written by Kiara Williams
It’s been a cultural movement since its announcement, and to finally see the excitement come to fruition has been beautiful.
Welcome to Wakanda.
SPOILERS UNDER THE CUT.
We got a glimpse of Wakanda at the end of Civil War, but it wasn’t enough to prepare me for the trip that Ryan Coogler and his cast and crew took me on when I went to see Black Panther. I don’t think anyone who has seen it so far has been prepared. The African influences mixed with vibranium technology were a sight to behold. Wakanda felt like a tangible place, due to both the beautiful and detailed environment design and the people who live in its world. Wakanda looked like paradise at first glance, but audiences watching Black Panther quickly learned that its story is about the country’s imperfections, and the consequences of Wakanda’s past mistakes.
Enter the newly crowned King T’Challa.
T’Challa may be royalty, but he never once looks down on the people around him. He values the views of the people around him, and he functions as part of his community rather than above it in order to gain insight into what needs to be done to help the world and also right the wrongs of his country’s past. By the end of the movie, I honestly don’t think T’Challa hates Killmonger, even after he attempted to take his home from him. Throughout the movie, T’Challa’s understanding of Killmonger’s anger only deepens. He doesn’t question Killmonger’s actions, but his father’s instead, demanding to know why T’Chaka simply didn’t bring the young Erik Stevens home. Killmonger is nothing more than the monster Wakanda created.
Black Panther is also a story about tradition versus evolution, a theme that fits right at home with African diaspora and immigrants of other nations and ethnicities, who often have to choose between the advancing world and their families who stay stuck in their ways. Wakanda has lied to the entire world for centuries in order to protect what’s theirs, making them the most technologically advanced country the world has ever known. But what happened to those in the rest of the world who were left behind?
Enter one Erik Killmonger.
The crimes committed against Erik Stevens by Wakanda were not ones made to the rest of the world. Instead of indirect neglect, Wakanda directly harmed Erik when T’Chaka killed his father and left him to fend for himself in America instead of bringing him to Wakanda. Erik was willingly left behind, sacrificed in order to protect tradition, forced to grow up in an America with over-policed black people and a justice system that knew no justice if one’s skin was too dark. He grew up in this America, knowing that a country existed that could help but wouldn’t. Who wouldn’t grow up with a grudge after having everything they knew taken from them? When Erik knew that tools existed to help underprivileged people like him around the world, but the people who owned those tools refused to use them?
T’Challa grew up learning how to seek peace. Erik only knew how to gain power through war. Black Panther delivered a complex and beautiful story about T’Challa’s growth into someone who sees the consequences of being without help, without an ounce of power to fight back. By the end of the movie, he begins to lead Wakanda into an era of much-needed change. But T’Challa’s cousin wasn’t the only person to be a catalyst for change in his life.
Praise be to Ryan Coogler for the women of Wakanda! There’s not a single woman shown in Wakanda who doesn’t have both skill and power. Princess Shuri designed most of the technology in Wakanda, including both Black Panther suits shown in the movie. Nakia is a spy who gathers intelligence on other countries while also saving those in danger. She could have an entire kingdom, but would rather save others in trouble with the skills she has. Okoye is a general who is willing to leave her friends in order to stick to her duty. There were also multiple female tribal leaders, and many of T’Challa’s ancestors on the ancestral plane were women. All the Wakandan women are given such diverse characters and personalities that it made my black heart sing. There’s even a section where Nakia, Shuri, and Ramonda take the plot into their own hands in order to save Wakanda after T’Challa had presumably died. They fought when the “superhero” of the story failed, albeit temporarily. Very rarely does a movie give us any dark-skinned black women to idolize, and within two hours, this movie had given us several.
As mentioned before, Killmonger wasn’t the only one who wanted to spread Wakandan support to other nations. Nakia starts off the movie trying to convince T’Challa to lend aid to the underprivileged. She cannot stay in Wakanda when she has seen so many others who need help. I’ve seen many others claim that Killmonger was right to try and create war across the world by sending weapons everywhere that black people could use to cause an uprising. Erik wanted to burn everything to the ground, but Nakia wanted to help the world grow. Nakia was right. T’Challa takes Nakia’s lead and brings her with him to reveal Wakanda’s power to the world.
The film is titled Black Panther to get your attention, but it’s really the story of Wakanda. The film shines a light on Wakanda’s past and present while showing a path to a hopeful future, both in the Marvel universe and the real world – a future of growth, unity, support across communities around the world, and a future that’s black as hell.
My trip to Wakanda was the most fulfilling I’ve had in a very long time, a trip that sparked joy and celebration across the global black community, and I can’t wait to go back.