How Black Panther's Politics Mirror America's Issues
By NICK PERNAS | April 5, 2018
On its opening weekend, I had the privilege to see Marvel’s Black Panther. As you probably already know, Black Panther is the first American comic centering around an African superhero. The movie is unabashedly black and African, and its emphasis on African futurism in contrast to the legacy of colonialism makes it a compelling, trailblazing movie. Yet, I did not expect the multitude of political undertones throughout the movie.
Directed by Ryan Coogler, Black Panther is the story of T’Challa and his rise to the throne of Wakanda after his father’s death. Wakanda is an isolated African nation that poses as a third world country; in actuality, it is rich with valuable resources and advanced technology. One of the first political conflicts centers on whether to share these resources with the masses of suffering people outside of Wakanda. T’Chaka, father of T’Challa, led Wakanda in its tradition as an isolated and insulated nation, not sharing resources or power with others. Erik Killmonger, the cousin and challenger of T’Challa’s ascension to the throne, desires to share Wakanda’s wealth with the outside world. This notion is reminiscent of pre-World War I America.
Before the First World War, America had remained neutral and isolated by oceans. Even as World War II broke out, it was not until a direct attack that America took action against Japan and the Nazis. After World War II, foreign policy was permanently altered. No longer was America watching the battles from the sidelines. The United States began supplying military weapons to its allies, and taking out dictators. Ultimately, Erik Killmonger fails to carry out his plan to share Wakanda’s weapons with the entire world. T’Challa, however, takes some of Erik’s ideas by expanding foreign aid, technology, and education to global communities in need. In this way, it seems Coogler is advocating for the US to rescind its recent legacy of military action for one of humanitarian aid. In other words, give nations schools and books rather than guns and bombs.
Another important political undertone is tribalism. The feud for the throne between Erik Killmonger and T’Challa divides houses, pitting fellow members of the community against one another. The film's commentary not only touches on modern African tribalism, but it also highlights similar tribal warfare present within America. More specifically, Coogler may be commenting on the violence and warfare intrinsic to gang culture in lower socioeconomic communities and families across the US.
Both of these political messages appear to be Ryan Coogler’s direct intention. If we could set aside our weapons and spread love and goodwill, we could better the world. If we could set aside our feuds and allegiances, we could better our communities. That’s what T’Challa realizes will make Wakanda strongest: goodwill and unity.