The gorgeous, thoughtful visual experience, stunning action sequences, and tight bits of humour are window dressing for a larger question.
As such, the Kingdom of Wakanda is the most significant character in the Black Panther storyline, even more than the superhero himself. Much of Africa is still beset with neo-colonial resource exploitation, war, and corruption. The Wakandan vision explores what is possible when an African nation’s resources are used for its own enrichment.
After generations of isolationism, Wakandans must face the ethical dilemma that comes with hoarding their technological advances. Is it their duty to help the rest of the world? Should they alleviate the suffering of other African communities, or give them the means to fight back against oppression? T’Challa grapples with defining his legacy, and Black Panther frames him as a cautious Black Saviour, who is conscious that interventionism comes with its own problems.Opposite T’Challa is Erik Killmonger, the aptly named ugly American interloper who doesn’t care for diplomacy or peace. He wants to see Africans reclaim their power by any means necessary. Killmonger thinks T’Challa is too weak, while T’Challa believes that Killmonger has become what he hates. The standoff between them is Biblical, a throwback to Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X, or closer to home, Gandhi and Sardar Patel. The difference is that T’Challa really does hold all the cards here. If he says the word, Wakanda could easily create a vibranium-powered empire where the sun never sets, a quote that pointedly references the peak of British imperialism.Black Panther transcends the stereotype of being “just” a superhero blockbuster, which is becoming an art Marvel films have started to perfect. It’s a post-colonial sci-fi saga with something important to say. The gorgeous, thoughtful visual experience, stunning action sequences, and tight bits of humour are window dressing for a larger question: What have we really learned from colonialism? When the global balance of power shifts in our favour, will we know what to do? Black Panther recognises that there are no easy answers, and maybe no right ones. But as T’Challa discovers, inaction is not an option.
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