In just 4 days, Black Panther has grossed over 400 million dollars in the box office; (0% of which it earned in the opening weekend itself. Its 370 million dollar debut has made it the 15th highest grossing film in its opening weekend. Commercial success apart, the movie has received widespread critical acclaim, with critics praising the movie’s characters, storyline, and the actors…pretty much everything. From personal experience, I can easily make the claim that the movie is worth more than one watch. The graphics are incredible, the cinematography is stunning, the acting is beyond par, and the storyline is tight and kept interesting. The movie has just enough humour to give it the sensation of a Marvel movie, but not so much that it takes away from its main themes. Themes, yes. A movie starring mostly Black actors (there are literally two white actors in the entire movie), directed by a Black director, and released smack in the middle of Black History Month deserves to be talked about. Not just because of its critical and commercial success, but because of the aforementioned themes it represents.
Black Panther may aim to depict a fully developed African country, but there are Easter eggs, references in the movie that point to a darker past. For instance, Oakland, where the movie starts, is predominantly famous for having birthed the Black Panther movement (as the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby have made it abundantly clear, the character has absolutely no relation to the movement). The intention of mentioning Oakland, is perhaps to bring attention to the Afro-American struggle for rights. The portrayal of the African country of Wakanda, however, is starkly different from how African countries have been portrayed otherwise. Of course, based off of the comics, Wakanda is a fully developed, even futuristic country that developed around the Vibranium meteorite. Vibranium, which is the strongest metal known to man, is not only used to power Wakanda’s technology and weapons, but also consumed as the “heart shaped herb” that grants them their strength. Wakanda passes itself off as a run-of-the-mill African third world country, and because that is the perception of African countries in any case, concealment becomes easy.
Wakanda is, in many ways the antithesis of every other African country that has been depicted fictionally. You have female warriors, scientists, and spies. You have advanced technology that is being used to help the people of the country. You have a monarch, yes, one who is kind, just, and fair. Wakanda is, without a doubt the most developed country in the world; a haven for equality, progress, and science. On the other hand, you also have the rich African culture. You have traditional dances, ceremonies, and a little bit of superstition. Wakanda doesn’t move away from its traditional African roots, but it understands the importance of growth and change. It doesn’t shun technology; it incorporates it into its existing way of life. In many ways, Wakanda is similar to Themyscira; hidden, happy, harmonious. Of course, like any other country in the world, Wakanda has its share of problems, but its peoples are happier, more prosperous than the world in general.
Wakanda is also markedly different from the reality of African countries today. There isn’t poverty, illiteracy, war, starvation or mindless killing in Wakanda. Maybe this is a stretch; maybe it isn’t. Maybe it isn’t realistic at all, but it is hopeful and powerful and beautiful. It gives black people a superhero, and a voice. Wakanda shows how countries should live; Wakanda also shows that maybe, just maybe, the world shouldn’t generalise African countries in one big lump, and draw conclusions about it. Black Panther teaches the world how important it is to share knowledge and resources. It talks about helping those who need it, and perhaps that is the biggest thing to take away from this movie. There’s a lot a “small, farming nation” can do. Black Panther celebrates African culture, and by doing so, marks its place in the Black History Month. Not just this year, but forever. In a world where African countries are called “shitholes”, Black Panther and Wakanda play an important role in changing that impression. Black Panther may be a lot of things, but it’s also a tribute to Black history and heritage, not just in America, but for all African peoples.