To Whom Does Wakanda Belong?

Author:Lavan, Makeba
Position:Critical essay

In his seminal text, The Souls of Black Folk, W. E. B. Du Bois famously asks "How does it feel to be a problem?" (p. 1). This question is the embodiment of the Black experience in the United States. Further, the quote underscores Erik "Killmonger" Stevens/N'Jadaka's predicament as he seeks to win the Wakandan throne and become the Black Panther. Killmonger is born of a Wakandan prince and an African American woman who died in prison. His father N'Jobu becomes a 'war dog' (a Wakandan spy sent to observe American culture). When N'Jobu tires of his aggressively passive mission, his own brother T'Chaka kills him.

This murder occurs within the first few minutes of the movie. Journalist Steven Thrasher notes that "one of the most noble aims of Black Panther, (an overall great example of Afrofuturism) is how it dreams of and conceives of an intact Black body--both the intact national body of Wakanda as well the actual intact body of T'Challa in his suit." Unfortunately, neither N'Jobu nor N'Jadaka are afforded the same treatment. This illuminates a very significant difference; N'Jobu and N'Jadaka are both killed by relatives for the same reason: They wish to arm Black people in order to end global racial oppression. Obviously, this premise is too bold even for a movie that appears to be an Afro-futurist manifesto. Two generations of Wakandans unsuccessfully strive for an African diasporic uprising only to be killed by the very people who could actually help achieve their goals.

Before his untimely demise, Killmonger proves his knowledge of western imperialism. In the opening British Museum scene, he demands of the white curator, "How do you think your ancestors got these? Do you think they paid a fair price? Or did they take it, like they took everything else?" Killmonger believes that his destiny is to create a new, Black-led global empire. In order to do this, he needs Wakanda's vibranium. Before his battle with T'Challa, Killmonger/N'Jadaka scolds the Wakandan court, "Two billion people all over the world who look like us whose lives are much harder, and Wakanda has the tools to liberate them all. Where was Wakanda?" Killmonger's fury at Wakandan inaction is palpable. In "The Negro in American Culture" (1961), James Baldwin concludes that "To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious, is to be in a rage almost all the time. So that the first problem is how to control that rage so that it won't destroy you."

This certainly...

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