Black Panther’s Wakanda Will Stay With Us Forever

Graphic by Bernadette Berdychowski

Graphic by Bernadette Berdychowski

Cocooned in the bosom of two monolithic mountains lies the most technologically advanced human civilization on record: Wakanda.

This fictional nation from director Ryan Coogler’s, Black Panther, is self-sustaining and isolationist. Which is fine, because the city is all-encompassing with eccentrically curved skyscrapers, a magnetic-levitation and hyperloop transit system, ethereal usage of flora, a plethora of ethnic diversity from the individual tribes of the state, and a noble philosopher king.

Philosopher King T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman, is also the Black Panther, the superhero guardian of Wakanda. His powers include super-strength and near indestructible skin. Time has ranked him as the richest superhero of all time. He has an estimated net worth of $90.7 trillion. The next contender, Tony Stark, has a net worth of $12.4 billion. T’Challa’s power is checked-and-balanced by the rulers of the Border, Mining, Merchant, and River tribes.

Wakanda’s wealth is due to vibranium. Vibranium is a miracle metal that is used to heal, build virtually every tool the Wakandans use, and it inspires the creative genius of sixteen-year-old princess and tech-overlord, Shuri (Letitia Wright).

Upheaval encroaches upon Wakanda through the usurper, Killmonger. Actor Michael B. Jordan brings a handsome ruggedness to threaten Wakandan isolationism with extremist black nationalism. His performance invokes the violent liberationism of the mid-1900s Black Panther Party. Killmonger dethrones T’Challa dramatically by throwing him away. However, the Philospher King is resurrected by the Queen Mother (Angela Basett) and must fight to win back his throne, and Wakanda’s serenity.

Wakanda represents the culmination of ideas about the future of African civilization had it not been subject to European colonialism and exploitation.

Killmonger’s liberationism seems plucked from the cultural milieu of overcriminalization, institutional oppression, and structural racism that plagues Western society today. T’Challa’s isolationism seems to be a response in lieu of the Back To Africa Movements, like Black Zionism, Rastafarianism and the Nation of Islam.

In the end, Killmonger is defeated. However, on the insistence of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and the promise of her hand in marriage, T’Challa is moved to enact a series of improvement projects to end black poverty, imprisonment, and improve black livelihood around the world. This ending, a gentle unity of the two polarizing ideals, is almost as enjoyable as the Amazonian presence of General Okoye (Danai Gurira).

Critics agree that Black Panther has transcended the black cultural experience. With an international box office success of over $1 billion, Black Panther has broken free of its black cultural context and become universally acclaimed. But, all this is due, not to T’Challa or Killmonger, but to Wakanda. Wakanda represents the culmination of ideas about the future of African civilization had it not been subject to European colonialism and exploitation. This also makes Wakanda the epitome of Afrofuturism: the pop-cultural zeitgeist of African Americans. This ethos is echoed in all reviews that move past the superlative humdrum.

What has not been said, however, is how Wakanda feeds into a human spiritual need: the need for connection. Wakanda has become a shared culture because of its intrepid and innocent venture into a reality that is communally wished to be true: a reality in which slavery did not happen. Black Panther’s context is a psychologization of the communal distaste between people who are forced to confront the history of slavery. Wakanda is the perfect cross-cultural escapism.

By spiritualizing Wakanda in this way, it becomes infused with a power to unite opposites. This power is a force of attraction between the collective desire to excise oneself of a tainted history. Only Jesus Christ has ever perfectly achieved such a quintessential union.

I don’t know if Coogler would agree with my spiritualization of Wakanda, but among the Osage, Kaw, Omaha, Quapaw, and Ponca Native American tribes, the term Wakanda means God.