Black Panther-Questions Answered +

Black Panther Spoilers ahead:
From a friend: How do you feel about Wakanda being isolationist? After all, they’ve had this amazing power all along and have done little to nothing to help the oppressed. […] the villain of the movie reinforces the stereotype of the violent, angry, young black American male. This is exactly the opposite of what I was expecting. Even more annoying is that this violent black male actually had the right idea about how Wakanda should be run, even if his methods were made to be flawed.

My response: My reading of the movie is a bit more nuanced. It’s an action superhero film and it is more. The reasoning behind Wakanda isolating themselves, the reasoning behind sharing their technology and ways of life, and the reasoning behind arming the “2 billion folks that look like us”, are well presented. Almost equally.

The short:
I have no issue with Wakanda being isolationist. It was decided upon by those who were leading the nation at the time. At some point, there would be a shift, new generation/new leaders, who would want to do things differently. This is the time in which Black Panther takes place. This shift in consciousness and deed. What can/must be done now. The way you describe Erik is as an anti-villain. I agree with his indictment of Wakanda. I do not agree with waging war on the world. I do feel I understand him/sympathize with him wholeheartedly.

The long:
African proverb: The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel it’s warmth.
Alternative wording: If the young are not initiated into the tribe they will burn down the village just to feel it’s warmth.

N’Jadaka-Erik-Killmonger was abandoned/orphaned by his people at a young age. He knew his father was killed by the Black Panther (his uncle). He knew he was royalty. What Zuri/Uncle James and King T’Chaka did to him was cruel. It deemed Erik as unimportant, nearly worthless. Some Thing to be left behind. Cut off from his heritage, his people, land, he found a reason to live. His motivations are multi-faceted, multi-focused.
He was a brilliant high achiever, fueled by hatred, stemming from deep emotional personal pain, as well as the awareness of the plight of black people on this planet. He trained all his life to kill the son of the man who took his father’s life (transferred revenge). Also, Erik is a young person who took on his father’s beliefs. He is his father’s son, his father’s legacy.
I don’t see him as a stereotype of a violent young black male at all. I can see how others would. In my opinion, they are looking at surface level. Most every character is so distinct in personality, beliefs/ideology, personal aesthetics, which is a triumph in mainstream action movies and Hollywood films as a whole. If there are any stereotypes I’d say they are the cartoonish Klaw, and Agent Ross. If I had to name another flat character I’d say, T’Challa and Shuri’s mom-Queen Mother Ramonda.

As far as how I feel about Wakanda isolating themselves, I am more in line with Nakia’s beliefs (eventually T’Challa’s). I’d want to share. BUT unlike them, I’d still want Wakanda to be hidden/protected. Invite only. There’d be ambassadors, teachers, spies, and folk planted all over the world just like they’ve always done. And there would be a parceling out of information/technology, like elders to children. Nakia believed Wakanda was strong enough to help people and protect itself. I’m not so sure. The world as is, couldn’t handle Wakanda’s “coming out”. The weapons made with vibranium would be more coveted by “powerful” nations than the ways in which it could help the planet’s inhabitants as a whole. People can be awful and hateful and I think many would be even more afraid of black people.
There have been rich black people for years who try to start programs here in the US for housing, education, arts, entertainment. They have been people who have tried to buy major networks, who have been thwarted in many ways. I know that last sentence is just my words and maybe one day I’ll be able to share more concrete proof/or others will make it known publicly how they’ve been stopped from doing more.
Know this: I believe that black liberation is liberation for many. Like I believe that feminism, as well as LGBTQ rights/liberation will help the human species as a whole evolve into something worthy of the word “civilization”. Black people aren’t homogenous but the discrimination, hatred, fear, towards black folks, or darker skinned anyone [colorism], is similar. Oppression unites.

Going back to the idea of seeing Erik-Killmonger, as a violent, young, black male, makes me think of the “white imagination”. The white imagination of black lives is limited. Similar to the heterosexual imagination of homosexuals. Just one example in recent media history, is the creators of Game of Thrones creating a show called Confederacy, where slavery was never abolished. When I read about this project last summer, I was really upset. Six months into 45’s Presidency, on top of all the publicized murders of black folks by police officers, and they were trying to sell this mess to the public. I wondered, why not make something where black people were never enslaved here in the US to begin with? Confederacy, if made by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would be detrimental. Based on their previous work, the show would brutalize/sexualize black bodies in the name of entertainment.
I don’t know if you noticed that there was very little blood in Black Panther. When Klaw was shot there was the bullet hole with a little blood surrounding it, but in that same sequence where Erik shoots his gf, there’s no focus on dead eyes, bullet wound, blood. When Erik slits the Dora Milage warrior’s throat there is no blood and no emphasis on her dead body. When Erik dies, there is no focus on his body, his wound. The camera focuses on the killer and/or the people who witness the death. That is powerful cinematic storytelling. People have told me when I mention this, that it is a PG-13 movie. I think it was also a conscious choice. I’m bone and soul tired of seeing black bodies mangled, massacred, brutalized, in real life videos, as well as through the guise of entertainment, and maybe the filmmakers behind Black Panther feel the same way.

This is a part of the beauty of seeing a movie version of Wakanda. Wakanda is a nation untouched by colonization which is something that I and others have imagined/imagine. My dream of the future has never been sterile, white, silver, or dirty grey. It has always been colorful and full of life. Not perfect but not so clinical or depressing. One of the things about the visuals of Wakanda that I appreciate is the history was always present. Going off on a small tangent. Just like in music, the roots of the past, are integrated in the present, and will birth the future. When I was growing up in the late 80s/90s, people complained of sampling in music. People would talk about how songs were biting off of older songs. I always saw it as an homage to the past. The thread of our parents music with our own. Us taking it a little farther, spinning off of what came before. Spinning new material while keeping the thread. I didn’t see it as a lack of originality like some did.
So in Black Panther, when I see animals being tended to, people trading/shopping in outdoor markets, the rural areas, the cities teeming with things that Shuri and her team have designed, I feel a sense of, Yes! and rightness. It feels/reads as real to me. The spirit of Wakanda is real. We will see many great changes in our society because of films like Hidden Figures and Black Panther for sure. Especially amongst women and people of color in stem fields. As an American of African descent I am more than ready for it. Media shapes culture. I’m ready to see how our culture shifts here in the US and a global scale.



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