[***Spoiler warning: Outcome of movie referenced towards the end of this article.***]
I’ve seen the movie BLACK PANTHER twice and feel like I can still watch it again and derive more to think about. I have read a few articles written about the film, including a very critical one, which has also helped me to mull it over further.
Historically, Black Panther’s kingdom of Wakanda is a country that has never been truly known or fully “discovered” by the rest of the world. This makes that nation a completely uncolonized land, truly a safe haven for African born people. From this backdrop, the struggle to return to one’s origins when one has not been born in her/his ancient, ancestral land, but descended from natives still there, is powerfully depicted in the movie. I can only try to fathom the workings of this beautifully complex internal and external struggle to sense ever-deeper into one’s African roots and form a clearer, stronger identity from there. And all this done as a means to help facilitate a solid inner state of purpose and agency in life, these being basic human needs for thriving, not just surviving. Such a process is constantly played out both individually and collectively for Blacks in America and everywhere. This movie struck an inner chord for viewers by distilling and mirroring these aforementioned strivings into a compelling portrayal of one man’s flawed but earnest efforts to connect to his beginnings and a resulting cultural identity he had heretofore found lacking, albeit seemingly just within reach. All this is juxtaposed against an idyllic vision of people living from a line of unbroken rootedness to their ancestors, cultural traditions, and a subsequent sense of cohesiveness and effectiveness in the world around them. The virile Black Panther King T’Challa, his brilliant tech-savvy princess sister, and other characters closely associated with the monarch each embody this ideal of a solid, grounded identity in their own appealing ways. Talk about feel-good fun! Ultimately, regardless of one’s race(s)/ethnicity(ies), I think it’s a natural impulse to wonder about one’s heritage, those somehow special, unique beginnings of where one came from that inform who one is now, be that biologically, culturally, spiritually. Hence, why I–who appear as being almost as “white” as you can get– was moved by this film and its message of valuing a meaningful, alive-feeling connection to one’s rich background, whatever that happens to be, or at least honoring the longing for such. It’s a longing I myself hold dear and sometimes pursue at fulfilling.
Practically speaking, Wakanda is an anachronism, not to mention an obvious bubble of a utopia, placed outside of the context of linear, “real” time as most, if not all, of consensus reality would dictate. Still, this fictional land with its ancestrally “pure” people and the narratives that unfold from it comprise a pertinent allegory of a “place” from which to derive and better understand generalizable truths or large-scale shared experiences about the human condition, some of them just discussed above. Given that “universal” has become understandably so associated by many with overly-absolutist, simplistic, monolithic thinking, I am purposefully not using that adjective here before the word “truths.”
From a political perspective, I appreciated the complex “villain.” Effectively played by the handsome Michael B. Jordan, the anguished character Killmonger has a good primary intention. He plans to balance out mass injustice via powerfully arming (with Wakanda’s unique vibranium-made weaponry) oppressed populations around the world. All downtrodden African descended peoples are his understandable main concern. However, fulfilling his vision would have led to draining Wakanda of resources in fairly short order and putting the country in imminent danger to other, larger superpowers.
I felt ambivalent about the anti-immigrant message conveyed in the film. But, then, Wakanda is not representative of, say, the U.S.A. It is a small country with unique resources to protect, especially from falling into the wrong, corrupt hands. I could imagine how welcoming immigrants into the little nation would lead to endangering Wakanda’s particular integrity. I imagine others have thought this issue through more than I have, however, and am open to hearing/reading other views on this. I did find that King T’Challa’s opening up his country the way he chose to at the end was naive and not well-thought-out, as much as I deeply appreciated his magnanimous intention behind doing so.
In BLACK PANTHER, the protagonists and main antagonist (Killmonger) were neither “all bad” or “all good” in the tired, formulaic, Manichean way of character presentation in a drama. This was both refreshing and a big nod back to the ancient Greek tragedies, where every main player had a tragic flaw that left them vulnerable to downfall while they also possessed humanly relatable and well-meaning intentions.
BLACK PANTHER is undoubtedly one of the most thought-provoking Hollywood blockbuster movies I’ve seen in the longest time, if ever.