Three Theses about Black Panther.

Author:Williams, Delice
Position:Critical essay

I enjoyed Marvel's Black Panther for many of the same reasons that millions of other moviegoers have fallen in love with the film: the seductive depiction of an Africa unburdened by colonialism and slavery; the celebrations of Black family and Black love; and the portraits of smart, powerful, passionate women. I have seen it twice and will probably see it again. I plan to order the DVD.

A bit reluctantly (because I wanted to savor my enjoyment for as long as I could), I went looking for analyses of the movie. I found Christopher Lebron's "Black Panther Is Not the Movie We Deserve," Max S. Gordon's "Come Get Your Life, Come Get Your Death,"_and Adam Serwer's "The Tragedy of Eric Killmonger." (1) I admit that at first I thought that these authors were just Americans griping about the fact that their story of Blackness is not foregrounded in the film. As a Black woman from Guyana, I had actually found something salutary in Black Panther's provincializing of American Blackness. To me, this dynamic was just a reminder that African Americans are part of something larger, and that they do not have exclusive purchase on what it means to be Black. Despite my reservations about the film's treatment of Black Americans, I still applaud the writers and director for emphasizing diasporic identity. But I got to wondering about the currents of frustration and disappointment that run through these pieces. This essay is my effort to identify the sources of those currents. It is also, I hope, provocation for future conversation.

My first argument is this: Wakandans are not Black--at least not at first. Their collective self-definition is tethered to conceptions of nation, tribal alliance, and geography. While Nakia and W'Kabi exhibit impulses to reach beyond the borders, even their sense of obligation to the world beyond Wakanda is based on a sense of moral obligation and noblesse oblige that comes with privilege: they want to help suffering people, but not necessarily because they believe that those people are like them. Neither character articulates what we might term a racial awareness that emphasizes kinship with other Africans. If Blackness is a diasporic consciousness, forged and forced into existence by long histories of violence, resistance, and renegotiation, then the Wakandans, who have shielded themselves from that history in the interest of preserving their way of life, are effectively cut off from Blackness. They do not see themselves, and we...

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