by Wanda Sabir
King T’Challa, the revered “Black Panther,” allows himself to be used to further the cause of white supremacy in this heralded chapter of the Marvel comic series. Depth is not a part of T’Challa’s DNA. We see early on how a pretty face distracts him to the point that Okoye (actress Danai Gurira), head of the Dora Milaje, the all-female special forces of Wakanda, disobeys orders and follows him on a rescue mission, just in case. Let’s just say, her services are needed.
To expect T’Challa to do what is right by his estranged brother N’Jakada is a stretch. Despite knowing his identity, the king doesn’t show the warrior bearing gifts any warmth. N’Jakada does what he was unable to do, stop a known threat – the enemy’s skull in his hand which he throws toward the throne.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Marvel comic series and previous adventure, “Captain America: Civil War,” in which T’Challa’s father King T’Chaka is killed. This precipitates T’Challa’s return to Wakanda where dirty laundry is aired and then shredded.
While new writers certainly have taken control of the narrative that is T’Challa/Black Panther, his Avenger baggage follows and points him in politically unsavory directions for Marvel series sake. This is why we see Captain America (Winter Soldier) waking up in Wakanda, guest of Black Panther. This foreshadows a major battle in store for Wakanda in the next episode, “Avengers: Infinity War,” in theatres May 2018.
As the credits roll, we see Black Panther comrades, Black Widow and Falcon, from “Civil War” hiding out in Wakanda. All are on the run and wanted by the U.S. government and maybe the United Nations. See Vox. Interestingly, T’Challa plays both political ends with his relationship with CIA agent Everett K. Ross (actor Martin Freeman). One wonders how he maintains trust.
But back to the story at hand, for all the “Black Panther” hype, the film’s attempts at depth within the parameters of Disney and Marvel are still wanting. The framework is just not something created by us. Writer, director Ryan Coogler and co-writer, Joe Robert Cole, actors and other artists associated with the work are allowed only certain tools – yes, it is beautiful, yes, there are important lessons and values shared, yes, it certainly has moments where audiences cheer.
With all this going for it, shouldn’t the sky be the limit? Yet the Marvel comic universe had Black Panther (character and story) tethered. How else can anyone explain how or why the leader of the world’s mightiest, technologically superior nation has to play by a set of rules that deny his humanity and cause him to kill his brother? And remember, by playing by their rules, he loses his father.
Sometimes separation is better than integration and certainly assimilation.
In reflecting on the story, which is complex, I listened to the soundtrack and read the annotations in the margins, which gave context to some of what I saw on screen and background on characters whom I’d just met in the story. There is a lot left unsaid; however, ultimately, the Wakanda we meet is not palatable to a Diaspora native who has had a different experience with colonialism.
Those who sell out their people to the highest bidder do not have the same relationship with the power-broker that the 99 percent have. Our response is not patient or conciliatory – it is about chopping off heads and taking no prisoners. I am speaking philosophically here as warfare is more spiritual than physical. We are so powerful, we can think the enemy into his grave.
Juju positioned in the right place is guaranteed to cure all ills, especially those of soul. If you have not seen Brit Frazier’s “LAVEAU: A Conjuring of Marie Laveau,” it’s Program A, Friday-Sunday at TheatreFirst in Berkeley, through March 10, do not miss it. In this wonderful work, directed by Margo Hall and embodied by Dezi Solèy, we meet one of New Orleans’ medicine women, Voodoo Queen. She stirs broths, introduces prayers and blesses the house as we find ourselves drawn into stories of liberation, healing and sacrifice.
Brit says: “During the pre-Civil War antebellum South, the voodoo queen Marie Laveau built and preserved space for Africans to worship their religion openly and to practice Black joy freely. Now, in the midst of present day Black genocide, Laveau is conjured to empower a spiritual revolution where Black Lives Matter and the Black Woman is God.”
I think N’Jakada would have appreciated Madame Laveau and she could have helped him cool the rage and manage his anger in a more healthy way. We who are African know what is visible is not all. The physical manifestation is minuscule compared to the actual loss in lives over time. The colonizers think strategically and have been in place for centuries. Imagine, the uranium used to bomb Japan came from ore in Congo.
