Some Scathing Critiques of Marvel Studio’s ‘Black Panther’
As everything at Black Agenda Report is marked Creative Commons, I’ll start there to use most of this first featured op-ed as a lengthy synopsis. This entire diary comes with a Spoiler Alert warning. Readers may want to ask themselves if this movie is an intentional or inadvertent psyop; I’ve made my decision. It’s a long compilation, but if I hadn’t thought it’s important, I wouldn’t have strung it together. Note: all bolds are mine.
“Black Panther” Is Not the Movie We Deserve’; The only Wakandans who matter are royalty, the women take orders from men, the king & his rival work with CIA. Despite the pretty faces Black Panther is enemy propaganda from Disney/Marvel studios whose other movies equate teachers unions with the mafia, Christopher Lebron, author of The Making Of Black Lives Matter: A Brief History of an Idea, 21 Feb 2018, BAR, first at the Boston Review.
“Black Panther, the most recent entry into the Marvel cinematic universe, has been greeted with the breathless anticipation that its arrival will Change Things. The movie features the leader of a fictional African country who has enough wealth to make Warren Buffet feel like a financial piker and enough technological capacity to rival advanced alien races. The change that the movie supposedly heralds is black empowerment to effectively challenge racist narratives. This is a tall order, especially in the time of Trump, who insists that blacks live in hell and wishes that (black) sons of bitches would get fired for protesting police violence. Which makes it a real shame that Black Panther, a movie unique for its black star power and its many thoughtful portrayals of strong black women, depends on a shocking devaluation of black American men.
Wakanda is a fictional nation in Africa, a marvel beyond all marvels. Its stupendous wealth and technological advancement reaches beyond anything the folks in MIT’s labs could dream of. The source of all this wonder is vibranium, a substance miraculous in ways that the movie does not bother to explain. But so far as we understand, it is a potent energy source as well as an unmatched raw material. A meteor rich in vibranium, which crashed ages ago into the land that would become Wakanda, made Wakanda so powerful that the terrors of colonialism and imperialism passed it by. Using technology to hide its good fortune, the country plays the part of a poor, third-world African nation. In reality, it thrives, and its isolationist policies protect it from anti-black racism. The Wakandans understand events in the outside world and know that they are spared. This triumphant lore—the vibranium and the Wakandans’ secret history and superiority—are more than imaginative window-dressing. They go to the heart of the mistaken perception that Black Panther is a movie about black liberation.
In Black Panther, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has risen to the throne of Wakanda. We know that his father, T’Chaka, the previous king, died in a bomb attack. T’Challa worships his father for being wise and good and wants to walk in his footsteps. But a heartbreaking revelation will sorely challenge T’Challa’s idealized image of his father.
The movie’s initial action sequences focus on a criminal partnership between arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan). They both seek vibranium but for different reasons: Klaue is trying to profit from Wakanda’s wonder-material; Killmonger is trying to make his way to Wakanda to make a bid for the throne. He believes he is the rightful king.
Killmonger, it turns out, is T’Challa’s cousin, orphaned by T’Chaka’s murder of Killmonger’s father and T’Chaka’s younger brother, N’Jobu (Sterling Brown). Why did T’Chaka kill his brother? N’Jobu was found with stolen vibranium. The motive for the theft is where the tale begins—and where the story of black wonderment starts to degrade.
We learn that N’Jobu was sent to the United States as one of Wakanda’s War Dogs, a division of spies that the reclusive nation dispatches to keep tabs on a world it refuses to engage. This is precisely N’Jobu’s problem. In the United States, he learns of the racism black Americans face, including mass incarceration and police brutality. He soon understands that his people have the power to help all black people, and he plots to develop weapons using vibranium to even the odds for black Americans. This is radical stuff; the Black Panthers (the political party, that is) taken to a level of potentially revolutionary efficacy. T’Chaka, however, insists N’Jobu has betrayed the people of Wakanda. He has no intention of helping any black people anywhere; for him and most Wakandans, it is Wakanda First. N’Jobu threatens an aide to T’Chaka, who then kills N’Jobu. The murder leaves Killmonger orphaned. However, Killmonger has learned of Wakanda from his father, N’Jobu. Living in poverty in Oakland, he grows to become a deadly soldier to make good on his father’s radical aim to use Wakanda’s power to liberate black people everywhere, by force if necessary.
By now viewers have two radical imaginings in front of them: an immensely rich and flourishing advanced African nation that is sealed off from white colonialism and supremacy; and a few black Wakandans with a vision of global black solidarity who are determined to use Wakanda’s privilege to emancipate all black people.
These imaginings could be made to reconcile, but the movie’s director and writer (with Joe Cole), Ryan Coogler, makes viewers choose. Killmonger makes his way to Wakanda and challenges T’Challa’s claim to the throne through traditional rites of combat. Killmonger decisively defeats T’Challa and moves to ship weapons globally to start the revolution. In the course of Killmonger’s swift rise to power, however, Coogler muddies his motivation. Killmonger is the revolutionary willing to take what he wants by any means necessary, but he lacks any coherent political philosophy. Rather than the enlightened radical, he comes across as the black thug from Oakland hell bent on killing for killing’s sake—indeed, his body is marked with a scar for every kill he has made. The abundant evidence of his efficacy does not establish Killmonger as a hero or villain so much as a receptacle for tropes of inner-city gangsterism.
