A Black Utopia?

This long-awaited film about a powerful black superhero is drawing huge crowds in the US. T’Challa, prince of Wakanda (played by Chadwick Boseman), returns home to claim his throne and battle with an old enemy, Ulysses Klaue (wonderfully portrayed by Andy Serkis). The real threat, however, lies in a returning cousin Erik Killmonger, who lays claim to the throne, claiming he was the victim of actions by by T’Challa’s father. He’s been away in America, and has returned with the captured Klaue. He establishes his claim by the traditional trial by combat, throws T’Challa over a waterfall, and proceeds to share Wakanda’s wealth with the world. Not, alas by sharing the wealth, but by exporting vibranium-based armaments. Because he’s won the trial by combat, the Royal Guard (Dora Milajie) now support Killmonger, and he is installed as King, also acquiring one of the spare vibranium Panther suits.

It’s a fast-paced superhero action movie, starting with the recovery of stolen vibranium two decades ago — in a scene which reveals the extent of Wakanda’s spies in the US, reveals the power of teleporting Royal Guards and triggers events which will lead to the claim to the throne by the grown up Killmonger. There are echoes here of black americans wanting to return to a homeland they’ve never seen.

Eventually, T’Challa is found by his mother, sister and lover, near death, in a cavern of the hilltop tribe (one of five Wakandan tribes, notable for not buying into the hiugh-tech lifestyle). Application of the heartshaped purple flower restores hi s panther powers and rude health.

T’Challa reappears, to continue the trial by combat, claiming he never yielded. This leads, literally, to a battle royal.
While I enjoyed the armoured rhino troops — and the confrontation between the Royal Guard General and a mounted rhino charge is worth the price of admission alone — the confrontation between two panthers, one in a gold and one in a blue vibranium suit on a maglev track looks a bit too much like a scene from Tron for my liking.

Killmonger has a good point: what use is Wakanda’s wealth and technological prowess when it doesn’t share it with the rest of Africa (or the world)? Aren’t the Wakandans being selfish in hiding their tech behind forcefields, barriers and illusions? While we might be grateful they aren’t setting out to conquer the world (a distinct possibility, given their tech), they aren’t doing their bit to alleviate suffering. There’s a suggestion at the end of the film that Wakanda will buy up neighbourhoods in the USA and transform them. But what about Africa? or will they leave it to the Chinese to build roads and modernise the continent?

While this is a film about a black superhero, it is a film about a black american superhero. (But wait, you say, aren’t superheroes by definition american? Maybe once upon a time, but you’ve clearly missed the British invasion which brought new ideas and perspectives ion the superhero.)

If you like this film, you might want to search out theWriter/Director Ryan Coogler’s  previous film, Fruitvale Station, about the death of Oscar Grant. Coogler is the same age as Oscar Grant and grew up in the Bay Area, living there at the time of Grant’s murder.

While I can accept the idea of a technologically advanced black nation in Africa, hiding its wealth and abilities from the world, I have problems with accepting a hereditary monarchy where the king is chosen by trial by combat! No suggestion of a democratic government, and the challenger must also be of royal blood! Clearly the wealth is shared amongst the citizens of the nation: T’Challa appears wandering in the market place without a platoon of guards: here is no suggestion of a revolutionary uprising. Nor, surprisingly, are there hordes of refugees from neighbouring, poorer nations. Does that mean Wakanda is very well hidden, or it bribes its immediate neighbours to keep schtum? While it’s nice that Wakanda will reveal its tech by redeveloping neighbourhoods in the USA, one might ask why not in Africa? Or will we leave it to the Chinese to buld roads in Africa? Perhaps all will be revealed in the surely forthcoming sequel, Democratic Revolt Against the Panther?

I’m also not convinced a high tech city would consist of skyscrapers and apartment blocks: surely an ecological city would be more integrated with the landscape, taking more care of natural resources and farming organically?

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