Black liberation globally is just white imperialism gone underground. There is a reason why Wakanda intentionally kept itself off the map. However, spies are everywhere and eventually what is hidden will come to light. This is not to say Wakanda’s refusal to help neighboring countries or Diaspora Wakandans was correct. It was just a selfish part of a plan which has now imploded – probably another episode in the Marvel comic universe. But I digress. We were speaking of Kendrick Lamar’s “Black Panther” soundtrack.
In intro to the song “Paramedic,” with Zacari and Kendrick Lamar, N’Jakada says:
I am Killmonger
No one’s perfect
But no one’s worthless
We ain’t deservin’ of everything Heaven and Earth is
But word is, good, “This is my home”
Said no one’s perfect, but no one’s worth this
We ain’t deservin’ of everything heaven and Earth is
But word is, good “Northern California.”
T’Challa tries to silence N’Jakada, also known as Killmonger to the rest of the known world. Unmasked – T’Challa meets his equal in the man facing him. Perhaps this is why he doesn’t greet or allow his guest to say his name.
It is still such an insult when T’Challa knows royalty stands before him. Granted brotherman has a rough exterior. It’s been 500-plus years; kinda hard to erase the vestiges … stains permeate psyche … other stains are just hard to erase from garments meant to last just one lifetime, not several. The persona is still tarnished by centuries of survival in the worse conditions – slavery, Jim Crow, structural racism and state violence. The man on the throne grudgingly recognizes himself in his brother’s eyes – N’Jakada is the son of Road Dog Warrior N’Jobu on a secret mission in Oaktown when he is killed many years prior.
Chadwick Boseman, who portrays T’Challa, says the character is an antagonist and is the enemy of Diaspora Africans. The prince, then king, lives in his supremacist bubble where power is his elixir and tonic of choice. He hangs out with other powerful people – race unimportant as long as they are powerful and do not disturb his way of life. The game he plays with others is not lost on N’Jakada (Michael B. Jordan) who when he cannot kill him refuses second thoughts or a halfhearted gesture and sentencing to imprisonment. Instead N’Jakada tells his cousin he can toss his ashes on the ocean where his African ancestors’ bones line the bottom of the sea.
Was there a way for T’Challa to spare his cousin’s life and not lose his own? The riff between Africa and Diaspora Africans is so large – great compassion, love and forgiveness is the bridge necessary to cross the divide. Perhaps if N’Jadaka Erik Stevens and T’Challa had had a bit more time, the two men might have found a compromise. However, given the shallowness of Black Panther’s response to external pressure to share Wakanda’s rich reserves with others in the Diaspora not to mention Continental Africa.
Well? He is Black Panther in a nouveaux peacock chair making deals with the CIA! I am like hold up?! Are you out of your mind? This must be a slapstick thrown in to distract and confuse the audience who do not know their history and who probably believe it’s OK to share secrets with the U.S. government. Like Okoyo, the CIA is all about meddling in international affairs that threaten white supremacy and its economic and military dominance. Wakanda has a seat in the U.N. Council.
When N’Jadaka shows up with the head of the King’s arch-enemy in his fist, he is admitted into the chamber where the Elder Council is assembled. They don’t know this young man who stands with pride and assurance. He knows he is home even if those around him do not guess his lineage – but soon they will. He looks at their faces and dares the king with his eyes. T’Challa does not ask him his name. He dismisses the man before him and in that gesture makes a huge mistake.
OK, so Erik is faced with the worst case scenario. No love is coming from the throne, so he has to pep himself up. In “I AM” (by Jorja Smith) we hear N’Jakada and T’Challa’s voice:
Try it if it feels right (try it)
Try it if it feels right, yeah
When you try, oh, oh
[Verse 1: Jorja Smith]
I’m tryin’ – I’m just, yeah, I’m just, yeah
I been out here tryin’ to see my homecomin’
And of course, somebody’s always gonna say somethin’
Try and shoot me down for voicin’ my own opinion
Triggerin’ a part of me that’s always been indifferent
[Pre-Chorus: Jorja Smith]
And I know that we have asked for change
Don’t be scared to put the fears to shame
[Chorus: Jorja Smith]
When you know what you got
Sacrifice ain’t that hard
Feel like dependin’ on me
Sometimes we ain’t meant to be free
When you know what you got
Sacrifice ain’t that hard
Feel like dependin’ on me.
Again, N’Jadaka’s hope for acceptance and warm open arms to the prodigal son are dashed into pieces. This just one of many opportunities missed that might have spared lives. Raised in Oakland by a father who is brother to T’Challa’s father, King T’Chaka, the father and son have a loving relationship. All Erik N’Jadaka Stevens knows is America and Wakanda in the stories his father tells of his land. Later Erik reads for himself about Wakanda in the books his father left for him. Erik’s America is a place where death is normed like absent fathers.
