The Black Panther is a Marvel
February 20, 2018
By Matthew C. Whitaker, Ph.D.
The Black Panther has shattered box office records. It’s made history by logging the highest opening for a Black director, Roger Coogler, at over 426.6 million worldwide for the recent four-day holiday weekend. It’s unveiled a predominantly Black cast of distinguished artists and promising newcomers, including Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Lupita Nyong’o, Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Daniel Kaluuya, and Danai Gurira (who should be given her own spin-off as Okaye, military general and head of the all-female Dora Milaje bodyguards). The film has accomplished all of this while treating audiences to stunning costumes, a soaring score, and an alpha Africa that serves as the cradle of civilization as well as its technological deliverer.
What truly sets Black Panther apart, however, is: 1) the deliberate installation of dynamic and fully developed Black female characters; 2) the seamless exploration and critique of African colonization; 3) the intra-racial tension between continental Africans and African Americans embodied in the characters T’Challa/the Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan); and 4) a hypothetical Africa marked by the maximization of Black potential unmolested by European colonialism.
The women in Black Panther create, innovate, lead, and love. They protect Black people, Wakanda, and the world, against the threat of our destructive selves on behalf of our better selves. It is their moral compass and stewardship in the areas of human rights, education, science, technology, urban planning, environmentalism, the arts, diplomacy, and self-defense, that truly empowers Wakanda, not vibranium. Vibranium is the instrument of their power, the women of Wakanda are its curators.
Wakanda’s secret existence is an allegory for the ability of African peoples, throughout the world, to preserve some semblance of E pluribus unum—out of many, one—in the face of colonization and the materialism of the western world, notwithstanding the isolationist mountain Jabari tribe, led by the imposing M’Baku.
The conflict between T’Challa and Erik Killmonger is a narrative device that explores the often-real world distrust and hostility among continental Africans and people of African descent in the west. This may be debated as illuminating or “anti-revolutionary,” depending upon your politics, but there are, in fact, continental Africans who consider African Americans like me, “outsiders.” There have been many Black Americans and continental Africans who have rejected this notion, however, and found it illogical and a-historical, because as Malcolm X said when asked to comment on the subject, “cats can have kittens in an oven, but that doesn’t make them biscuits.” Time and space, he reasoned, doesn’t strip us of our birthright or essence. Moverover, it was Black people in America, Brittain, and the Caribbean, such as Henry Sylvester-Williams, W.E.B. DuBois, John Hope, Rayford Logan, Ida Gibbs Hunt, and Malcolm X, who supported and/or helped educate African leaders such as Ahmed Sékou Touré, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe, and Kwame Nkrumah. To believe, therefore, that continental Africans are the soul arbiters of all things African is linear thinking in a world in need of asymmetrical, dialectical thought.
It was African American intellect and diplomacy that helped liberate Africa from colonial rule, not the anger and bitterness of “lost” relatives. Black people in the west, in the face of being labeled foreigners by the descendants of Africans whose preoccupation with tribalism enabled the kidnapping and enslavement of our shared ancestors, have modeled sage leadership and courage under fire. Indeed, it wasn’t uninhibited anger that installed Black people in the western world as some of the most “successful” in the Diaspora, it’s been our reason and resilience.
The most inspiring aspect of the film, however, is its vision of an Africa unscathed by colonialism and White supremacy. What if there was no colonialism, no divide and conquer, installation of colorisms, stripping of resources, indoctrination into cutthroat capitalism, and destruction of Black bodies at the altar of White supremacy? What if? The Black Panther may be science fiction. It may be the manifestation of dreams, but as historian Robin D.G. Kelley reminded us, “without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics, but a process that can and must transform us.” Let the dreaming and transformation continue.
Dr. Matthew C. Whitaker is the Founder and CEO of the Diamond Strategies, LLC (DSC) and Editor-in-Chief of MCU VO!CE – MyClickUrban. He is also the 2016 Arizona Diversity Leadership Alliance (DLA) Diversity and Inclusion Leader Award winner and a decorated educator, author, community engagement specialist, motivational speaker, and founder the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, winner of the 2014 DLA Inclusive Workplace Award, at Arizona State University. He can be followed on Twitter at @Dr_Whitaker and DSC can be followed on Twitter at @dstategiesllc.