There appears to be a tidal wave of excitement concerning the upcoming Feburary 15, 2018 release of Marvel’s Black Panther. In certain sectors of Black America, there also appears to be some controversy. Not about the movie, but about something as asinine and irrelevant as who the antagonist is dating and or sleeping with. However, the bigger picture of a favorable portrayal of black people in general, and black women in particular, reduces this criticism to a small act from a bad play in the theater of the absurd. Therefore, in this article, I will attempt to explain the background of the character as well as some important aspects as to why all people in general, but black people in particular, should go see this boss flick.
Black Panther was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1966. He first appeared in issue #52 of the Fantastic Four. It’s no big secret that Lee has a tendency to create art that imitates life. It is also a well known secret that the Black Panther is based on two legendary African leaders: The Late Dr(s) Kwame NKrumah and Patrice Lumumba. As such, it was clear from the writing of the comic, that Lee and Kirby had some very definite opinions about western colonialism and racism. Their depictions and later story lines have clear influences of some of the most progressive black and white scholars of the 20th Century.
So let us begin shall we? Wakanda is a fictional African nation that is inhabited by a people whose warrior spirit is unrivaled. It is also a nation that is technologically advanced beyond any expectation. They are so advanced that they have contingency plans for the arrival of a planet eating entity known as Galactus (read marvel to see who he is). Wakanda owes its technological advancement to two very important factors: (1) the crash landing of a meteor containing a substance known as vibranium, and (2) the Wakandans are the only African civilization to have ever avoided foreign contact, much less foreign control. This fictional scenario is perhaps Stan Lee’s biggest indictment of western colonialism. A similar indictment can be found in Walter Rodney’s classic treatise titled, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Africa. Anyway, the Wakandans never allowed a foreigner to set foot on their soil. Thus, they were free to govern their economy and their country as they saw fit. And using classical African tenets of communal social living, they turned Wakanda into a technological paradise. There is no hunger, no poverty, and no illiteracy.
The Wakandans used the vibranium as a source of wealth and for military defense. Thus, it has one of the greatest military forces on the planet. In an issue of Black Panther, the Wakandas fought a vicious war with alien invaders to defend their country. Donning the mask of the Black Panther to protect their King, the Wakandas killed the aliens, put their bodies back into their spaceships, and programmed it to return to its origin with a warning: never to return to Wakanda again. That’s gangsta!…lol
The Wakandas are ruled by a royal blood line. Their religion is not Christianity(hint hint). They practice indigenous animist spiritual systems of the continent. The writers of the comic push the religious imperialist angle really hard here. The connection between Christianity and colonialism is anything but subtle. The Wakandas identify with the panther god. Its’ royal blood line is the living embodiment of the panther diety. Thus, the ruler is the equivalent of the historical Pharoah of Egypt. The rulers must ingest a specific plant that enhances their physical abilities. This plant is otherwise poisonous to people who are not of the royal blood line.
For generations, the Panther has ruled the country as the Head of State and as a military official. The title is both ceremonial and political. For centuries, the Panther has protected the country from invasion and conquest by foreign powers with the help of the aforementioned material(vibranium) and the powers of the herbal plant grown on Wakandan soil. The Panther’s secret service consists of a highly knit elite force of female warrior known as the Dora Milaje. They are highly skilled in martial arts and weaponry. They are the royal guard and wives in training for the King. This is a nod to the historical warrior queens of the continent such as Yaa Asantewaa and Queen Kandake(Candace) of Meroe. If this is not the epitome of the “strong black woman,” then I don’t know what is.
The ruler of the Country is T’challa. He is the son of T’chaka, the former black panther that was killed by Belgian invader Ulysses Klaw. T’challa ascends to the throne after being educated in the West. While Wakanda is militarily powerful and economically vibrant, he sees that the country has been out of the loop with the emergence America’s Mightiest Heroes: The Avengers. In the comic, he joins the Avengers as the Earth’s protectors but also to counter spy on America who was also spying on him. He is assisted by his sister Shuri who is a warrior, scientist and inventor; his mother, the Queen, and his uncle, a diplomat and minister of affairs. All are warriors.
Wakanda, because of its’ mineral wealth, military supremacy and strategic location is the target of many plots and coup(s). The threats not only come from western powers but also from internal conflicts. Thus, we see that not everything is the fault of “the white man.” Wakanda is threatened by neighboring tribes such as the White Gorilla Tribe and its’ leader Mbaku, as well as a black western allied christian minister known as Rev. Achebe. In the 1998 edition of the Black Panther written by Black Writer Christopher Priest, Achebe and western agents are involved in a plot to overthrow T’challa and take over the country. They are thwarted by an alliance that includes Captain America and Wolverine. In the comic, T’challa is brilliant, wealthy, and a master martial artist. He is in every way the equal of Bruce Wayne. I think he can take him…lol
It is important to go see this movie regardless of the babblings of a few misguided backward black women. It is a movie that not only puts black people in a positive light, it also gives black comic book fans a character without an omnipotent white mentor, a kick ass superhero, and most importantly a fictional validation of their own factual history. It is possible that this movie may in some small way spawn an interest in the true history of the land where time and man began.
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