Last week, I blasted the identity-politics-mongering cultural Left for driving a wedge between black Americans and white Americans coming together to participate in the cultural milestone that is “Black Panther” this weekend. I specifically castigated their fanatical, destructive politicization of the movie, and how it will only divide people during a time of unity. Their anti-social worldview became so toxic that The New York Times enlisted a professor to caution white Americans against having their children dress up as “Black Panther” for Halloween.
After having finally seen the movie, I am now more convinced of that position than ever. As I said, I’m not one for politicization when it comes to stories, because stories by their very nature require that ideology subordinate to the complexity of human emotions. But since politicization besets every movie these days, even ones about cartoon bunny rabbits ripping off allergy-afflicted farmers, then I guess I’ll take my turn at the roulette table. You heard from Michael Knowles; you heard from Ben Shapiro; God help me, here it goes . . .
Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther” is so deeply conservative that it makes Captain America look like a washed-up neo-Marxist Berkeley grad who spends his days of unemployment shouting “speech is violence” from the rooftops at a Ben Shapiro rally. Let me count the ways:
- “Black Panther” stresses the importance of fatherhood.
- “Black Panther” highlights the pain of lost heritage.
- “Black Panther” emphasizes the need for strong families.
- “Black Panther” pays tribute to the power of tradition.
- “Black Panther” denigrates the destructiveness of ethnocentrism.
- “Black Panther” endorses Plato’s concept of the philosopher king.
- “Black Panther” favors national sovereignty over one-world governments.
- “Black Panther” celebrates masculinity.
- “Black Panther” sticks it to Marxist revolutionary psychopaths.
- “Black Panther” has a unifying message: “We are one tribe.”
Now, contrary to the sycophantic critics at Rotten Tomatoes, “Black Panther” is far from a great movie. The story takes way too long to get going, it doesn’t build to an emotionally fulfilling climax, and it glosses over plot points that needed more fleshing out. As a piece of science fantasy, the world-building also lacked the kind of weight and dimension needed to give the action more gravitas. But since that problem has afflicted virtually every Marvel movie since “Spiderman,” that one gets a pass.
My rating: solid 85%.
The movie, however, boasts a fine collection of movie star-caliber leads, a cool sense of style thanks to auteur director Ryan Coogler’s visual flair and a colorful palette of costumes and set decor. But nobody cares about that superficial stuff. You came here for the politics, and for some reason, my two colleagues are utterly convinced that between the film’s condemnation of Black Lives Matter militants and endorsement of national sovereignty, there was some glaring piece of leftist propaganda gnawing in the shadows. I will address some of their critiques…
By far, the most sensible criticism of “Black Panther” from my colleagues is the film’s notion that the technological utopia of Wakanda – the kingdom where prince T’Challa reigns as the Black Panther – represents an alternate reality that “could have been” had European colonizers never set foot in Africa.
As I previously demonstrated here and here on this site, I am fully aware that the notion of a pagan nation like Wakanda, one of ancestor worship, advancing into a technological haven without the Judeo-Christian worldview is patently absurd. But the critics need to understand that Wakanda exists in the same universe as Thor’s Asgard, another technological haven governed by pagan principles; Nordic in that case.
If it’s not wholly apparent to you by now that governing the Marvel universe is a hodge-podge of incoherent philosophical and theological outlooks, then where have you been the past 10 years? In all 18 Marvel films, we have seen antics that range from the ridiculous to the impossible: an Australian blonde guy that conjures lightning from the sky with his flying hammer; a tech billionaire who builds a rocket-propelled war suit in an Afghanistan terrorist bunker; the Jolly Green Giant’s angry twin smashing half of Manhattan to oblivion.
Excuse my flippancy, but if you come to a Marvel movie hoping for some kind of Tolkien-esque treatise, then I’m afraid you came to the wrong party. No, “Black Panther” as well as “Thor” deserves to be judged as nothing more than a piece of mythology, and as a piece of mythology, “Black Panther” scores big.
“Black Panther” is about the competition between two opposing ideological forces: tribalism vs. unity. The villain, Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), is essentially a black nationalist revolutionary that would be right at home shouting “death to pigs” at a BLM rally. The hero, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), represents EVERYONE. By the end of the film, T’Challa is neither just a king to Wakanda or black people; he is a king for all, demonstrated by his “we are one tribe” message to the United Nations at the end. We are T’Challa and T’Challa is us.
T’Challa is a full-embodiment of Plato’s concept of the philosopher king, a ruler dedicated to truth and goodness, not self-centered notions of race or entitlements. When a man challenges him for the title of king, he manfully accepts, signifying his deference to merit over bloodline. When he wins the challenge, T’Challa shows mercy and grace, signifying his value of ideas over brute force.
Killmonger represents everything T’Challa is not. Where T’Challa has ideas, Killmonger has force. Where T’Challa has grace, Killmonger has cruelty. Where T’Challa has merit, Killmonger has entitlement. While the film certainly sympathizes with Killmonger ‘s past of having been deprived of his father and his heritage, being forced to languish in the slums of Oakland while his relatives lived a life of luxury, in no way does Ryan Coogler or the script endorse Killmonger’s hateful worldview.
If T’Challa and Killmonger represent two opposing ideologies, then the kingdom of Wakanda is the chessboard where they fight for supremacy. Indeed, from the very beginning, Wakanda is torn between those two forces, and all throughout, T’Challa always follows the truth. Such is the case when a white CIA agent (Martin Freeman) is fatally wounded and T’Challa rejects the xenophobia of his peers by bringing him to Wakanda for healing.
Critics waving their fists over the line from T’Challa’s sister (Letitia Wright) flippantly saying “another white boy to save” fail to realize that the whole point of the scene is to show that the kingdom of Wakanda is afflicted with a crippling isolationism that it must grow out of or risk its own peril. This is where Killmonger comes in. Like the serpent, Killmonger comes to exploit Wakanda’s hubris, as he really believes black people are a master race, hence why he wants to use the Wakanda technology to overthrow Western governments and create a one-world kingdom.
Killmonger dangles this fruit of temptation before Wakanda’s tribes; some of them even take the bait, thus sparking a civil war between the ideas of Killmonger and the ideas of Black Panther.
In the end, the side of unity led by the philosopher king T’Challa wins out over the side of tribalism. The truth prevails. Blacks win. Whites win. Humanity wins. Oh, and by the way, that “white boy” T’Challa’s sister bemoaned about healing, he saves the day and nearly gives his life up.
Isolationism and racial uniformity never pays.
By saving the world, T’Challa becomes a king for everyone, for he is more than a king of a nation, but a king of ideas. As such, he knows it would be selfish of him to go back to his old way of life as an isolationist, hence his line “the wise build bridges, while the foolish build walls.” He reaches beyond the borders of Wakanda, not to rule or enslave or even lecture, but to serve those in need.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out what conservatives are harping on about over the final scene when T’Challa opens up an outreach center to help inner-city youths in Oakland. Rather than have T’Challa throw a bunch of money into the street or preach to children about white evils, director Ryan Coogler instead shows his hero give the inner-city children exactly what they need: hope; as evidenced by T’Challa revealing to them a Wakanda ship, enlivening their imagination.
The message Coogler sends is clear: inner-city youths need something to aim for, something that lifts their spirits, something to inspire them. They need fathers; they need community; they need culture; they need friendship; they need compassion; they need wisdom; they need a hero.
The wise build bridges, indeed.