Wakanda, the fictional nation that came to life for thousands of people all over the world who were lucky enough to watch Black Panther. This Marvel breakout film was finely woven to illustrate how a different culture and politics can still have an impact in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Although a fictional story, I think it contains two underlying truths that African leaders would do well to grasp.
Before I start, it’s worth noting that its’ not very often the world gets to see a Blockbuster film with a majority black cast. Not that Nollywood isn’t great, but from seeing films with majority white casts, where black characters are often stereotyped, the sidekick or simply killed off first (horror fans know what I mean)- to seeing a film that focusses on a Black nation’s King then you’ll appreciate why black people feel so gassed (for want of a better word) about this film!
The film was similar to the January 20th 2009 Obama moment because for black people around the world an inescapable sense of hope consumed our imaginations.
Nonetheless, this article will spend less time on the racial elements of Black Panther, but instead, focus on the lessons that were taught by watching a technologically advanced African nation so seamlessly blend culture, morality and politics.
Lesson 1: Don’t Forget the Past
Black Panther’s villain, Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger, was a product of his environment. His father’s radical politics got him murdered by his own brother, former King T’Chaka of Wakanda. Killmonger (N’Jadaka), now left fatherless, had a new vengeance for his cousin, the Black Panther, so his journey to the Wakanda throne began.
What this can teach us is the importance of understanding history because if you try to forget the past it can come back to haunt you, seen clearly on the face of Forest Whitaker’s Zuri when he discovered that the royal child was alive. Killmonger reminded the watching world of how historical atrocities such as colonialism have had a negative impact on Africa and the diaspora, and his passion for black global liberation directly stems from his grievances of oppressive white supremacy. Although his approach was, somewhat, extreme his reasoning was perfectly logical. The contrast with T’Challa and N’Jadaka’s politics reminded me of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X respectively, where in reality a combination of both of these leader’s philosophies led to black liberation around the world.
Current African leaders would do well to remember the pre and post-colonial mistakes of the past to prevent the exploitative systems that encouraged Wakanda’s to hide their resources from the world. Wakanda’s were right to be cautious, as over the last 134 years they would have watched their neighbouring African countries being methodically divided into controllable segments for the financial gain of immoral white Europeans. This lust for finance resulted in the literal rape, looting and pillaging of indigenous societies. Wakanda did not want this fate.
Although Africa’s current exploitative systems are not as blatant as the “ancestors who came and took stuff” as Killmonger so excellently put in the museum scene, Africa is still faced with economic exploitation. A hybrid of neo-colonialism and neo-liberal partnerships that leave the African people left to pay the consequences, whilst a small elite reap the rewards.
Africa’s history is like no other continent, so a conscious effort of combatting all forms of exploitation should be given the gravitas it deserves – or else mistakes of the past can come back to bite.
Lesson 2: Meritocracy rules
In the mystical land of Wakanda meritocracy rules. At first, this may seem unconventional considering the nation is ruled by a sovereign King, but at closer inspection to how the King (Black Panther) is chosen, meritocracy is the only word I can think of describing the system. Although the Black Panther role is automatically passed down through heredity lines any citizen of Wakanda is able to challenge the potential new Black Panther in a ritual combat for the throne.
Winston Duke’s M’Baku unsuccessfully challenged for the kingship. It was comforting watching the spirit of former King T’Chaka appease his son’s, T’Challa, anxieties about being the new Black Panther by saying he’s studied and trained for the role all of his life. Whilst hearing that, I imagined a world where the best person for the job gets it, a world where hard work pays off, and where harnessed skill is valued. Although most African nations are democratically free and fair, the degree of this varies quite dramatically, and one of the factors that prevent a more meritocratic political system is nepotism. In Wakanda anyone who thinks he or she is capable of leading their country is given the opportunity to do so, with the metric of success being fighting prowess. With this, the best person truly wins, shown by Michael B Jordan’s Killmonger being crowned the Black Panther.
However, this greatly contrasts the nepotism borderline autocracies that are rife in many parts of African politics. Africa being home to more than half of the top 20 longest-serving political leaders in the world, highlights the lengths some leaders go to hold on to power. Yet in the world of Wakanda although power is centralised, cultural politics has a great influence- seen by people respecting the result of the generally unfavourable new King T’Chaka.
As former King T’Chaka put “it’s hard for a good man to be a king” meaning African leaders who really want to make a new kind of politics, one based on equality of opportunity, should be prepared for the systematic adversity they’ll receive ( both internally and externally).
One of the things people of the diaspora, or just people of the world, can do is be prepared to recognise and encourage those good Kings when they arise.
Chijioke Anosike TWN Editor