Co-writer Joe Robert Cole says of Erik: “I think the best villains are ones that have a point of view that’s relatable and that you can empathize with. Sometimes it’s how far you take things that makes you a villain, and not necessarily the perspective.
“[N’Jadaka] is effective because he really affects our hero. T’Challa ends up the same place that he does, philosophically, through his interactions with him. T’Challa is there out of empathy for the world, and [N’Jadaka or] Killmonger is there out of pain. He affects T’Challa in a way that I think is really meaningful, and meaningful to the story structure. A lot of conversation that [Ryan Coogler and I] were having, early on, was how to approach the dynamic between African Americans and Africans, and what that means and what that dialogue is. He, in a very personal way, addresses that, in terms of the family dynamic and his perspective on that, with isolationism and separation.
All of that comes through in his character, but in an emotional way because it’s so personal to him, and you feel for him. You understand why he’s so angry versus just wanting to control the world. And Michael [B. Jordan] is irresistible and so likeable. He’s such a fantastic emotionally available actor and he’s so likeable that for him to play a villain, it’s easy to root for him, no matter what he’s doing” (Collider: C. Radish).
In Kendrick Lamar’s “Pray for Me,” we hear lyrics that reflect the spiritual isolation Erik feels, Erik representative of all the Black boys and girls in Oakland looking for a break and not finding one. This is where Killmonger is born –
Who gon’ pray for me?
Take my pain for me?
Save my soul for me?
‘Cause I’m alone, you see
If I’m gon’ die for you
If I’m gon’ kill for you
Then I spilled this blood for you, hey
I fight the world, I fight you, I fight myself
I fight God, just tell me how many burdens left
I fight pain and hurricanes, today I wept
I’m tryna fight back tears, flood on my doorsteps
Life a livin’ hell, puddles of blood in the streets
Shooters on top of the building, government aid ain’t relief
Earthquake, the body dropped, the ground breaks
The poor run with smoke lungs and Scarface
Who need a hero? (Hero)
You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero
Who on the front lines at ground zero? (Hero)
My heart don’t skip a beat, even when hard times bumps the needle
Mass destruction and mass corruption
The souls of sufferin’ men
Clutchin’ on deaf ears again, rapture is comin’
It’s all prophecy and if I gotta be sacrificed for the greater good
Then that’s what it gotta be.
Perhaps it is better to dream of the places ancestors tread, rather than to go and then realize you lack the kind of preparation, grooming and/or education to adequately address the assembly of elders. Even if you carry the head of the arch enemy in your hand – the king does not take the gift, the assembly gasps. You were expected, yet your arrival is not welcome.
In your dreams you thought someone might have missed you, that there would have been a card next to a place-setting with your name on it. Little boy dreams you squash as you challenge the throne. Love is not something you have been able to depend on, so you do what is dependable: Fight.
If the sojourn has been too long, the people who knew you are gone, the keys have been changed to doors you once entered, currency is different, and of course language, which expands and grows like one’s breath, no longer contains words needed to convey what sits on your heart.
Erik doesn’t know what he wants once he arrives except power, power to replace the vulnerability he has been hiding inside gang-banger bravado for most of his life. Finally home, Erik is too full of angst, anger and pain. He wants to talk, but like a man locked in solitary, his communication skills are fragile and he strikes out just because he is good at inflicting pain, a pain he knows all too well. Again, given the rules Wakanda functions under, was there another way to handle Erik’s return?
When he travels to the land of the ancestors and confronts Dad, T’Chaka admits his error and the mess he has left his son to rectify. The sins of his father do entrap T’Challa. Unfortunately, there is no time to plan, caucus or develop a strategy. Erik shows up demanding the throne. A counter-offer would have been a perfect, one where Erik was welcomed, the errs of his uncle acknowledged and a period of orientation and spiritual cleansing would have helped the returning son clear himself of the anger, rage, hurt and negativity life in the West causes Black people.
Whiteness tends to act as an eraser of Black consciousness. Even in the most Third World of Third World countries there is something wholesome and nourishing about waking up and going to sleep surrounded by people who look just like you. Wakanda is a future we can look forward to. Certainly, the resources for such a kingdom exist, if we could somehow stop the international pillage and intercommunal bloodshed.
