Black Panther and Civic Imagination

The Marvel movie “Black Panther” was not only a blockbuster hit but became a movement shortly after its release. The movie follows two characters, T’challa and Killmonger, as they fight over who is Wakanda’s rightful king and protector of the land. 

People praised the movie for its imaginary utopia where black people aren’t oppressed or looked down upon for their traditions. It analyzed and fleshed out many stereotypes to showcase black independence, black power, and celebrate black culture. 

For example, black people are stereotypically from low-income cities and have few resources; this stereotype is acknowledged and expanded upon in Black Panther. The movie contrasts Oakland, California, with Wakanda. 

In Oakland, there’s violence, poverty, and few resources to help educate kids and improve black lives. However, in Wakanda, people are wealthy, respect one another, and have numerous resources to educate kids and enhance their lives. The city of Wakanda is, thus, an imagination of what society would be like without oppression and racism blocking pathways to success and respect. 

Black Panther also succeeds at civic imagination by reimagining what society would look like if black culture was accepted and wasn’t influenced by colonizing countries. In the movie, there are numerous tribes that all have different ways of expressing themselves.  

For instance, W’Kabi, the leader of the border tribe, and his tribesmen are seen wearing a blanket throughout much of the movie. The costume was inspired by the traditions of the Lesotho people in South Africa, who wear printed blankets called Basotho blankets as clothing. As such, the representation showcased one of many parts of African culture that gets lost in mainstream America due to societal customs and norms.  

Another example includes how the movie styled women’s hair. In the movie, you’ll see Nakia, Shuri, and Queen Ramonda all sporting natural locks, which is not seen much in pop culture. 

Black women have been bullied for years for their tight coiled hair. They have even been pressured to dawn less curly styles to fit societal standards of beauty. In fact, the movie even acknowledges it when Okoye has to go undercover; she dawns a long black wig which she detests. 

The scene displays that to be accepted as a black woman; you have to change your natural look. However, in Wakanda, it’s socially acceptable and encouraged even to wear hair naturally so as not to disconnect a person from their black heritage. 

Sadly getting to this imagined place of black acceptance and black power will take time and additional resources. In many ways, the movie showcases the hardships of getting to an imagined society. 

Killmonger, the movie’s villain, wants to take over Wakanda for the sole purpose of giving Oakland the power to overcome oppression. Kilmongers actions parallel with current trends of black-on-black hate.  

Black-on-black hate has increased in recent years with notions of colorism, misogyny, and competitive victimhood. Killmonger symbolizes the abundance of black-on-black hate since he doesn’t try to find a peaceful way to work with Wakanda. 

Instead, he insights violences and overthrows T’challa seemly because he believes he is better than him. In Kilmongers reign, he treats the Wakanda people with little respect and increases the supply of vibranium. That way, he can give weapons to the people of Oakland.  

While Killmonger’s actions would only promote violence in Oakland, T’challa sees that Killmonge’s motives are right. He does indeed need to help those that are suffering so their society can become enriched like Wakanda. 

He goes to Oakland and gives the community access to new technology and educational resources. T’challa’s actions symbolize the need for additional resources in poverty-stricken communities and demand black unification to overcome systemic racism and oppression. 

While it may seem like Black Panther is about superheroes and a imaginary land, it’s much more than that. The movie sends the message that not only do black lives matter, but they are powerful, enriched in culture, and should be accepted. 

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