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Black Panther: Colonizers and Concepts in Chains

As I entered theatre 4 of a random movie theatre in or near Worcester, I went in with my preconceived thoughts and opinions of the latest Marvel Cinematic University blockbuster film. So read if you dare, there are some spoilers, but I try to keep them to a minimum.

These notions are built on three beliefs. The MCU has recently made money off mediocre storylines like Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (Sam Raimi, 2022, USA). If I had even bothered to see it, I’d probably say the same about Thor: Love and Thunder (Taika Waititi, 2022, USA). So, I was worried about how the pressure or the pattern would affect the film.

Furthermore, the film's production was less than cohesive due to the pandemic and Chadwick Boseman’s cancer. While movie-making is already complicated, these barriers could have easily disrupted the product of the film.

Lastly, I believed, and still kind of do, that the hero and icon Black Panther supersedes Boseman and his untimely death.

I know. I said it. And I’ll repeat it, so you know it wasn’t a big typo: Black Panther is bigger than Chadwick Boseman and needed recasting.

Gasps! Shock! Horror!

But before you quickly delete this tab or exit out of your preferred social media app, let me finish. Up until Black Panther, there was no prominent Black male superhero. While The Falcon did exist, he was a sidekick, and now he’s replacing a white superhero fulfilling the prophecy of Avengers 2.0 just being the exact same heroes as the original cast, but more diverse. This proves that the MCU could have easily made the cast diverse the first time, but I digress.

So, no Black male character has an original storyline and power without Black Panther. And now that T’Challa is dead (spoiler), no hero is fulfilling this position. This representation is vital as Black men, especially in the US, face a different type of oppression than Black women or other people of color.

On the other hand, I have yet to see a Black female superhero story. And Black female brilliance was on high display in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (Ryan Coogler, 2022, USA). Or it could have been titled: Badass Black Women Dominating: a Black Panther story. It may be clunky, but it highlights the sheer spectacularity of the women in this film.

Audiences follow the grief of Wakanda through the lens of T’Challa’s family: Shuri (Letitia Wright), Nakai (Lupita Nyong’o), Okoye (Dani Gurira), and Queen Ramonda (Queen Angela Bassett). And as the actors and crew were grieving Boseman, the film was a great tribute to the tribulations of grief.

For example, silence spoke volumes that words and sounds could never replicate. During the Marvel Studios intro, instead of featuring all A-list superheroes with the Marvel theme tune, T’Challa was present. As photos flickered in silence, I embarrassedly shredded a tear, but that doesn’t say much. As my beloved Abuela would say, I am a “tear baby.” This happens again––both the silence and the tear––when Shuri finds time to grieve and accept the film’s events.

In addition, Shuri’s story arc and character development were genuinely authentic, highlighting complicated emotions. Shuri’s ability to understand the complexities of conflict allowed her to be vengeful yet honorable and empathetic. Dare I say that her leadership and willingness to evolve emotionally will enable her to be a better leader than her brother?

At least in the fictitious reality of the film, as the actor, Letitia Wright, has said (and refuted) anti-vaccine statements on Twitter and on the set of Wakanda Forever. This is one of the reasons I supported recasting T’Challa. However, after seeing the film, I understand the actors and director's influence on grieving Boseman. And for them, no other actor could fill T’Challa’s superhero suit.

Intellectually, the text also posed interesting theoretical concepts. (Note that my fancy use of text refers to the film or “movie,” as the average joe calls them. But I’m about to bring in some film theory, so sit tight, hold on, and google these terms after.)

Wakanda Forever combines the complicated theories of post-colonialism and the matrix of domination, all while critiquing the current racial hegemony of the Black and White paradigm. That’s a lot of film theory terminology that sounds like a whole bunch of prestigious film student crap, and it kind of is. Still, it also outlines how race is academically analyzed. (And we all know how well Clark’s Screen Studies department can do it. So, let’s show them how it’s done.)

