For me, many messages could be gleaned by viewing Black Panther; the film says so much and still achieves audience entertainment. Although it’s stated from the outset that the fictional African nation of Wakanda avoided colonisation from Western powers, the film is steeped in post-colonial discourse, among other layers that make Black Panther a thematically-rich blockbuster. The film addresses the after-effects of colonialism and poses the question: how do Africans and African-Americans tackle these problems, together and individually? How can oppressive hierarchies be shattered?
Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth goes at length to deconstruct the effects of colonialism on nations and individuals. He defines the succession of bourgeoisie posts previously occupied by former European settlers, not as a mission to transform the nation, but ‘the mask of neo-colonialism’ [1963: 152]. The middle class acts as a business agent for the West, and in doing so, models itself on what Fanon deems “Western decadence” at the expense of those lower down the class structure. Colonial power structures remain in place to the detriment of post-colonial citizens.
This fictional natural resource powers Wakanda’s technology, yet it does so much more. It symbolises the claw grabbing at continental Africa’s natural resources during the Scramble for Africa (1881-1914) and addresses the concern of neo-colonialism. Ulysses Klaue embodies the white man seeking to benefit from what the continent has to offer, while also dehumanising the inhabitants, justifying the theft in the first place. The filmmakers certainly don’t shy away from this. Our introduction to adult Erik ‘Killmonger’ Stevens/N’Jadaka in the Museum of Great Britain has Erik lecture the museum’s African artefacts expert on how these items came into their possession. It’s a tale of conquest and force rather than trade or donation. The possibility of the same occurring with vibranium hangs over all Wakandans. Open trade and assistance would leave them open to being taken advantage of using colonial patterns.
Refugees and Isolationism
Nakia is openly humanistic in her approach: she wants Wakanda to be more philanthropic towards those fleeing conflict. On the flip side, W’Kabi is a firm believer in preserving Wakanda’s prosperity. According to him, refugees will only drag Wakanda down with their problems. This is a decisive remark about the destabilising power of colonial and post-colonial structures. W’Kabi’s opinion is less selfish than it is accurate; countries such as Guinea and Chad have suffered from accepting refugees from neighbouring conflicts. Acceptance of them, while altruistic, has fuelled inter-ethnic rivalries and tensions, resulting in a lose-lose situation. It’s stated that Wakanda is advanced because it avoided being colonised. The picture painted worldwide is a different matter; the BBC news broadcast discussing T’Challa’s succession depicts a rural, backwards and inaccessible country. It doesn’t trade or accept aid. Once more it’s indicated that outside influences would present a stark version of Wakanda caught up in a global community with foreign governments jostling for Wakanda’s partnership.
It’s this self-preservation that comes under heavy criticism by N’Jobu and his son Erik/N’Jadaka and forms the basis of their actions. Following a triumphant approach to his newly-won throne, Erik lectures the Wakandans on their neglect of fellow Africans and their suffering. The rest of the continent would have benefitted from the technological advancement, finding empowerment to push back against outsiders taking advantage. This is what drives Erik’s ideology; it’s what he kills for. In a way, Erik is a Frantz Fanon-esque character: Fanon, a colonial subject from the Antilles, trained in medicine in France before joining the Algerian resistance against French rule. He turned against The System that moulded him, much like Erik serving in the U.S. forces before going rogue. In dismantling Wakanda’s isolationist home policy, he aims to liberate the oppressed worldwide, by becoming the oppressor himself. The film doesn’t present this outcome as ideal; it’s something to be avoided if peace and prosperity are to preside.
The allusion to Boko Haram was all too real. Nakia has infiltrated the group of kidnapped/trafficked girls in Nigeria when T’Challa intervenes and takes out their captors. They’re not white slavers, but modern-day natives engaging in terrorist and abusive acts. T’Challa and Nakia liberating them isn’t merely an action to establish their motives and drive the plot forward, but to comment on Africans oppressing each other and inflicting what their ancestors were subjected to. Fanon argues that the Third World is populated by enslaved people, ‘together with some who have achieved a simulacrum of phoney independence, others who are still fighting to attain sovereignty and others again who have obtained complete freedom but who live under the constant menace of imperialist aggression’ [1963: 10]. In presenting the girls’ rescue, the film explicitly calls for an end to continued subjugation of human beings. The film argues that the continent will never be able to progress if colonial patterns are continued; a stagnated continent deprived of achieving its potential.
Random (Less Serious) Thoughts While Viewing the Film:
- Andy Serkis is the new Sean Bean?
- Forrest Whitaker is the new Sean Bean?
- It was difficult not to draw comparisons with The Lion King.
- ‘Hey, Auntie’ will go down in history. As will ‘I’m kidding: we are vegetarians.’