But back to Wakanda, a fictional country in East Africa, and the juxtaposition of the two brothers N’Jadaka and the king, T’Challa, who is also the Black Panther.
The film “Black Panther” is without a doubt exciting. Filled with characters little Black boys and little Black girls would want to emulate, the world Wakanda reflects is one where the Black king is god. Black women are warriors, inventors, scientists. This is a world white people have not conquered because it is undervalued. While the royals live in opulence, it looks like the rest of the population are herders. Perhaps this is a cover – I couldn’t tell. The Wakandan intelligence is sophisticated, and like the West their spies are also everywhere involved in humanitarian secret missions and also in proactive defense against known and unknown enemies.
Wakanda is not a democracy. Leadership is inherited; however, it can be challenged in ritual combat by other tribal leaders who do not want to serve Wakandan heirs. The ceremonial preparation and inauguration are magnificent – the costumes (a la Ruth E. Carter), scenic design (a la Hannah Beachler) and the phenomenal cast, which includes Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa-Black Panther, alongside Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis. The actors – all of them, are otherworldly.
Perhaps this is what makes audiences forget Wakanda is not only imaginary – it is based on inequity and presents a false dichotomy. It vilifies the victim and befriends the enemy aka “the colonizer.”
Don’t trust government agents; they will sell you out every time. That is a lesson the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1966-1982) warned against a backdrop of multiple raids, deaths and imprisonment. As King T’Challa sits in the infamous peacock chair, he refuses to allow his cousin, whom he recognizes, speak. Yet, N’Jadaka identifies himself to the royal court. What is T’Challa afraid of? Why does he not welcome his estranged relative home?[i]
At a Huey P. Newton birthday event at the West Oakland Library hosted by Billy X, a speaker suggested Marvel give some proceeds from the film to The Jericho Movement to support political prisoners, many former Black Panthers. The film continues to set milestones in just its third week of release, becoming the third-highest-grossing Marvel film, behind “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” “Black Panther” had already grossed $8.1 million on Monday, Feb. 26, bringing its domestic gross to $411.7 million in just 11 days” (ABC News).
Once the hologram which makes the true Wakanda invisible is disarmed and the secret is out, white characters become a part of the African landscape – a friendly CIA agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) participates in a war between King N’Jadaka aka Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (actor Michael B. Jordan) and King T’Challa[ii] (actor Chadwick Boseman). The epic battle is the beginning of the kingdom’s undoing. Walter Rodney’s classic text “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” (1972) is queried here as we see Wakanda’s intentional low profile blown asunder.
The third world country sits on a mineral powder keg – vibranium, a magical energy source that can do just about anything – power the country, facilitate telecommunications, heal or restore life, act as a shield. We can anticipate how vibranium – like colton in Democratic Republic of the Congo – will make Wakanda the target for international plunder.
Instead of strategic involvement in Black community development, the Wakandan elite invite the enemy into its house. Important secrets are shared with historically unworthy allies. Instead of killing the enemy immediately, King T’Challa as the Black Panther hesitates and lets CIA agent Ross define the terms. Ross meets alone with Ulysses Klaue, the villain. The South African black-market arms dealer, smuggler and gangster, Klaue (actor Andy Serkis) shares secrets with Ross and then escapes.[iii] It is his cousin, N’Jakada who slays Klaue and brings his head to Wakanda. Again, why is not N’Jakada embraced? Why is his appearance met with silence?
Marvel’s Black Panther borrows from the historic Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, yet power is not for “the people.” A select few know where the powder keg lies. Coded secrets populate plans to steal control and conquer the world. White men are greeted as colonizers, yet the new King T’Challa trusts his secrets to a white man he knew when his dad was alive.
The Central Intelligence Agency gets favorable press in “Black Panther.” Funny how spies and infiltration, COINTELPRO, are also dropped into the discourse like olives or pimento in a martini landscape, where the undermining of Blackness is inevitable.
Why is Black power so threatening? Why did the angry Black child have to fight his way home? Why wasn’t the door open for him? Just like other prodigal tales – note Nigerian writer Amos Tutuola’s prescient novel, “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (1954), where a West African boy child is abandoned in a scary forest. He fights many battles, some with wit and others with might, and just like N’Jakada, when he reaches home, only one person recognizes him.
