Here Are The Top 5 Political Themes Found In 'Wakanda Forever'
The blockbuster Black Panther sequel hits on everything from neocolonialism to Black and brown alliances.
November 23, 2022 at 4:55 pm
Like its 2018 predecessor, ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever‘ has been a phenomenon. The Marvel film, which grossed an estimated $330 million globally during its opening weekend, had fans mourning the loss of star Chadwick Boseman while rooting for Wakanda and the underwater nation of Talokan simultaneously. The movie has launched two highly-anticipated new Rihanna songs, renewed Oscar hopes for co-star Angela Bassett, and even spawned some raunchy NSFW memes.
Aside from its pop culture influences, ‘Wakanda Forever’ has also inspired new conversations about the history and present status of western imperialism, colonization and racism and how these systems of exploitation continue to impact various Black, indigenous and people of color.
Here are five ways – major spoilers included – in which ‘Wakanda Forever’ dips into real world politics.
White supremacy pits us against one another
In depicting the conflict between Wakanda and the underwater, indigenous Mesoamerican civilization of Talokan, the movie addresses an uncomfortable reality; the ways in which white supremacy can pit various minority or marginalized populations against one another. In the movie, the two societies have no initial hostility against one another but are driven into conflict as they take different approaches to protecting their own society against western imperialism. Journalist Touré remarked about this plotline, questioning “Why is so much of ‘Wakanda Forever’ about a war between Black and brown people—a POC war???”
Why is so much of Wakanda Forever about a war between Black and brown people—a POC war??? Seriously??? In a world where we see Western powers trying to steal from and destabilize Wakanda? Why not have them go fight the real enemy??? https://t.co/F1W3LKFD5z
— Touré (@Toure) November 18, 2022
In real life, several instances of such conflicts have raised fears about cracking solidarity. The Los Angeles City Council was rocked by scandal when several members were recorded making racist comments against Black and indigenous people. And the current Supreme Court cases challenging college admissions policies have been filed on behalf of Asian American student activists but sponsored by a conservative white opponent of Affirmative Action. Meanwhile, the films conclusion, in which the two warring nations put aside their differences and ally, reflects a long history of BIPOC allyship that continues.
Long history of western nations destabilizing countries
In one of the few scenes in the movie that doesn’t feature anyone from Wakanda or Talokan, a group of high-ranking U.S. government officials – including the villainous head of the CIA – discuss plans for America to destabilize the Wakandan government. Meanwhile, a western power, strongly implied to be France, is seen sending in mercenaries to attempt to steal Wakandan vibranium from one of the country’s scientific outposts.The U.S. has a long, documented history of overthrowing governments in order to install more American-friendly alternatives. An early example of this is Hawaii, which was an independent kingdom until Americans backed a coup against its monarchy, paving the way for it becoming a US territory and eventually a state. Later, after the formation of the CIA, the US played an active role in overthrowing the governments of countries such as Iran, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Vietnam. More recently, the U.S. has been actively involved in regime change in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.
France, once one of the major colonial powers in Africa, has maintained close influence over French-speaking countries in the region and often intervenes in a variety of ways. French influence includes trade, money (the CFA franc, a currency tied to the French franc and now to the Euro, is still used in over a dozen African countries and criticized as being “a colonial currency”). French involvement also includes military intervention. French peacekeepers have intervened in countries such as Mali, Central African Republican and Cote d’Ivoire. French mercenaries, like the deceased Bob Denard, have also been involved in various attempts to overthrow African governments, even as France denied any official involvement in such operations. Given this history, a modern-day plot to overthrow the monarchy in Wakanda does not seem so far-fetched. For an American blockbuster film, its biting critique of American interventionism hits hard.
Western exploitation of natural resources
In the movie, the U.S. and France are both after vibranium, the fictional precious metal that powers the technology of Wakanda and Talokan. In reality, European colonialism heavily exploited Africa for its natural resources, and even now, most African countries’ economies are still oriented towards exporting minerals and agricultural products to the west. In Latin America, where Talokan is located in the film, the United States often interfered to overthrow sovereign governments and install new leaders friendly to American business interests. These businesses included corporations like the United Fruit Company, now known as Chiquita, which had major investments in growing bananas and other crops in these nations. This process was so common that the term “banana republic” was coined to refer to these fruit-growing countries that were politically dominated and destabilized by the United States.
Theft of Black and women’s technology
In one of the film’s quieter moments, Shuri and Riri Williams, two super-intelligent young Black women who eventually become the heroes Black Panther and Ironheart, respectively – have a conversation about what it means “to be young, gifted and Black,” borrowing a phrase coined by Lorraine Hansberry and used by artists including Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. In the film, Williams drives the movie’s plot, as the CIA’s theft of her vibranium detector device sets off the conflicts within the film. This plot echoes the many examples in which women and people of color have had their discoveries, technologies and sometimes even their own bodies expropriated for “science” while being denied appropriate credit or recognition. Examples range from scientists and mathematicians Christine Darden, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson Dorothy Vaughan, who inspired the movie Hidden Figures, to Henrietta Lacks, whose extraordinary cells have been used in biological research for decades.
The Haitian Revolution, the Black freedom movement and Pan-Africanism
The Black Panther franchise has been an extraordinary showcase of African cultures as well as a celebration of Pan Africanism, the unity and shared struggle of people of African descent on the continent, as well as in the Americas, Caribbean and around the world. Keeping with this theme, the new movie has several scenes set in Haiti, whereT’Challa’s partner Nakia has relocated after the events of the first movie. One last spoiler warning if you haven’t yet seen the movie all the way to the end. In the mid-credits scene of the film, Shuri returns to Haiti, where Nakia introduces her to the young Prince T’Challa, the son of Nakia and the deceased king. The prince first introduces himself by his “Haitian name” Toussaint. This is a direct reference to Toussaint Louverture, a formerly enslaved Haitian who became the leader of the Haitian Revolution and helped to free that country from slavery and colonial rule, establishing it as the world’s first Black republic. Long after his death at the hands of the French. Toussaint and Haiti inspired freedom fighters across the Caribbean and Latin America, in the United States, and in Africa.
These are just some of the political messages and themes that run throughout Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Like the first film, the cast and crew have put together a sequel that mixes emotion, action, and deep political and social reflections that linger long after the movie is over. As moviegoers enjoy the film, it will hopefully – as is the case for many powerful works of art – spark larger conversations about our past and present.