.Wakanda, Asgard, Disneyworld:
Only one of these exists"Their leaders have been assassinated. Communities are flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated. All over the planet our people suffer because they don’t have the tools to fight back."
Now here's a link to one of many articles currently making the exact same and fully valid point about the Black Panther
excitement that has gripped much of the intelligentsia, black and beyond:We’ve been duped. Black Panther is anti-revolution
To be fair, the thesis of the headline, that Black Panther
is not revolutionary, was evident already in the film's pre-release hype. What politics should one expect from a Marvel Universe movie about an invisible African analogue of Asgard? (Fanpeoples, the more you think about the shared formula underlying Marvel's T'Challa and Thor franchises, the more obvious it becomes.)
The film offers an almost all-black and all-beautiful cast in a 300-million dollar project, which is unprecedented and accounts for most of the excitement. (The cast exception: a "good" CIA agent, improbably played by the same sympatico English dweeby guy you may already know as Dr. Watson, or Arthur Dent, or Bilbo Baggins.)
Wakanda is a myth of an African kingdom that might have been, if there had been no slave trade and no imperialism -- of course that would also mean no CIA. Enhanced by undiscoverable physics, this no-place (the meaning of "utopia") is brought to as much life as CGI allows through beautiful music, design, and real humans dancing and stage-fighting. It is defended by an army of relentlessly competent and dedicated amazons who are invincible, merciful, and sensibly dressed. And by the inventions of everyone's favorite character, the hero's playful, Da Vinci-level sister.
But a revolutionary movie? Such a thing would not be about the comic-book
Black Panther, obviously. However, the film villain Killmonger (ahem, that name!), played by the gorgeous Michael B. Jordan, presents a compelling, revolutionary, and simple-to-repeat social analysis -- notwithstanding the series of atrocities he commits, many gratuitous and cruel.
The vision is put most crisply by Killmonger's late father in a 1992 flashback. A Wakandan dispatched to California as a spy, the father begs his king to stop hiding their Afrofuturist science-fiction land behind its magic shield, and to use their Year 3000 technology to fight for Africans in the rest of the world.
As an audience full of people in their teens and twenties watches, he speaks of conditions in Oakland, the birthplace of the actual Black Panther movement of the 1960s and 1970s:
"Their leaders have been assassinated. Communities are flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated. All over the planet our people suffer because they don’t have the tools to fight back."
The speech of an antagonist it may be, but the movie frames it as a true description of reality. Giving sympathy to the expressions of Killmonger and his father is about as revolutionary as a 2018 Hollywood PG-13 blockbuster can get. Which is not very, of course.
At the end the titular hero has (shocker!) defeated and killed his enemy, and restored himself to the throne as the super-powered, hereditary, absolute monarch of his otherwise egalitarian and highly educated country. But Killmonger's ideas have left their mark, and T'Challa decides to break with centuries of precedent and tradition. Wakanda shall reveal itself to the world!
In my opinion the most reactionary aspect of the film is not in the plot, but in the way the plot exposes the media industry that produced it.
The happy-hopeful ending delivers two big lies. The first is predictable and, in context, of little consequence. It is practically compelled by economic and structural forces (see my book on The Political Economy of Marvel and Society
, coming soon from Neverland Publishers).
The implied plan, first, is for the Wakandans to show off their awesome tech, powered by the unobtainable space metal, and thus blow all the minds of the white people who think of them generally as peasants and shepherds mired in poverty. (This is an often funny movie, by the way, with fine timing and performances, even if it suffers from Hollywood's general post-Star Wars syndrome, which is that you always know what will happen at least five minutes in advance.)
Also, Wakanda decides to work with the famously humanitarian-liberal non-imperialist United States, represented by that CIA guy, to make things better and better for, uh, everyone.
That much is odious, sure, but so far this is the stuff of almost every Hollywood movie, and every night on U.S. television, and every episode of the American corporate news media. A familiar propaganda wallpaper, the same pattern layered on top of yesterday's. And for the creators to reject it, were they so inclined, would mean someone else would have made the 300-million dollar movie.
It is the second lie I find far more odious, because it so completely inverts (and thus reveals) the reality of the film as a product of Marvel Studios, which is to say, the Disney corporation. It is a lie about the movie itself, and comes in the final scene before the credits:
To begin making up for its past isolationism from the world and indifference to the fates of Africans and African-Americans alike, the New Wakanda sponsors humane community development in Oakland, with a corresponding transfer of some of its magic tech.*
Now, remember the real world? (That was a thing, before smartphones. You live in it.) I shall pose the real-world harvest of the fictional New Wakandan Internationalism as a question:
What share of the coming operating profits from this movie, which will total a billion dollars and more -- and more! -- will the real-existing Magic Kingdom give to Oakland, or for scholarships, or for anything other than budgets for sequels, profit shares, and shareholder dividends? Zero? I expect. One percent? Do I hear two? Doubt it. Prove me wrong.
One clue may be that for all of the film's Oakland boosting,** you don't actually see that city because no scenes were shot there. Georgia is famously cheaper, thanks to generous taxpayer subsidies for the film industry. What would Malcolm X be saying about that?
* Fanpeoples' addendum: In the final post-credit spoiler, the all-purpose wonder-mineral Vibranium appears to spiritually heal the MCU's emo bad-boy mass killer, Bucky himself.
** - Also, Pusan boosting. Which I don't get. What's up with that? Is there a deeper meaning?