Sunset. Maghrib. The blessing at close of day. Brothers should make peace before the sun sets. It would have been so easy to forgive the wayward son. He was left alone. His avenging the death of his father, N’Jobu, was his right. With family and love he could have helped his people. If a nation was watching, the domestic warfare on Black people would end. It’s the threat of annihilation that makes nations rethink terror. Wakanda is that powerful. Imagine if those in the Diaspora could depend on its support.
Both men, T’Challa and N’Jadaka, honor their ancestors. Sankofa is a bird looking over its shoulder as if it forgot something – in the Akan culture, this Adinkra says that to remember your history, do not forget your past. Besides the bird with an egg in its beak, the Sankofa symbol is also found shaped like a heart.
The heart-shaped herb is central to psychic transport and healing in Wakanda. We see both kings swallow the potion before being buried alive – submerged, the men visit the ancestral realm to find answers to vital questions and for validation.
Our ancestors love us unconditionally. This is something N’Jakada needs when Wakanda is not the welcoming place he’d dreamed of since childhood. For N’Jakada Erik Killmonger Stevens, there is an urgency the other ruler does not feel because he is soft and comfortable. T’Challa has not suffered. Those of us in the wilderness have suffered and are short-tempered and out of patience. In the world Black Panther opens onto there is hostility, betrayal and murder. A child is abandoned, dreams extinguished.
Boseman says in an Atlantic magazine interview that his character, T’Challa, is the enemy: “‘It’s the enemy I’ve always known. It’s power. It’s having privilege. I don’t know if we as African-Americans would accept T’Challa as our hero if he didn’t go through Killmonger, because Killmonger has been through our struggle, and [T’Challa hasn’t]’” (Paur).
Black Panther borrows from the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense yet power is not for “the people.” The memes are jumbled here. The king is not compassionate, he is indecisive and often distracted. He cares what white America thinks. He cares how he looks on the evening news. King T’Challa or the Black Panther is just playing at god; his brother by circumstance is serious. The contrast – that between Black folks in the diaspora and the folks back home, many descendants of the Africans responsible for our capture and exile is greed that fuels civil conflict. Again, look at the DRC. Warfare is a strategy that continues today. The intercontinental racial alliances have not gone away: China owns most of Congo not to mention other parts of Africa; however, so does Germany, France, England, South Africa.
Wakanda presents an opportunity to philosophically mend this riff between Africa and the Black Diaspora. The two kings resonate so strongly within Black audiences because killing and death are endemic in Black community both nationally and internationally. Ironically, both are fueled by the same source: the racialization of capital, raw materials and human resources. Each night a Black child prays for a hero to rescue him or her from certain death if not tonight, tomorrow morning. The young N’Jadaka (actor Seth Carr) cries for his dad N’Jobu (actor Sterling K. Brown). Yet, as the boy slips his father’s signet ring from his finger, he is not surprised the warrior is dead. The battle is internal.
Where is the Mothership the Messenger of Allah spoke of, Sun Ra envisioned in song, and ET actualized? Why does Erik’s Uncle T’Chaka and the counterspy, Zuri, leave the boy behind and never speak of his father again? Townson’s “Brother from Another Planet” and Will Smith’s “I Am Legend” are about as close as Hollywood will let a Black hero get to anything like a happy ending … certainly not happily ever after for Black boys abandoned, isolated and alone, dreams of home extinguished.
What is admirable about the antagonist is his fortitude despite isolation. Soon fatherless and maybe motherless (we are not privy to the backstory) N’Jadaka (or Erik Stevens) teaches himself to be a warrior who would make his Wakandan ancestors proud. He uses the master’s tools to prepare himself at MIT and later as a soldier who is admired and feared by American intelligent forces. The CIA agent tells the King, when N’Jadaka shows up, “He is one of our Negroes.”
Don’t let Black kids walk away from this film thinking it is OK for two strong men (first cousins, whom I reference as “brothers”) to kill each other. The propaganda regarding fratricide, while tangibly thematic to the plot, is not resolved. Why is the king so intent on removing this man? Was he afraid he might eventually lose the battle? If so, why did he carry his wounded brother to the mountainside to see his first and last sunset? When T’Challa begins to suggest perhaps a way for N’Jadaka to live, he is stopped. N’Jadaka tells him that his ancestors spent too much time in the bottom of slaveships for him to ever agree to a life confined.