In the end, all comes down to a contest between T’Challa and Killmonger that can only be read one way: in a world marked by racism, a man of African nobility must fight his own blood relative whose goal is the global liberation of blacks. In a fight that takes a shocking turn, T’Challa lands a fatal blow to Killmonger, lodging a spear in his chest. As the movie uplifts the African noble at the expense of the black American man, every crass principle of modern black respectability politics is upheld.
In 2018, a world home to both the Movement for Black Lives and a president who identifies white supremacists as fine people, we are given a movie about black empowerment where the only redeemed blacks are African nobles. They safeguard virtue and goodness against the threat not of white Americans or Europeans, but a black American man, the most dangerous person in the world.
Even in a comic-book movie, black American men are relegated to the lowest rung of political regard. So low that the sole white leading character in the movie, the CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), gets to be a hero who helps save Wakanda. A white man who trades in secrets and deception is given a better turn than a black man whose father was murdered by his own family and who is left by family and nation to languish in poverty. That’s racist.” [longish snip]
Lebron does praise the Wakanda-born women being brave, resourceful, independent, and ethically determined. As the film was inspired by Ta-Nehisi Coates’ comic book series, he reckons that the gender politics over all are good, focused on the women’s minds, not just their gorgeous physical attributes, but he laments the fate of the sole American-born woman who is ‘disposed of by black-on-black violence’, contra Coates’ comic book.
“Black Panther presents itself as the most radical black experience of the year. We are meant to feel emboldened by the images of T’Challa, a black man clad in a powerful combat suit tearing up the bad guys that threaten good people. But the lessons I learned were these: the bad guy is the black American who has rightly identified white supremacy as the reigning threat to black well-being; the bad guy is the one who thinks Wakanda is being selfish in its secret liberation; the bad guy is the one who will no longer stand for patience and moderation—he thinks liberation is many, many decades overdue. And the black hero snuffs him out.” [snip]
“Black Panther is not the movie we deserve. My president already despises me. Why should I accept the idea of black American disposability from a man in a suit, whose name is synonymous with radical uplift but whose actions question the very notion that black lives matter?”
Next up: ‘The Panther Movie: Why is It Dangerous? Why Do We Fall for It?’, Abdul Alkalimat, 21 Feb 2018, BAR
The Panther movie is out and people are going in droves to check it out. Both Black and white. This requires clear hard-headed thinking. It’s not about the actors in the film and their careers. Can’t blame a brother or a sister for needing a payday and a chance to make it inside the system, in this case Hollywood. It’s certainly not about the capitalists promoting it on all media, as they have the dual interest of making money and controlling our consciousness to prevent our movement from making sure they stop making all this money. It has to be about our clear understanding of history, and how we can get free from this system.
The first thing is that they know how to go fishing. Beautiful Black people celebrating culture and positive relations. A view of traditional Africa that defies all logic and historical experience but gives Black people a view of the past that can be imagined as the technological future. This fits the imaginative rethinking of ancient Egypt as an answer for our future. Our situation is so dire that we will reach out for this Hollywood fantasy as if it can be helpful, healing, and a lens through which to view history. There is dialogue about freedom, but in no way reflects the past or gives positive advice for us.
“The King of Wakanda is a friendly associate with the CIA.”
Lies can’t get us where we need to go. Let’s take a quick look at this film. It is a replay of the conflict of the 1960s between cultural nationalism and revolutionary nationalism, the US organization of Karenga and the Panthers of Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The story is about who is going to control the Kingdom of Wakanda. The point of conflict is the Panther as a metaphor for a Black liberation change agent. The cultural nationalist is the King of Wakanda, who uses their special natural resource plants to become the Black Panther. He is a friendly associate with the CIA. The reference to the actual Black Panthers, meaning the child of Wakanda who grew up in Oakland, is a sort of gangster living a Fanonian fantasy that violence will change the world. He too is the son of a member of the royal family. This guy was trained by the CIA and begins the film in alliance with a white South African fascist. The big lie is that to be a Panther one has to be of “royal blood,” and not simply a victim of the system who stands up to fight back. Another big lie is that the CIA is an ally in the fight for a better world.
In 2018 we live in a moment of spontaneous movement and there is the possibility that another version of the real Panthers will likely emerge. Some original Panthers are still incarcerated and being brutalized by the system they dared to oppose. A movie like this has the bait to pull us in like fish about to be hooked by the system. People see the film and feel good, but isn’t that what people say about first getting high on drugs. We know how drug addiction turns out.”
Nick Barrickman’s Feb 22 ‘Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther: A hollow “defining moment” cloaked in identity politics’, at wsws.org contains a lot of other commentary on the film, and might be the most scathing of all. Plus…it allows me the chance to embed some Tweets (smile). A few bits and bobs:
“With the use of this resource (vibranium), Wakanda has developed into a technologically advanced nation, concealed from the rest of the planet via a cloak of invisibility. Its ruler, King T’Challa/Black Panther (Boseman), defends his kingdom decked out in a bulletproof panther suit.
