Black Panther

Based around a faulty premise, Black Lives Matter perceives rabid, racist cops randomly targeting African-Americans, which if that were the case, victims of police shootings would not predominantly be suspects in criminal investigations shot while disobeying police commands, and there would be an ever-escalating increase of incidents, just as there were lynchings in the Jim Crow era.

Director Ryan Coogler’s film Black Panther features its share of faulty premises as well.

It picks right up where events left off in Captain America: Civil War, which introduced audiences to King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), whose alter-ego is the Black Panther. After the death of his father, T’Challa returns to kingdom, Wakanda, and we learn that, though isolated for centuries, hidden from outsiders, this is the most technologically advanced civilization on Earth.

It seems that 10,000 years ago Wakanda was the site of a meteor strike which absorbed minerals by sound and energies, that when mined would produce a substance called vibranium used to forge powerful weapons, but which would also yield advanced space-age transportation and superior medical breakthroughs! Which is all well and good, but is only part of the equation because in order for Wakanda to flourish and remain sustainable it would therefore need to be engaged in capitalist endeavors. Since no other system could create the massive level of wealth necessary to maintain its technological superiority, no matter how many Wakandans roll their eyes and shake their heads, muttering underneath their breath, “Americans…” in disgust, if not for the US or Latveria or some other country buying goods and services, this isolated country would surely crumble!

So by all observations, it’s an agricultural nation on a continent that’s supposedly been picked clean by colonization. What does Wakanda have to offer? It’s a faulty premise that is finally addressed with a raised eyebrow at the conclusion of the film.

When Jack Kirby created both this mythical African nation and the Black Panther character, it was to reflect the growing diversity of the mid-1960s after passage of the Civil Rights Voting Act.

So let’s acknowledge some of the paradoxes in this cinematic version.

Mired in tribalism and custom, there are various tribes operating out of Wakanda. It doesn’t appear that the Wakandans are at all interested in dispensing ideas or cooperating across its boundaries, which means it has no interest in sharing what’s theirs. But aren’t those Western beliefs and attitudes?

From how it’s presented, it’s “Wakanda for Wakandans,” meaning they aren’t too likely to welcome their fair share of Syrian refugees anytime soon! Wakanda is isolationist, unwilling to engage in the practice of war unless their sovereignty is being threatened. We know from the comics that T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, fought alongside Captain America and Fury’s Howling Commandos in WWII when the Red Skull invaded Wakanda to steal vibranium for use in Nazi weapons. But there is no mention of any Wakandans liberating any Nazi death camps.

Neither was Wakanda quick to respond to the international AIDS crisis in Africa or the Ebola epidemic. Instead, they kept their medical advancements hush-hush.

But once you acknowledge what tribalism means, it makes perfect sense. Tribes join into groups that claim to provide some sort of knowledge acquired by some sort of unspecified means (i.e. ghosts, gods, meteors), and in so doing, the idea is to accept that the individual is helpless both morally and intellectually; the only significance is in belonging to the group.

But which group? If you are conditioned to believe that you have no separate mind or moral value, you cannot make choices – so the only option is to join the group you were born into or the group you were predestined to belong to by your body chemistry and makeup. And THAT is indisputably called racism! The desire in Wakanda is to ignore the existence of outsiders and fight to protect and surrender to the obedience of the group!

The real paradox presented in Black Panther is not that Wakanda might finally be willing to relax its isolationism and accept the rest of the world, but rather should we welcome such a nation aboard?

It’s obvious this movie wants to have it both ways.

Take its two bad guys, both of whom contradict what’s been established of Wakandan history.

Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), the long lost cousin of T’Challa, returns to challenge his throne. If in the event his challenge is unsuccessful, Erik wants his body buried at sea “like my ancestors who jumped overboard, choosing drowning rather than to live under slavery!” Which is fine except it contradicts what we’ve been told – that no one, other than Klaue (the film’s other villain), has ever invaded Wakanda and lived to tell about it.

And furthermore, Klaue (Andy Serkis), who was called Klaw in the comics, tells Everett (Martin Freeman) that Wakanda is “all a front. Explorers have searched for it. Called it El Dorado. They’ve looked for it in South America. But it was in Africa the whole time. I’m the only one who’s seen it and made it out alive!” If that’s so, it means Wakanda escaped the colonizers and did not suffer from slavery, nor did it intervene to spare those from any neighboring country from being enslaved!

All things considered, after seeing Black Panther, I remain convinced that my favorite Black Panther is still Huey Newton.