Kendrick Lamar invited other artists to collaborate with him on his album. In this song, “Seasons,” the artist features South African rapper Sjava who sings in Zulu, which is the language King T’Challa speaks. John Kani, the actor who portrays his father in the film, is also Zulu. Angela Bassett is not Zulu; however, she is a lovely Ramonda, T’Challa and Shuri’s mom.
“Seasons” also features two California rappers: Mozzy and Reason. In this verse, Mozzy sings about “being trapped in a cycle of institutional racism, poverty and violence.” Those aren’t problems that a song or a superhero can solve. But if “Black Panther” had wanted simple comic-book escapism, it wouldn’t have hired Mr. Lamar” (Pareles).
SEASONS (Sung in Zulu and English)
[Verse 2: Mozzy]
I cried when lil’ bruh died
Got high and watched the sunrise
Wiggle on ‘em if it’s one time
They done hung all of my people
I love all of my people
I’m in the slums with all of my people
They tryna tell us that we all equal
We get no justice so it ain’t peaceful, yeah
[If] They can bluff you, they can beat you
… Momma told me there was demons
And she ain’t never lied on her Jesus’
… Trapped in the system, traffickin’ drugs
Modern-day slavery, African thugs
We go to war for this African blood
We go to war for this African blood
When I put n– on, it was all out of love
You was disloyal, can’t call it no love.
What does freedom look like for a people estranged from home a land so far away, it is not even imaginable? Perhaps this is why “Black Panther” is so exciting for so many Black people here and elsewhere. Wakanda is the home so many Black folks psychically long for – its characters seemingly nuanced and accessible. Why don’t African leaders in the tradition of Presidents Ahmad Sekou Toure, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Kambarage Nyerere invite those in the Diaspora to return home?
Set in both Africa and America, the most African town on the West Coast is Oakland – well, in its heyday (smile). New Orleans is hands down Africa in the South. Seventh Street Blues, deFremery Park with Lil Bobby Hutton Grove, the 16th Street Train Station. Coogler says about Oakland: “In the ‘90s, where would be a place where [Erik’s] father, a Wakandan spy, could go to be exposed to these points of view? Not points of view that are radical, but him being a Wakandan and being exposed to these things could lead to the conclusion and the choices that he makes. Oakland was that,” the director revealed before naming Tupac Shakur as a source of inspiration.
“We wanted to bring the energy of Tupac to a Marvel movie,” he added. “That’s where ‘Pac spent a lot of his time. The ‘Pac that we know came from his time in the Bay Area. Black people got to California and the Bay Area from repeated migration, fleeing awful things. And that’s where you saw these organizations [like the Black Panther Party] come from. They ran out of places to run.”
Though two white dudes created the Marvel comics “Black Panther” 52 years ago, surprisingly just a few months before Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded an organization with the same symbol. Uncanny how Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby’s Black Panther character first “appears in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) in what is called the Silver Age of Comic Books, 1956-1970.”
Though the comic series predates the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Black Panther character does not predate the Lowndes County Freedom Party in Alabama, where the Black Panther symbol appears on voting ballots and voting rights leaflets. Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton requested permission from LCFP to use the Black Panther as the symbol for the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.[iv] When the BPP begins to use the Black Panther as well, Lee and Kirby consider using a leopard instead; however, the new character and name doesn’t stick. I am waiting for one or both of the men to come clean about the coincidence.
How do we have a conversation when words are inadequate?
N’Jadaka is fueled by rage. He has wanted to belong. He misses his family. His entire life was spent preparing to claim his birthright. Now that he is face to face with his blood relatives, he can hardly contain his anger. Those in the Diaspora understand his rage. How to temper it is the question when all the boy-child in a man’s body wants to do is rip Wakanda apart and he does. He tells the gardener to burn everything – the fire a reflection of his inner turmoil. With all his study, he could not have imagined the greatness into which he was born. Wakanda lineage plus that of the enslaved Africans together make N’Jadaka a mighty adversary or valuable ally and comrade. Too bad, T’Challa realizes this too late.
Rising from the dead?
T’Challa cheats. He is on life support, technically dead. OK, the film is “Black Panther” and of course the lead has to win – even if scientifically it is a stretch. In the ritual battle, N’Jadaka throws the king off the cliff. Everyone assumes he is dead; however, his ally finds his body and keeps the deposed king frozen so that his vital signs remain stable. Ice is also a material which extinguishes fire or rage. That the king is not dead or that he rises from a comatose state furthers the Easter or Christ mythology – the film is released during Lent season. The dead rise multiple times in the mythic Black Panther. All they need is a shot of vibranium.