The premise that in today’s world a black superhero represents some kind of social or moral breakthrough is itself absurd. The United States, after all, elected Barack Obama as its head of state twice and has seen a highly-privileged section of African-Americans—no less reactionary than their white counterparts—in some of the highest offices of the state (Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Eric Holder, etc.). The presence of blacks at the head of capitalist states, from the US to South Africa, has done nothing to improve the lot of the masses of working and poor people, black or white.
More fundamentally, the use of race as the basis for evaluating a film, or any other creative work is artistically bankrupt and politically reactionary. The pedigree for such conceptions can be found in the theory and practice of Aryan art, which flourished under the Nazis.
[wd here: agreed, but it apparently uses class distinctions liberally.]
Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, has joined in the general establishment promotion of the work, sending out tweets encouraging his followers to see the film.”
After a few paragraphs on its blockbuster status for Disney globally already, and speculations of spin-offs, theme parks, and the like…
“Absolutely revolting, but not unexpected, have been the paeans surrounding the film in the mainstream press, with the New York Times leading the way, as usual. The New York Times Magazine featured a lengthy article (“Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America”) hailing the film for being “steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness.”
The article quotes Jamie Broadnax, creator of “pop-culture website” Black Girl Nerds, who enthuses, “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency… [The cast members] are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain and black suffering and black poverty.” In other words, Black Panther is a sort of “feel-good” movie, “refreshing” because it focuses on the exploits of a monarch and his retinue and ignores the riff-raff below.”
Barrickman then rightfully gags at this Andrew Stewart diary at Counterpunch with a title so cringeworthy I don’t even want to bring it. Next he reflects on the actual content of the film is a long section you might find interesting. Again, some notes:
“While the distribution of vibranium could apparently have an immense positive impact on the development of humanity, the Black Panther fights to keep it locked away behind the walls of his country, using it only to develop advanced gadgetry and weapons.
This vision of an “ideal” society is a glorified reflection of ex-colonial countries where the benefits derived from control of scarce and valuable resources go to a fabulously wealthy privileged elite.”
“The most shameful point in the film comes when a Wakandan tribal leader explicitly promotes national isolationism and anti-refugee sentiment, declaring that, “if you let refugees in, you let their problems in.”
On top of this, Coogler couldn’t help but promote illusions in American imperialism with the inclusion of a “good” white character, the CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman). Ross assists T’Challa in saving Wakanda from Killmonger by remotely piloting a heavily armed unmanned airship, echoing the drones used to kill “enemy combatants” in America’s wars in the Middle East and Africa.
According to star Chadwick Boseman (4 2, Get On Up, Marshall), a major inspiration for the personality of T’Challa/Black Panther was none other than Obama, “a leader [who] can hold his tongue and hold his ground” (Rolling Stone).”
“One is not surprised to see journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, an acolyte of Obama and proponent of the racialist outlook that courses through Black Panther and its marketing campaign, receive special thanks in the film’s credits.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates Retweeted:
And finally: ‘Get Me Outa Wakanda!’, Bruce A. Dixon, BAR managing editor, 22 Feb 2018
“For those of us aiming to build a better world, this movie is nothing short of enemy propaganda.
In the Black Panther movie, all the Wakandan players are royalty, their counselors, their advisors or their rivals. All the strikingly beautiful and capable Wakandan women take orders from men. The only unambiguous good guy is the Frodo looking CIA agent. The homicidal Killmonger character is calculated to sully the very notion of black rebellion against unjust authority, while Pan Africanism and humanism are defecated upon from multiple angles. Cinematic bar fights, car chases and battle scenes are a dime a dozen, and worst of all Wakanda isn’t even rendered in any visually inspiring way.
The movie disrespects its audience and is a standing insult to science fiction and afro futurism. As Dr. Jared Ball points out, we can’t just go make and market another movie to compete with this one. Disney/Marvel Studios put tens of millions into the promotion of this thing alone, and for now millions of people are buying their message. That’s called cultural hegemony.
Those who would drink from this nasty water for “affirmation” and “black joy” must be deeply desperately thirsty. And evidently thirst confuses before it kills.
The only good thing I got from this movie was the motivation to look for and find some real, respectful, challenging and innovative science fiction and afro-futurism, preferably written by some black women to wash the rancid taste of Marvel’s superhero industrial complex from the inside of my head. [snip]
Special thanks to Dr. Johanna Fernandez for the title #GetMeOutaWakanda.”
Readers might ask themselves, for instance, in which other African nations might the hegemon’s CIA spooks be ‘heroes’ for rare minerals and other high value resource extraction by Africom and local comprador grifters? Is the film by way of a hedge against black internationalism? But of course, in this nation at this time, with the advent of Russiagate, libruls now love both the CIA and FBI witlessly. #GoFigure.
Crossposted from: café babylon