The excitement over the upcoming Black Panther movie has been so great that the Black Panther movie has also set a new record for advance ticket sales for a Marvel movie. One reason for the excitement is that this is a movie that defies many stereotypes about Africa and African people. The story is set in Wakanda, a fictional African country that is the most technologically advanced country in the world. Given the relative lack of strong and empowering images of African people in film, one can certainly understand the excitement about this film. I would argue that another reason why this film is significant is that the Black Panther character is one that addresses serious political issues concerning Africa’s relationship to the West that is very rarely given the serious attention that it deserves.
The Black Panther was first introduced in Fantastic Four # 52. In this story the Fantastic Four are invited to Wakanda by the Black Panther. On the very first page of the comic the Thing expresses his surprise that “some refugee from a Tarzan movie” posses advanced technology like an aircraft. Even in the world of Marvel comics where aircrafts and other high-tech gadgets are very commonplace, Africa is still seen as the backwards and underdeveloped place that is depicted in Tarzan films.
In the Black Panther comics Wakandans are at times portrayed as being very suspicious towards outsiders, to the point of almost being xenophobic. In one story the Avengers learn that the Black Panther owned joined the team so that he could spy on them. The Avengers are superheroes who regularly save the world from all sorts of threats, but for the Black Panther no outsider can truly be trusted where Wakanda’s security is concerned.
Wakanda is a nation that is always guarded and prepared for a potential attack from outside nations. The Black Panther has good reason to be suspicious given that his father was killed by foreigners who were seeking to exploit Wakanda’s natural resources. Wakanda has also been subjected to multiple invasions. In one comic Wakanda is invaded by white supremacist super villains from the Republic of Azania, which is a fictional version of South Africa.
In another comic Doctor Doom, the dictator of a fictional European country, invades Wakanda to overthrow the royal family and to secure Wakanda’s main resource, a fictional metal known as vibranium. In Marvel’s fictional world Wakanda may have managed to avoid being colonized, but Wakanda is still very much a target of neo-colonial forces that seek to topple Wakanda’s government for the purpose of exploiting Wakanda’s resources.
The real world parallel to this is obviously the numerous examples of governments that have been toppled due to outside meddling in African politics. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup that was supported by the United States. The governments of the United States and Belgium were both plotting the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, and both governments supported the dictator who replaced Lumumba after he was assassinated. Thomas Sankara was assassinated in a coup that was supported by the French and yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio who was replaced by a French supported dictator in Togo.
Wakanda and the Black Panther may be fictional, but the politics displayed in the Black Panthers comics are very real. The end of colonialism did not end Western tampering in Africa’s politics. We see this issue still going on in Africa today where dictators such as Faure Gnassingbé are being supported and financed by Western governments. The Black Panther movie offers an opportunity to explore this issue of neo-colonialism and its continued impact on Africa’s development.