The New Marvel Black Panther Movie: Full of Racist Memes

Marvel

I remember skipping down to the corner store to spend my allowance on comic books. You could get eight for a buck back then. Most of my friends were collectors too; mom would often find us trading on the doorstep.

Marvel was revolutionary in its introduction of asymmetric picture panels and dizzying cinematic angles. The work of signature illustrators like Jack “King” Kirby and Jim Steranko exploded from the pages, whisking us into fantastic worlds of superheroes and nefarious villains.

The Marvel storylines were more sophisticated and the script was edgier than the campy DC Comics offerings of the day. Still, good inevitably triumphed over evil and love of country shone through. This reflected the spirit of the times. It was, I believe, a wholesome environment for a boy to thrive in.

Recently, the convincing optics of CGI has blasted the comic world onto the big screen, projecting us right into its alternative realities. Although I enjoy this medium, I reminisce over those old halftone printed pages. I miss the old spirit there. For a new spirit that does not admire America or perceive it as a force for good in the world permeates much of our entertainment. Our movies often advocate for those who see America merely as an agent of oppression. Black Panther is one such ambassador.

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The marquee character is the ruler of a technically-advanced African nation called Wakanda. King T’Challa is transformed into the super powered Black Panther via an occult ritual and he uses the futuristic technology of his kingdom to equip his alter-ego.

While noting Black Panther’s nod to pagan religion, Focus On The Family recommends it for its solid messages, “praising service to others, the importance of global unity (coming from a Christian site, an alarming endorsement) and the importance of fatherhood”. Many other sites give it glowing reviews, while few comment on its racist overtones.

And yes, the movie’s racism can easily go unnoticed, being not nearly as overt as, say, a Jeremiah Wright sermon or a lecture on “white privilege” at Oberlin. For instance, when T’Challa’s sister refers to the white CIA agent Everett Ross as “colonizer” your ears might prick slightly. But we are so accustomed to black victimology narratives that it is easy to pass Shuri’s racial slur off as justified, or at least a mere aside to the story, unimportant.

But is its racism really peripheral to Black Panther? After all, the question confronting the main antagonists is whether Wakanda should use its power to rescue the black people of the world from their (as we understand, white) oppressors. This stock Progressive narrative, that African Americans are held back by “whiteness”, provides the philosophical backdrop for the film. For the movie’s black characters, this narrative is as true as gravity, and basic to their self-actualization: warriors battling the forces of white oppression.

So, I think it naïve to underestimate the effect of the seemingly innocuous memes Black Panther diffuses throughout the auditorium. They might not register with the well-meaning folks at Focus, or be remarked upon by those anxious that a “black” movie be successful, but those who embrace the narrative that America is a racist country receive the message loud and clear.

For instance, in an interview with The Guardian, actor Chadwick Boseman, who plays T’Challa in the movie, says of Black Panther: “It’s a story that doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Take Wakanda, this technologically advanced nation that has never been conquered or enslaved. The movie asks: well, if you’ve never been colonized, then what were you doing while that was happening to the rest of Africa? You had to be watching, right?” Although he professes to not let anyone “off the hook” by conceding that, perhaps the Africans could have done something more to fight the enslavement of their neighbors, he skips over the fact that it was overwhelmingly Africans themselves doing the enslaving. As I’ve written before, slavery was a staple of African cultures long before the Europeans arrived and continued long after abolition in the West. In fact, abolition of the trade was pursued by Europeans in the teeth of determined resistance from African nations who saw nothing immoral in the practice. Had no European foot ever touched the African continent, Africa’s history would still be one of slavery and exploitation.
I don’t mean to diminish the effect European engagement in the slave trade had on the African nations, but neither should it be inflated.

In an interview on The View, Lupita Nyong’o, who plays T’Challa’s love interest in the movie, opines, “We come from a continent of great wealth, but a continent that has been abused, and exploited. So oftentimes what colonialism did was it rewrote our history.”

Apparently, foreign interlopers are responsible for Africa not becoming the bastion of technological genius, environmentalism and gender equalitarianism it was destined to be.

“Wakanda is special because it was never colonized so what we can see there for all of us is a re-imagining of what would have been possible had Africa been allowed to realize itself for itself.”

Ironically, it is Nyong’o who is rewriting history. A more realistic picture of a Wakanda unsullied by colonization would cast King T’Challa as a ruthless tyrant enriching himself at the expense of his slave populace and engaging in endless wars of personal aggrandizement with his neighbors. Far from being “what would have been possible had Africa been allowed to realize itself”, the Wakanda that Black Panther portrays is a product of Western Progressive thought—merely a neo-Marxist inspired utopia in African drag.

Similarly, Huffington Post’s Joy Notoma notes with satisfaction Black Panther’s reference to the stolen art from the Edo people of Benin, Nigeria. Somehow she never gets around to mentioning that the African rulers of Benin and the surrounding areas sold about two million into slavery—their own people and those of other nations—during the Atlantic slave trade era. She mentions the heroic struggle of the Kingdom of Dahomey against French invaders but not that Dahomey and its neighbors along the slave coast shipped a similar number of victims during that “assault on black freedom” (the slave trade). Her article, which enjoins blacks to realize their “essential bond”, seems ironic in this light. “[But] pretending that we aren’t connected is to sign on to the psychological crux of white supremacy, which is largely the source of our fragmentation.” Does she mean that the reason Africans have been slaughtering and enslaving each other for millennia is because of whites? It is sad that, for Notoma, black unity is to be pursued via the disparagement of another race.

Black Panther advances its program of black empowerment by the same means – by scapegoating others.

In truth, no race was blameless in the enslavement and “plundering” of Africa. So why propagate the narrative that Africans were innocent targets of white iniquity? Why is the idea so attractive?

I think there are several answers to that question. One is, in an increasingly left-leaning society where Marxist dogmas prevail and victimhood status sanctifies, many seek in the narrative a means to power and advancement. Also, for Progressive elites the narrative provides a weapon to tear at the fabric of American society and further the hopes of the “fundamental transformation” they pine for. Neither perspective promotes solutions to the real problems besetting black communities.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

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James Tennant
James Tennant is a committed urbanite living in the Great White North, computer technologist, writer, artist, culture warrior, author of two books, 225 and Necropolis.

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