by Khaleb Khazari-El, CounterVortex [http://countervortex.org/node/15847] // And Wakanda manages to be futuristic while true to an indigenous African spirit—a vision of what a technological society could look like if free of the distorting forces of the global leviathan.
The contrast with the real world is sobering. Across too much of Africa, mineral resources merely fuel local wars, while the wealth flows to corporate headquarters in the United States and Europe—obvious examples being coltan in the Democratic Republic of Congo and “blood diamonds” in Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone. And the idealistic liberation leadership was followed by figures who often exploited anti-colonial rhetoric and imagery for their own oppressive power—such as Idi Amin, and Mobutu Sese Seko, who renamed Congo “Zaire” in a bogus play to nationalism while conniving with ex-colonial power Belgium.
Wakanda is plausibly African right down to the language. Instead of gibberish as a stand-in for an African tongue, we get to hear a real one: Xhosa, spoken by some 10 million in South Africa. This isn’t necessarily geographically correct—Wakanda is supposed to be in East Africa. The name obviously invokes Uganda and Rwanda, and a brief map shot confirms this location. But the dominant languages of East Africa are primarily Bantu, and Xhosa is also a Bantu tongue, if a distantly related one. Certainly a forgivable stretch. (Wakanda’s written script is based on Nsibidi, a writing system developed some 400 years ago in the Calabar region of Nigeria.)
And the movie’s several woman characters are all kick-ass warriors and brilliant scientists—not a scream-queen or vamp among the lot.
Now for the bad news…
Black Panther ultimately doesn’t dare to deviate from certain acceptable moral precepts of the (white-defined) mainstream, and here is where it gets into trouble. Wakanda has survived by withdrawing from the world—an African Shangri-La. At the beginning, Wakandan secret agents are shown carrying out a mission to rescue abducted girls from Boko Haram in Nigeria. But it is portrayed as a deep-cover operation, and the Wakandan leadership at times sound openly xenophobic. The utopia is basically isolationist. And newly crowned King T’Challa (the eponymous Black Panther, played by Chadwick Boseman) accepts this.
The bad guy, meanwhile, is a pan-African revolutionary. Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) would have Wakanda export revolution—with technology and weaponry—across the continent and its diaspora. In an obvious nod to the real-life Black Panthers, he is born in Oakland, son of a rogue Wakandan agent bent on armed Black resistance in the United States. He challenges T’Challa for the throne, and to make clear he’s a really bad guy, he talks about killing the children of his enemies—indeed, committing genocide. Even remotely implying that the real-life Panthers were such moral monsters is an unacceptable calumny.