The problem with Wakanda

In Black Panther, the nation's governance policy leaves much to be desired

The problem with Wakanda

As a disclaimer to the nitpicking that is to follow, I liked Black Panther. It was fun, progressive, and more thoughtful than the bulk of Marvel Studios’ past releases. But there are definitely some particulars about the movie’s depiction of Wakanda that do not add up.

First of all, why is the King of Wakanda the first field agent you send to deal with threats to national security? When Ulysses Klaue, the film’s first villain, resurfaces, T’Challa is the primary agent sent to capture or kill him, despite his other obligations.

In other words, let’s put the governance of the most technologically advanced nation on Earth on hold, because we can find no one else to capture this insane man with a vibranium hand blaster thing.

It’s not only a poor use of a head of state’s time, but it’s also an enormous risk to political stability — you’re risking the life of your leader. It was unfortunate when T’Challa’s father was killed in a United Nations bombing, but frankly, with espionage policy like this, I’m shocked that the turnover rate of Wakandan kings isn’t way higher.

You might say that I’m being unfair, because Wakanda’s king is the only one who drinks the Heart-Shaped Herb juice and is thus the most physically prepared to execute these missions. But then why haven’t the roles of Black Panther and King of Wakanda been separated, given that they clearly conflict with one another?

I can just imagine the Wakandan news headlines: “Third King this year KIA, time for military espionage reform?” And then people would be furious because the King being Black Panther is in their Second Amendment, or something.

Next, why does Wakanda select its leader by combat? How does physical strength and martial arts training represent an accurate assessment of political acumen or leadership skills?

Don’t get me wrong, I would be first in line to buy a ticket to a WWE Trump vs. Clinton Championship for the presidency, but personally, the novelty would not outweigh the obvious dangers of that selection process.

Watching M’Baku and T’Challa fight to submission for the throne made me feel like Chuck Woodchuck from Bojack Horseman when Mr. Peanutbutter challenges him to a ski race for the Governorship of California. Wakanda is meant to be technologically advanced and socially progressive. Why are they still using this archaic process to select their leaders?

Getting rid of this process would have solved a key conflict in the plot. Killmonger takes over Wakanda by doing nothing more than defeating T’Challa in a fight. At least Trump had some electoral support from the people he had to govern when he won, even as a political outsider. And Trump campaigned for months to make himself appear viable.

Killmonger shows up and takes the throne in one day, and the only person he had supporting him was the guy from Get Out. It’s as if the Wakandans constructed their political system with Death Star logic. “No, no, we have to set up the system such that the whole thing could blow up in our faces with one proton torpedo,” in this case the proton torpedo being a metaphor for a megalomaniac ex-military man who wants Wakanda to leave behind its isolationist ways.

Finally, why have the Wakandan elite become so lax on their isolationist mantra? This is arguably the most confusing point, because it’s an actual plot hole. Others we can suspend disbelief, attribute to culture, dumb luck, and a status quo of not challenging the throne.

But given the actions of Okoye and T’Challa, the world should long have been looking into Wakanda’s connection to vibranium. T’Challa fights in public, with his Black Panther suit on, to capture Klaue in South Korea, despite the presence of his CIA friend Everett Ross, who only knows him as the Wakandan leader.

Later in the film, T’Challa’s inner circle chastises him for bringing Ross to Wakanda to heal his injuries, for fear that he’ll report the truth about them back to America. But earlier scenes should have already raised huge suspicions for Ross about T’Challa and the gang.

Ross was purchasing a Wakandan artifact that Klaue claims to be made of vibranium. He should have already been putting two and two together about Wakanda’s ability to work with vibranium. And even though Ross was only present for the end of the chase with Klaue, he still sees T’Challa as Black Panther, the guy who stops bullets, blows up cars, and captures Klaue. T’Challa is even the one who turns Klaue over to Ross.

Why is the question “Hey man, where did you get that suit from?” never raised? T’Challa’s snap decision to reveal his identity to Ross sheds major doubt on the seriousness of how Wakandan leaders take their country’s secrecy.

It just doesn’t make sense to have physical competitions for leadership or send your king to perform assassinations. And it definitely doesn’t make sense to approve of that king and his entourage revealing their possession of a high-tech panther suit when your goal is to hide your technology from the rest of the world.

Albeit a great film, Black Panther is probably not a great guide on the basics of how to run a country.

Black Panther is already revolutionary

Marvel's new film is the result of massive cultural collaboration in the Black artistic community

<i>Black Panther</i> is already revolutionary

Kendrick Lamar said it best on the opening track of the soundtrack to Black Panther: “Sisters and brothers in unison, not because of me / Because we don’t glue with the opposition.”

The sticking point across the entire production of Black Panther is unity. The making of the film, comics, and music represent a mass confluence of mainstream artistic participation.

The soundtrack, curated by Lamar and released on February 9, mixes hip hop, rap, and R&B. It features SZA, ScHoolboy Q, Khalid, The Weeknd, Future, and Lamar himself, among many others. According to Complex, Lamar decided to produce the soundtrack upon watching scenes from the movie.

At first glance, the reason for the total cultural push behind Black Panther seems obvious. It’s the first mainstream superhero movie with a Black protagonist, taking place in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been meticulously crafted with numerous blockbuster hits. The film’s namesake, the supremely cool T’Challa, the Black Panther — played by the previously relatively unknown Chadwick Boseman — is a warrior and leader unlike any other.

The production became something of a star-scape of world-class Black talent. Aside from Lamar and the soundtrack artists, the film stars Michael B. Jordan and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o alongside Boseman, and it is directed by Ryan Coogler, the director of 2015’s incredible Creed, which also starred Jordan.

Preliminary reviews are glowing. The film has a 97 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with critics praising its direction, performances, and screenplay for delivering a charismatic and powerful movie. The soundtrack has been described as “beautiful, propulsive, and spacious” by Rolling Stone, which noted the significance of many of the lyrics: they allude to “age-old African diasporic dreams and 21st Century politics.”

The film is a symbol of empowerment for a marginalized group. Hopefully, the movie will succeed in provoking a thoughtful discussion of racism and racial identity in our collective cultural conversation.