I enjoyed Black Panther for the same reason I voted for Barack Obama. My blackness permits no alternative. That being said, I will admit that there is more that I wanted from the movie.
Wakanda is hard not to think of as the road not taken for black people.. or should I say the road taken away. Perhaps if Africa was allowed to thrive with its people and its resources without outside interference, a society could have been built to rival the great powers of the world. It’s a fantasy. Black people (especially black Americans) have always struggled to find our place in the world. I have never been to Africa but I am sure there are some places that got along much better and are well established societies. But it feels like most black people in the world have been held back from what we could achieve. Wakanda fuels that fantasy by giving us something amazing that the rest of the world has none of. Vibranium.
Like I said, I enjoyed the movie. But I had a few disappointments. I didn’t see the need for “sneakers” to be a factor at all because I feel like “shoes” have been a sore spot for black Americans. Young black men chase shoes like they are the most important thing in the world and that in and of itself causes us to hurt each other physically and themselves financially. And Michael Jordan has never given a fuck. But it’s still a big part of our culture so whatever.
The story was about two different belief systems. One belief system is isolationism. We need to protect ourselves because if the world knew what we had, they would try to take it from us. The other is that the world has betrayed us and that we are strong enough to take over and therefore we should act. I hate to say it but T’Challa before the end of the movie was in line with Donald Trump’s America First policy. Taking on an extremist like Killmonger who was created by being forgotten made T’Challa realize that he needed to use Wakanda’s power to reach out and help his forgotten and struggling people. It was a good story.
One thing that bugged me about this story is that it was a black civil war.. Black people fighting black people.. Which feels like an old trope at this point. One of my biggest frustrations with America is the lack of unity. This lack of unity is even worse in the suffering black community. Gang violence and what not. It’s a bunch of poor people doing what they have to in order to survive combined with a savage tribalism. The ghetto or hood as you may know it is a scary place. I grew up in a place like that and managed not to be tainted by it. I have family and friends who weren’t as lucky or privileged as I was. When the big scene of all of the different tribes came I was a bit affected by the fact that it was the whole of Wakanda (black people at their best) fighting each other. Especially considering all it took was a single outsider to cause this fight to happen. Where was the unity?
Furthermore, I didn’t feel like it made sense for an advanced society to use a fighting tradition to choose leadership. These kinds of traditions are not what create great societies. In fact I would argue they do the exact opposite. They prevent society from evolving in a way that is progressive and on par with technology and information. Science allows us to live more peaceful and simple lives and our laws need to reflect that or we will get stuck arguing over old things that are only politically significant but not at all progressive to human advancement.
Anyway, I got past all that. Why should the best among us be infallible? Black and beautiful yes, but still human. Someone even went so far as to describe the story as MLK vs Malcolm X. I do not know the details but here is what I believe they were referring to. MLK was all about fighting injustice and prejudice with peaceful protest while Malcolm X was more direct as a revolutionary, wanting to fight black oppressors by any means necessary. They did not agree on the best path to progress. I personally do not agree that Black Panther had anything to do with MLK and Malcolm X. No one was fighting for freedom. One side was fighting for the security of the people in their society and the other side was fighting for their people struggling throughout the world. Besides, Marvel already told the story of MLK and Malcolm X in extremity through X-Men. Charles Xavier is MLK in that he wants to teach mutants to cooperate with human beings and teach them not to be afraid while Magneto was more like Malcolm X and felt mutants were better than human beings and needed to overthrow them and take their place at the top of the food chain.
Now that I have brewed on it, I realize what I wanted from Black Panther. Everything about it was inspirational, but the story was not really a black story, but more a story with black elements. The black story is that our communities are struggling and so many of us are left to struggle while others of us manage to get out and assimilate into more prosperous societies. Wakanda is not a ghetto. Wakanda is human perfection, and ultimately is colorless. Wakanda metaphorically is America, an advanced and powerful nation with the ability to touch the world.
I don’t want the characters or villains to be any different. Just the main conflict. In the story I wanted, Wakanda could be a great society, but I would have preferred the conflict be about Wakanda itself. Something happens to change Wakanda for the worse and the leadership and citizens have to make a decision and are divided. This division to me would be less shallow than the division that was created by Killmonger becoming king of Wakanda. Some feel Wakanda is lost and want to find a new home somewhere else while others are either unable or unwilling to leave their home and would prefer to defeat the problem and rebuild. This is the story of black communities in America.
Integration in America mixed with drugs and gangs lead to a significant decline in black communities that we have never recovered from. Those communities still struggle to this day and many of us have just left to establish our own lives as Americans, unsure how to or unable to help the struggling communities that we came from. With all of the inspiration that Black Panther has provided, I believe this itself would have been a very powerful message to many of us and maybe make us look at where we came from differently and even inspire some of us to do something about it. It could end on unity being the ultimate tool in order to defeat whatever evil we encounter. Deciding not to let go of home and saving Wakanda would make the “Wakanda Forever” mantra much more meaningful.
I also realize I am being a bit closed minded. Blackness goes far beyond American blackness and perhaps this story was enough. Nobody else is complaining. And neither am I, but as usual I am going to analyze. Besides, this story was part of the story as a whole, just not as fleshed out and not the center-point of everything. All of that being said Black Panther is definitely a great movie with a great message and a great cast.
But still.. a road not taken..