describes the ‘good man’ light in which the white man, Andy Ross, is portrayed.
“No, Black Panther is not the film we were waiting for. One of the signs that something is wrong with this picture is the strange role of the two white characters, the “bad” South-African Klaue and the “good” CIA agent Ross. The “bad” Klaue doesn’t fit the role of the villain for which he is predestined — he is all too weak and comical. Ross is a much more enigmatic figure, in some sense the symptom of the film: he is a CIA agent, loyal to the US government, who participates in the Wakandan civil war with an ironic distance, strangely non-engaged, as if he is participating in a show. Why is he selected to shoot down Killmonger’s planes? Isn’t it that he holds the place of the existing global system in the film’s universe? And, at the same time, he holds the place of the majority of the film’s white viewers, as if telling us: “It’s okay to enjoy this fantasy of black supremacy; none of us is really threatened by this alternate universe!” With T’Challa and Ross at the helm, today’s rulers can continue to sleep in peace.”
It is mainly agreed that the Black Panther film is a very good film in a general sense, but, the question as to if it truly represents Africa is one whose existence embarrasses the plot.