Post-colonialism highlights the repercussions of colonialism and imperialism throughout the systemic hegemonic structures, from labor dynamics to class distribution. Concepts like alterity, othering, neocolonialism, and the differentiation between first-world and third-world countries strengthen post-colonialism theory and are utilized in the film.

And no, the matrix of domination is not the title of the fifth Matrix, if that’s even happening. The theory focuses on the intersectionality of oppression and how race, gender, and class merge to marginalize these groups further. Here, there are four levels of domination: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal.

Lastly, the Black and White paradigm highlights how the racial hierarchy works. Outside of intersectionality, white people are the oppressors, and Black people are the oppressed. Anyone who identifies outside of this binary, multiracial people (like yours truly), Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, and Latino (and any others I may have missed) are outside the structure. People in these groups face a different type of othering, which is not recognized by the system, adding a new kind of oppression to their marginalization.

Now, the big question. What does this have to do with Wakanda Forever? And how can I put it simply and shortly?

Well, the concept of Wakanda outwardly defies colonization. When done correctly, colonialization would have stripped Wakanda of the precious resources the world envies in the current time of the film. But, this gapping failure in white history––or success for Wakandans and Black people––allows for a redistribution of class structures and challenges the concepts of first and third-world countries.

But the film goes further, as a predominantly white nation attacks Wakanda’s aid ships to procure the precious metal vibranium. Here, France tries to replicate economic and military dominance over Wakanda, a free country, to help themselves rather than work diplomatically on the situation. This is arguably adjacent to neocolonialism, which the US perpetuates countless times throughout the film.

France and the US also display how they plan to keep their power, which is an example of the matrix of domination-level disciplinary. This means that governmental institutions and authorities (rooted in racism) devise laws and decisions in order to hold that power. France and the US actively planned to steal valuable metals from Wakanda so the country wouldn’t misuse them, allowing their lands to abuse the powers Wakanda holds. And to empower Black women, they must rebel from these constraints. (And the female protagonists do a great job at just that.)

This thievery is, of course, justified by the oppressors, which upholds the hegemonic level of the matrix. Years of privilege, the oppressors lose the ability to understand the root of their power, thus normalizing this fact. This looped circle allows governments, like the fictitious ones, to be blind to the oppressive nature of their actions. And Wakanda Forever highlights these concepts in the matrix of domination and post-colonialism to contrast society’s current viewpoint.

Wakanda takes back its power with one-liners like these, “Colonizer in chains. Now I have seen everything.”

But, the film isn’t perfect as it upholds the Black and white paradigm. The film devises a trauma triangle similar to a love triangle but in a superhero film. And instead of two characters in love with a third, they are enemies and are fighting each other. Simply put, the white countries are mad at Wakanda for something a Talokanils tribe did to protect their home. The Talokanils tribe leader, Namor (Tenoch Huerta), is seen as the villain, despite his origin story beginning in colonial Central America and the trauma that ensues.

Like in most films and reality, most of the conflict could have been avoided through decades of therapy, but Wakandans and Talokanils took oppositional stances. And because the film is designed to favor Wakanda, the film’s subtext supports the paradigm. White oppressors cause similar trauma to both colonized areas, but Latinos' trauma is depicted as less brutal due to the Talokanils ocean barrier.

But due to underwater scenes, blue people, postcolonialism, the matrix of domination, and Avatar’s connection to these film theories, Wakanda Forever was a less racist Avatar 2. So I don’t have to suffer through that. (But I will for the blog.)

My preconceived takes on the film (the expectation of mediocrity, lack of cohesion, and the Black Panther character) were wrong, or I could quickly excuse them due to the film's ingenuity despite the precarious production situation.

And, while I simplified my analysis, the text composed basic superhero necessities intertwining the complexities of racial film theories. And that made this film nerd even more fascinated with the movie.

Ultimately, I can’t wait to see the next colonizer in cuffs, whether in the film world or real life. I’m not picky.

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