Is Black Panther saying to viewers – let’s see you look at race when both the good and bad guys are Black? We even let a CIA agent save the King’s fiancé. We give you a good white guy and a bad white guy. Fair is fair, right? Wrong.
Some of the Wakandan allies know what drives N’Jadaka – they see the unchecked state violence in America. They too question their rulers’ inaction when they know the neocolonial history and how Black people were spread throughout the West to build the colonizers’ power base. Purchasing a few housing projects and showing off a space ship to kids in the same parking lot where N’Jadaka looked up that night and watched his folks leave him behind, will not solve the intrinsic problem in the West nor will arming Black people resolve systemic white supremacy either.
Several characters rattle the cage that surrounds Wakandan elite. Nakia (actress Lupita Nyong’o) rescues women being sexually trafficked. Princess Shuri (actress Letitia Wright), the young scientist, is too smart to not spread her knowledge to other smart youth. Wakanda has access to medical technologies which could cure many ailments and prevent others. When the film ends, we see several possibilities.
Wakanda needs to look at the debt it owes N’Jadaka’s African America. Uncloaking at U.N. Headquarters in Geneva does not undo the harm. The end of the film is not the end of the story nor does it resolve the conflict or rebalance power. T’Challa, the Black Panther, might be able to walk on water, even rise from the dead with the help of heart-shaped flower-power medicine (opiates?); however, the road to forgiveness, reconciliation and reparations between Africa and Diaspora citizens is not resolved by the purchase of a few apartment buildings. To think so is to miss what is a most vital question in this cinematic wonderland.
How could the king knowingly kill his brother and then leave his brother’s child behind? Why didn’t he send anyone for the child? It is the Frankenstein story. The monster is the scientist, not the creature he creates. The creature just wants love. What he incites is fear because he is so ugly. Killmonger incites fear. As the moniker implies, the warrior is a killing machine, the scarification on his body for everyone killed makes others look away. He is seen as a beast, uncivilized, something to be stopped, not a man with a heart capable of reason.
Killmonger is stopped or at least it looks that way. However, he will not go away because he lives and walks among us. For Black Americans, revolution remains on our minds. It would be helpful if Wakanda were really on our side – hope Africa is listening.
And for the badass sisters … Wakanda might have T’Challa as Black Panther, but I read that when he was injured, his kid sister Shuri stepped up and took over as Black Panther. Reminds me of Elaine Brown, who was chairwoman of the BBP (1974-77). Watch out! It might be worth it to read “Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection.” Here is a list of the other collections: “5 Black Panther Comics to Read Before You See the Movie.”
Michael B. Jordan “Just Wants to Watch the World Burn.” This is a great interview with Jordan, the actor who portrays the antagonist, N’Jadaka Erik “Killmonger” Stevens.
In this article, “The Evolution of Marvel’s Black Panther,” there is great background on the Marvel comic series, especially how the Black Panther character was renamed “Leopard” for a minute. The creators did not want their character to be confused with the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. They did not have a position on the BPP one way of the other, creators’ state in a recent interview.
There is also info on the first Black writer for the series, “Black Panther by Christopher Priest: The Complete Collection Vol. 1” (62 issues) up to Ta-Nehisi Coates (4 issues). In Coates series, “Black Panther: World of Wakanda,” there are also writers like Roxane Gay, who writes the prequel to “A Nation Under Our Feet,” “in which the origins of two members of Wakanda’s elite all-woman soldier squad known as the Dora Milaje are explored.” The article, “Evolution of Marvel’s Black Panther” looks at the social evolution of the character and the language associated with Africa. It was Tarzan, jungles and savages then.
[i] I am reminded of another sojourn, that depicted in Amos Tutuola’s (1920-1997) “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” (1954), the story of a young boy separated from his older brother in the bush and his many adventures as he tries to find his way back home. When he stumbles out of the forest into the light, his mother doesn’t know him, but an uncle or his brother does and welcomes him home.
[ii] Also the Black Panther
[iii] Historically, white men have shown they are allies even when on opposite sides of the battlefield. It is no different here. The audience sees Steven’s eyes glaze over as he sees the Wakandan enemy as an ally with information he can use.
This is a fun video about a screening in Accra, West Africa. The hosts are African Americans in Ghana.