Afro-Caribbean Reflections on the Film Black Panther: Imagining Superheroes in the Nation-Building Process of Curacao.

Author:Cornet, Florencia V.
Position:Critical essay

After viewing the film Black Panther, I was in many ways reminded of my native island of Curacao and its own historic heroes including Ergilio Hato whose nickname was Black Panther. (1) There are, in my view, some interesting parallels between Curacao and Wakanda, particularly as it pertains to the characters Black Panther and Killmonger and the ways in which they interpret Wakanda's nation-building process. In the film we see the very advanced and rich nation of Wakanda in the middle of a possible transition. Wakanda's isolation from the rest of the world, under the mask of "third worldism," is being threatened with expansion and globalization. The residents of Wakanda include intelligent, powerful, unique, and brilliant people, willing to protect and advance their nation. Of course, the nation of Wakanda is fictional. In the real world, we see very few third world nations that are not influenced by Western culture. The skewed distributions of goods and power in the world are maintained precisely due to interconnected global technological advances. However, the fictional Wakanda is an inverted ideological and cultural imaginary response of many third world nations with a majority Afrodescendent population. I speak here primarily of post-colonial and neocolonial Afro-Caribbean nations that establish a Wakandan-type ethos in the conceptualization of the nation-building process.

This is particularly the case in Curacao where we see the fostering of power and liberation in part through the physical talents, intelligence, mental and linguistic dexterity of its people. Most Curacaoans are to varying degrees proficient in at least four languages (2) and have developed their own eclectic culture fused with African, Spanish, and European elements. The island nation, known to be one of the richest and most highly educated in the Caribbean, has produced some very impressive athletic and artistic talents. (3) The touted brilliance of Curacao brings into focus the influence of hundreds of years of Dutch European association. (4) How has this center-periphery relationship shaped the collective and personalogical psychology of Curacaoan people?

I ask this question with studies in Afrocentric psychology in mind as I reflect on the work by Marcia Sutherland in "Individual Differences in Response to the Struggle for the Liberation of People of African Descent." (5) In this timeless article still applicable to the conditions of Afrodiaspora people in this twenty-first century, Sutherland analyzes the writings of Africentric theorists and uses Fanonian principles on the Manichean world (6) to emphasize, among other things, the effects of the perpetual conflict between the colonizer and the colonized on the psychology and sense of identity of people in majority African diaspora nations. I contend that this Manichean tension continues today regardless of the decolonial, neocolonial, or postcolonial existence of nations in contemporary times.

In the case of Curacao, it is the psychological and political tension within the Curacaoan-Dutch-European Manichean world that makes for a fascinating analysis of the multiple versions of real life Black Panthers and antagonists like Killmonger in the cultural production of the island. (7) Like the oppositional visions on international relations between T'Challa/Black Panther and N'Jadaka/Killmonger wherein the isolated survival of Wakanda is posited against global liberation of African diaspora people, Curacao too has tussled with its own unique ways of affirming the survival of a national culture steeped predominantly in an Africana ethos operating in the shadows of a Dutch European vanguard. This tussle that occurs along a gradation of multiple forms of Black survival (8) is somewhat tricky in the case of Curacao, primarily because the island is home to a multicultural society rooted in a history of diversity and difference. (9) Hence, a cosmopolitan performance of identity is at the essence of Curacaoan people. (10) This makes it difficult to classify those who Sutherland identifies as "authentic and non-authentic strugglers for Black survival and realization of an African essence" (11) particularly as it relates to this outward looking island nation. Nevertheless...

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