Black Panther and Anti-Colonialism

In my view, Black Panther might very well be the best Marvel film ever—a stance the majority of moviegoers seem to agree with, given its astounding critical and commercial success. The movie’s strengths are many. It’s a compelling story about two black men on opposite sides who both want what’s best for their people. Its diverse range of characters and its lush environments work to portray its setting as a living, breathing, and evolving entity. Black Panther celebrates black identity while pointing to the injustices of history and the daunting challenge of fighting to change things. But one point that sticks out to me in particular is the way it holds a mirror up to reflect our ugly assumptions on the effects of colonialism in the world.

These days, I think the majority of people have been taught that colonialism was responsible for a lot of harm in the world. Whether it was the slave trade, the subjugation of subordination of entire peoples, or just the exploitation of resources, European nations forcing other cultures to conform to their “superior” standards left scars around the world. At the same time, the general narrative states that, while these were certainly problems, there were ultimately many positives to the whole endeavor. Technology progressed, especially with the industrial revolution. Cultural exchange became commonplace (albeit in a lopsided manner). Europe, i.e. white people, gave the world much, and we’re supposed to believe that it was for the best.

Black Panther calls out that notion of Europe being the birthplace of modern technology somehow justifying its conquering ways. The film is set primarily in Wakanda, an old African nation founded on a near-endless supplies of the miracle metal known as “vibranium.” Because of this advantage, Wakanda developed isolated from the rest of the world while also advancing science and technology to the point of surpassing every other country on Earth. In other words, Wakanda is an African nation entirely without white influence. The image of the “native” or the poor African villager who wears donated t-shirts and jeans does not exist here, as that is founded on the persistent idea that European influence removed the “savagery” of Africa, that African cultural markers are backwards and embraced merely out of inertia or personal history.

Instead, Wakanda is a place where technology and tradition walk hand in hand. So when characters are dressed in non-Western clothing surrounded by soaring skyscrapers unlike any other, it is not presented as some kind of incongruous image. When T’Challa the Black Panther engages in ritual combat for the throne the day after he got off his cloaked airship, it feels completely natural. Moreover, because Wakanda has never tried to conquer or control other nations, this means its growth and development did not come from pillaging other cultures. Black Panther and its portrayal of Wakanda run counter to the narrative that what colonialism did was perhaps necessary for us to get to a better world. While not without its own problems (and in fact its isolationist policies are a major plot point in the film), it gives people of all races and histories the opportunity to look an alternative world and to imagine a better tomorrow.

Wakanda, vibranium, and the Black Panther might all be fictional, but they have the power to inspire thought and action. Could we ever reach a place where the world progresses without the seeming need to exploit others? The only way to find out is to try and make it happen.

4 thoughts on “Black Panther and Anti-Colonialism

  1. Out of curiosity, are you retarded?

    The moral of Black Panther is that a capitalist colonialism is the coolest thing ever. T’Challa starts out the movie as an extreme parody of a political isolationist. His whole character arch is about him realizing that nations should spread their technology and culture. It’s a fitting message for the Walt Disney Company, seeing as they exist to spread their shallow culture around the world.

    Your shallow analysis of a shallow movie is exactly what Disney likes to see. Keep padding their pockets, dork.


    • There’s a difference between spreading technology and culture, and oppressing or erasing people using those elements. It’s clear to me that T’Challa by the end seeks to do the former without incurring the later. Killmonger’s perspective provides a valid counterpoint, because the pain he feels is partly a product of an oppressed people, which presents T’Challa’s desire as a noble one, but not an easy one.

      I’m not going to deny that Disney is a company that tries to push it’s brand and image the world over, and that it does often play it safe, but it’s not like every film they make carries the same message. Excess capitalism is its own demon, but that doesn’t prevent Black Panther from being story about black defiance of a historically white narrative.


  2. Black Panther Message is pretty much muddled by it’s own narrative: it happens too in Django Unchained(2012), a movie that too intends to empower black people and their place in the world througth their history. A careful and serious analysis of the script and dialogues in Black Panther, makes this difficult to take seriously. Afterall, it is done to fit to a certain audience, and the play between the two foes (hero and villain) is downplayed ultimately by denying Wakanda’s isolationism. In a way, Wakanda is a desirable fantasy: if Africa had developed an advanced society, with powerful tech, and plenty of local resources to boot? What the movie hand waves (and most Hollywood movies do anyway) is that technology and society advancement requires effort, and a certain work ethic, paired with a culture that rewards that effort. I don’t like movies that deny autocritical thinking to its intended audience: many black cinema director have called out (and criticized) on the blackxploitation genre and derivatives, ultimately because it justifies the gang culture and the inferiority complex and superficial values portrayed. That negativism or black-centric depiction of what “should be a black person” portrayed in movies is subtly present in many movies. In a way, that is also present in the Black Panther movie, in which tries to set a role model of what a black superhero is, and how he relates to his people. It is interesting to note that Wakanda’s technology and society is pretty much a projection of what WASP (or in broader terms, white )utopian societies were depicted in many fiction works, be it in cinema or literature, or any other mediums. This is why, in many levels, we can’t seem to shake the feeling of the white dominance as they, in fact, have developed orderly societies, in which technology is prevalent due to a relative lack of resources (which are obtained by conquest or by better tech). Black people can’t boast about having a comparable success in Africa (which makes Wakanda ever more a power fantasy), and seeing other different ethnic cultures (such as Asian people, that once upon a time were considered backwards compared to the West, or even the Latino comunities, with his strong sense of family and will to success in NorthAmerican soil) thriving economically, learning to make use of the cultural, economic and scientific advancement brought in by the West, makes this a hefty jab to what they themselves want, or believe to be entitled to be. It is a harsh world, and in a country as competitive as EEUU, there’s little to no room to complacency. I see their situation as an opportunity to a profound debate inside the black community, in which they will need to review his own ethnic culture as a whole. Will they continue to long after a long gone African roots, or they will embrace NorthAmerican culture fully, trying to modify their self image as well changing how the other ethnic communities see them, in a conscious effort to achieve this, and reviewing critically the consecuences of positive discrimination in social politics? This remains to be seen, but at least, there are prominent and influential black people calling for this (such as Morgan Freeman). By the way, I find movies such ” 7 souls” depict a working narrative to achieve that (and without neglecting a view of problems of the working class in America).

    Well, excuse me my overly long rant, but I think there should be a critical view on how we use our view on Black people as to “protect” them or “enable” them. I find them to be resourceful people, and they should be freed of our expectations, able to adapt to a world in which capitalism thrives (which was born in Europe, but it is now a global form of how we make commerce and manage resources, labor and interchange). Africa, and many of the Afroamerican communities will have a chance to flourish, I’m sure, but not without drastic cultural and behavioral changes. In fact, there is a second ” colonization ” going on in Africa: China is building roads, bridges, hospitals in exchange for resources, and the ability to sell their cheap goods in masse. What I don’t see still, is a cultural exchange, and democracy and civil societies in Africa are still on its infancy… but there’s hope to that happening in the future, if they choose to, and willfully work towards that prospect (avoiding whatever blocks the West or China could throw to them, they may be profitable partners but with vested interests in their domination, for their rich resources. )

    This is why I can’t see Black Panther as more than mere entertainment, pandering to its audience in some ways. To think that the movie truly empowers how the Black people in Northamerica see as themselves is merely, in my opinion, a disservice. Barring that, the movie makes works sufficiently as intended (superhero movie) and forgiving certain incongruences in the script, it is perfectly enjoyable in a Sunday evening.

    Lambda out. ( and sorry again for my shameless rant).


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