Balance of Forces in Black Panther Movie
[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
As a Hollywood movie based on a Marvel comic book, Black Panther stands out for overtly political themes and some honest discussion of national oppression. It features a Wakandan society of supremely advanced and peaceful Africans. A society that includes strong, empowered wimmin in roles of defense, science and serving the oppressed.
The Wakandan society is completely hidden from the world and led by a king, T'Challa, the movie's hero. Its isolation is based in a legit fear of the imperialist world which has a long history of oppression and exploitation in Africa. The Wakandan solution was to hide, and focus on building a strong and peaceful society internally. It was wildly successful, surpassing the rest of the world in all realms of science. And what's more, the movie suggests that Wakanda built, on the wealth of its natural resources, a society with no apparent exploitation or oppression. But this isolationism does have a growing opposition from within, from some who want to help the oppressed in the world.
We can compare Wakanda's isolationism to revolutionary movements that have taken power in one country, only to find themselves surrounded by enemies. In places like north Korea, Cuba, and Albania, isolation was a strategic move against outside interference, but ultimately was also a great difficulty for these nations. Wakanda does not face similar challenges due to its tremendous wealth of resources, but also because no one knows about its advanced society, so there's no severe drain of resources being spent on national self-defense. The world thinks Wakanda is just a Third World country full of farmers.
What we found most interesting about the movie was not the protagonists, but the antagonist, Eric Killmonger, who came up in Oakland in the 1990s. Killmonger's father (T'Challa's uncle) was serving as a Wakandan spy in Oakland when ey fell in love with the oppressed New Afrikan people ey was living among, and decided ey needed to take Wakandan resources to help liberate these people. For betraying Wakanda, Killmonger's father was killed by the king (eir own brother), which left Killmonger abandoned in Oakland. The king kept this betrayal, death, and Eric a secret all the way to the grave, so Killmonger's appearance came as a sudden surprise to those living an idyllic life in the capitol.
Eric Killmonger is a product of eir abandonment by Wakanda and eir upbringing on the streets of Oakland. Killmonger saw the desperate struggles of the New Afrikan nation in the United $tates and could not forgive Wakanda for not helping these people. Killmonger wasn't only seeking persynal revenge for eir father's death, ey was fighting to continue eir father's dream of helping the oppressed liberate themselves. Killmonger's education (at MIT) and training (in the military) was purposeful, focused on getting em into a position to control the Wakandan resources so that ey could use them to help the oppressed. Killmonger cultivated the passion and perseverance to bring em all the way to the hidden society of Wakanda and into a duel for the throne.
Killmonger doesn't hesitate to kill, even those ey seems to care about, to achieve eir goal. But this is war, and the lives of millions around the world are at stake. We respect Killmonger's drive and focus. Asking Wakanda nicely to hand over some weapons and technology to help the oppressed wasn't going to work. Even similar requests from influential people within Wakandan society were denied. So Killmonger reasonably believed that eir only option was to take what ey wanted by force.
There were many different reactions to this contradiction between peaceful isolationism vs. violent uprising, playing out in the battle for the throne. A faction of Wakandans (the civil defense force) enthusiastically joined Killmonger once ey explained eir plan to arm New Afrikans in the United $tates and Wakandan spies all over the world. Killmonger's proposal also included ensuring the sun never set on the Wakandan empire. Whether the civil defense force joined for altruistic or power-hungry reasons is up to the viewer to decide.
The royal defense force begrudgingly remained loyal to the throne when Killmonger took power, from an adherence to conservative traditionalism more than anything else. The royal defense quickly switched sides when a technical justification arose — the duel for the throne was not complete, because T'Challa was still alive. This faction of the military is made out to be heroes, but they were defending a king who upheld isolationism against a king who wanted to help free the world's oppressed.
Yet another angle is represented by T'Challa's love interest, Nakia, a spy who worked among refugees and victims of humyn trafficking. Ey stubbornly refused a chance to become queen, so ey could continue eir important work helping people outside of Wakanda. While ideologically Nakia had much in common with Killmonger, at least in opposing Wakanda's isolationism and wanting to liberate oppressed people globally, ey remained loyal to T'Challa. Nakia, like many other Wakandans, was primarily against Killmonger's strategy of sending weapons and firepower out all over the world, and persynal feelings for T'Challa were an influencing factor.
There were many strategic problems with Killmonger's solution to imperialist oppression, including the lack of leadership or liberation movements to take advantage of the military and technology resources ey was offering. It's hard to see how just delivering weapons to the oppressed would lead to liberation. In fact those weapons could easily have ended up in the hands of the imperialists, which — besides tradition and "it's not our way" — was a primary justification given by T'Challa and others for keeping Wakanda hidden from the world.
In the end, the conservative king wins, but ey learns that ey does have a duty to the world's people. A big part of T'Challa's change in perspective comes when the pedestal ey has built for tradition and blindly following eir father's path is torn down by the discovery of the family secret. The appearance of Killmonger is a huge turning point for T'Challa. T'Challa comes to see Killmonger as a monster who was created by eir own father's hands. T'Challa sees how an adherence to tradition and isolation actually alienates people, such as young Eric, who T'Challa feels should otherwise be included in the Wakandan umbrella of aid and help.
So T'Challa comes to finally agree with Nakia and Killmonger that Wakanda has a moral obligation to share its expertise. Unfortunately, in spite of all Wakanda's international spies, King T'Challa still fails to correctly assess the balance of forces, and the friends and enemies of the oppressed. The last scene of the movie shows T'Challa making a speech at the United Nations, announcing that Wakanda will begin sharing its technology and knowledge with the world. Ey also buys a few buildings in Oakland, California to open Wakanda's first youth outreach and education center.
If T'Challa really wanted to help the world's oppressed, ey could use Wakanda's technology of being able to stay hidden in plain sight, and its reputation as a nonthreatening farming nation, to build the strength of an underground army, to soon fight the oppressors for dual power, and then freedom, including an end of capitalism. Rather than going to the UN and announcing "Hey! We're organizing and doing cool shit that will threaten your power! Watch us closely!" ey could do this discretely and very successfully. It seems T'Challa moved from conservative to liberal, and didn't quite make the step to true revolutionary.