Black Panther Decoded
A Marvel Studio film with a lineup of Black cast members broke records this Black History Month. The first 4 days grossed over 404 million dollars worldwide. This came to no surprise as spectators came to theaters in droves over the weekend dressed in traditional Kente, militant Black Panther Party inspired clothing, black tie attire and even superhero cat suits with masks. Surely the conversation around Black Panther has begun as it relates to the plight of African Americans. Various audiences have gathered to watch, reflect and discuss messages that can be interpreted through the marvelous superhero film. Please note that the following is a spoiler for those who have not yet joined us at theaters. For others, it’s an attempt to decode some of the symbolism found in the film that could have either been intentional or coincidentally projected.
The story takes place in a fictional country in Africa named Wakanda. Wakanda sits on a mountain of precious metal known as Vibranium. Vibranium fuels every aspect of the nation from medicine, technology, artillery, and power. To protect the nation, its people and its resources from avaricious traders, the world only has access to a third world countryside that surrounds it. There are several angles that the viewer may choose to look at the setting. In the movie, it was compared to the Lost City of Atlantis for its mystifying wonders.
For us, Wakanda sounds very much like Ancient Egypt, or ancient Kemet as it was formally known. There are still many mysteries left in Egypt; some of which is believed to be buried deep in the sands. Without question, many intellectual advances originated in that region to include mathematics, medicine, architecture, irrigation, and more. It can be debated whether knowledge was taught or stolen, though, history confirms that colonists came to Africa to study advancements in civilization. Regardless to the country of origin, Vibranium could easily represent the knowledge held by the ancestors and later borrowed by the colonists.
The Black Panther’s name is T’Challa. He is a sensitive and vulnerable character. What is most valuable about him is that he recognizes the faults of his ancestors, namely his father. His father T’Chaka makes a decision to kill his own brother NJobu, in order to save another characters life. The decision was a rash one that was not nearly thought out. Consequently, a prince was left behind in the wicked LA streets to fend for himself. That child was Erik Killmonger.
This story can easily be compared to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Our own ancestors sold us into slavery in order to gain wealth and European weapons. There are also beliefs that African ancestors not only participated for greed but also to maintain sovereignty in their nations in order to save vast lives all over the continent. Fast forward centuries later, entire populations of African descendants are spread across the Americas and neighboring islands. With no identity or traditional culture, African Americans are reasonably lost people. We are not considered natives or settlers. We were brought and now merely referred to as minorities in a country that we helped to build.
In the movie prince Erik Killmonger became known as the “lost boy.” Lost because not only did his very own family not know where he was, they did not even know that he existed. Today, African Americans are often not considered African by Africans. There is very little that connects us in lineage or heritage as hundreds of years have gone by. Even with camaraderie to support the movie Black Panther, wearing traditional African print to theaters was questioned as appropriation. Is Africa not the mother of civilization? Did not all life begin there? More specifically, didn’t African Americans descend from Africa?
Not to belabor the point, in the film Erik wanted to go home. Left without a father to protect, nurture and provide he had to survive on his own. Erik became angry and hostile. He didn’t understand why his people did not come for him. His father told him he would be considered lost but there was uncertainty about who betrayed who. Erik became even more resentful when he learned that his country possessed a resource (knowledge) that could better the lives of people his color all around the world. In his mind, he suffered in vain when the answer seemed clear.
Young men in communities all around the nation share the same sentiments; not specifically towards Africans, but to their own people in positions of power and/or an abundance of resources. It has become common practice to look down upon poverty stricken communities and do nothing to elevate the people. If more people that share the same heritage chose to help others regardless of social status we could change the world. That is what Erik wanted to do; however, his own resentment made him too dangerous to lead. As a brother who experienced struggle, his tactics for survival caused him to be irrational and violent.
Due to the nature of the comic story line, Erik was the villain in the movie. For many sympathizers; however, Erik was a great man who became a casualty to a circumstance to which he had no control. Erik wanted to do a great deed in sharing resources, though his methods would cause more harm than good with tooling oppressed people all over the world with powerful weaponry. One thing is for certain, the answer is not clear. If it were, there would be many more self-proclaimed Kings and Queens that are not bound by a systematic prism of repression. The overarching lesson here is to have compassion for our brothers and sisters. We should take time to understand their plight and if we can do more, as T’Challa later figured out, we must.
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