Black Panther: Wakanda Forever has finally hit theatres and left viewers in tears. The film was a beautiful tribute to Chadwick Boseman who passed away from cancer after playing the noble Black Panther, king and protector of Wakanda. The film also contained much needed Indigenous, Myan, and Aztec representation, as well as elements of Latine culture and critiques of Spanish colonialism.
However, besides the online dialogues on the questionable romantic shipping of Namor and Shuri, or even on the topic of colonialism and how rich countries often strip the resources of “poor countries” for their own wealth, it was the small features of Haiti shown in the film that made my eyes water.
Dumé — pronounced Du-may — is more than a last name that shows up on my byline for articles I submit to The Varsity. It happens to be the only Haitian name I inherited from my father. He was born on the island. His nose was filled with the smell of roasted coffee as he grew up on the coffee plantations. Creole is his mother tongue. His young mind was filled with the history of his people, and he is able to recite the history around the dinner table today.
My father tells the gut wrenching stories of how the Spanish conquered Hispaniola and killed off the Tainos and Arawak, the Indigenous peoples of Ay-ti, or how the French shipped Africans to the island to work on the coffee and sugar plantation to their deaths. How France and the US placed an embargo on Haiti to prevent them from international trade. Or even about the corruption, assassinations, or natural disasters that seem to happen every couple of months.
We can talk all day about corruption and gangs in Haiti — according to a New York Times article, the country’s previous president, who was assassinated two years ago, was compiling a list of Haitian businesses and political figures involved in a drug trafficking network that sold product to the US.
But we can’t just point fingers at the current government and tell it to do better without identifying one of sources of the problem: powerful Western countries who took advantage of Ay-ti’s natural resources, placed an embargo when it gained independence, prevented their economy from growing, and kept Haiti subdued through a few political strings that persist to this day.
For instance, the American Marine Corps invaded Haiti in 1915 and remained in the country for the next two decades. The goal was to “keep the peace,” since assassinations and coups had ousted six presidents within the span of five years. But the US military would go on to reshape Haiti’s government and establish a national army, which is known for human rights violations and coups. Jean-Berrand Aristide was elected president with majority support after the first democratic elections in 1990, yet the military forced him to resign and the US military returned in 1994. In 2000, Aristide returned again and won the presidency with 92 per cent of the vote, yet he was removed by Haitian and US military and exiled to South Africa.
The US’ role in these two coups may be disputed, but there is a clear connection between the US and Haiti through non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Haiti has the highest record number of nonprofit organizations in the world, most of which are humanitarian and claim to help with development and relief.
But these NGOs can also bypass the state and weaken it. For example, the millions of dollars that Western federal governments and rich individuals raise for Haitian relief are not sent to the Haitian government directly to assist with development due to risk of corruption; instead they send the money to NGOs. NGOs then take a cut to pay for equipment, wages, and resources, leaving a small portion left for Haiti — an easily abused system.
Also, any food aid given as part of relief programs by the US’ federal government has been heavily subsidized, benefitting American farmers because they have the resources to manufacture the goods cheaper. This drives local Haitian farmers out of business as due to a lack of resources and equipment, they are unable to reduce the price that is affordable for poor Haitian families.
I’m sure you may have heard about these stories from the news or even a deep dive from The New York Times, so I won’t repeat them in detail here. But the thing is, Haiti has become a nation looked down on with pity. Even rich people talk about Haiti in such a depressing manner, demonstrated by Trump calling Haiti and other African countries “shitholes.”
Toussaint Louverture and Wakanda Forever
But the one story you may not know, the one my father has embedded into my mind, starts with a historical figure named Toussaint Louverture.
If you have watched Wakanda Forever, you may recognize the name of Toussaint as the other name of Prince T’Challa, son of King T’Challa and Nakia. We were introduced to the six-year-old boy in the mid credit scene after Shuri finally allows herself to accept the deaths of her mother and brother. The reveal makes the death of Shuri’s brother an easier pill to swallow as he now lives on in his son.
While most of you may have teared up at the reveal of the late king’s secret son, I teared up when I realized that T’Challa Junior’s non-Wakandan name was Toussaint. He is named after the first Govenor General of Haiti; a former slave, and the successful leader of the Haitian Revolution who liberated Haitains from slavery.
I will not glaze over the problematic characteristics of Louverture’s leadership, during which he resorted to the plantations after freeing his people from it to develop the economy. Under his leadership, Haiti — known back then as Saint-Domingue — remained a domain of France, which is why he is called the “governor general,” not king nor emperor.
Toussaint was simply a product of his time, where slavery, especially through plantations, was the only guaranteed way to produce wealth. While he certainly treated his citizens much better than a slave owner would, returning to a place of trauma definitely did not sit well with the people and led to protests.
Regardless, Toussaint’s military prowess and intelligence was what freed the enslaved people of Saint-Domingue, making Haiti the first slave-free nation to be governed by former slaves in the Americas in 1804.
This is the reason why Haiti, as even a small backdrop in the film, supports the movie’s overall theme. Both Wakanda and Talocan represent Indigenous regions — Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean — that were brutally colonized for their natural resources, but have been reimagined in Wakanda Forever as if they weren’t.
In Wakanda Forever, after decades or even centuries of being hidden and isolated from the world, other countries — especially European countries— now seek to obtain their most valuable resource — vibrarium. So much so that in the film, France actually sends their army to secretly invade Wakanda, while American scientists go deep underwater, encroaching on Talocan territory.
It should be noted that T’Challa’s decision to make Haiti the place of refuge for his family contradicts everything we know about Haiti: its violence, corruption, and natural disasters, all of which could kill his family. But when we enter Haiti for the first time, the film doesn’t focus on these negatives. Instead, we visit a school, where children play happily and in peace. It is a sign of development. By naming his son Toussaint, T’Challa foreshadows a leader who will be able to rise up and defend his home against the looming threat of colonizers stealing vibranium.
In the end, Wakanda Forever has brought me, a Haitian, some level of positive representation. Never before would I expect to have my father’s country integrated into a Marvel film so spectacularly, in a way that enriches the overall story, despite being featured so briefly.
As a Marvel fan, I was losing hope in Marvel’s ability to keep phase four together. While they had pushed out a lot of new content, it didn’t land the same way as the Infinity Saga. The stories being told were interesting, and provided representation and diversity — but outside of Wanda, Loki, Moon Knight, Yelena, Spiderman, and Shuri, I wasn’t as invested in a lot of the characters. But this movie was a perfect send off for this phase, one that perked my intrigue to see where they take the Marvel Cinematic Universe further, and where Black Panther and the world of Wakanda will go next.