Film & Politics
Black Panther: An Afrocentric Ethical Fable

Marvel’s latest blockbuster serves the classic function of myth—to provide a poetic account of the political ethics of a community.

Published on: February 22, 2018
Richard Thompson Ford is the George E. Osborne Professor at Stanford Law School and author of several books, including Rights Gone Wrong: How Law Corrupts the Struggle for Equality and The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.
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  • Loader2000

    Good movie. Maybe not quite living up to the hype, but still good. It would have been ruined if the social themes didn’t mesh well with story line or were not true to the original comic. Fortunately, unlike with some franchises (Star Wars for example), Disney/Marvell opted to go with a director who had actually loved the original Black Panther comic books as a kid and knew how NOT TO ruin them with incongruous social justice material. The film is full of social justice material, but it meshed well. The Black Panther character itself was also very charismatic in the movie. Hopefully we will see the Black Panther kick some serious butt in the next avenger movie.

  • Steve Smith

    Interesting that the original Black Panther of 1966 was created by two Jews. The original villain was not Killmonger but the son of a German Nazi, Ulysses Klaue, and there was a Jewish mixed race “buddy” character. The Black Panther, in other words, was originally a Jewish-conceived vehicle for the black-Jewish alliance that was so useful to organized Jewry in its ultimately successful campaign to overthrow the WASPocracy.

    It was only in 1973 that Killmonger came on the scene. By that point, the real Black Panthers and other radical groups had started to scare the Jewish establishment that had wet-nursed them. Killmonger represented the excesses of black nationalism/radicalism from a Jewish point of view.

    In the movie, the Nazi-ish white villain, Ulysses Klaue, is combined with a secondary white villain from the comic strip, Anton Pretorius. The film keeps the Klaue name, but the character is clearly meant to be an Afrikaner and speaks with a pronounced Afrikaans accent. He becomes the personification of “white racism.”

    Wakanda seems to be based on the real country of Ethiopia, which, alone in Africa, remained free from European imperial control (with the exception of the years 1935-41.) But the problem is that Ethiopia never developed any great technologies of its own. And while better run than many other African “shitholes,” it is basically a repressive, violent, overpopulated mess much like sub-Saharan Africa in general.

    Fantasy is a huge and growing genre for film and books. People prefer more and more to escape the world in their free time rather than to study or engage with it. I guess I can’t really blame them. Ultimately, The Black Panther is a fantasy film that will not change the condition of blacks either in Africa itself or in the diaspora. It is merely a chance for a target audience and all those others drawn by curiosity to sit in the darkness for two and a half hours and dream of some other better world.

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  • Jeff77450

    I’m 59 and I read comic-books from the late-sixties until 1979. I stopped reading them, with some reluctance, because I was about to get out of the army and start college and it was time to move on. I read Black Panther and enjoyed it. I don’t remember any “read between the lines” racial messages (although I wasn’t looking for them). He was just a superhero who happened to be black.

    Some black people are telling each other that fictional Wakanda is what Africans would’ve achieved if not for colonialism & slavery. Frankly, that’s preposterous. According to one source, when Europeans first arrived in sub-Saharan Africa in the 1400s not tribe had a written language or was even using the wheel-and-axle; not one building had a second story. How accurate that is may depend on where you draw the line delineating sub-Saharan Africa but even if there were one or two exceptions, like Timbuktu and Ethiopia, that doesn’t disprove the larger point.

    I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade. If black parents & leaders use _Black Panther_ as an illustration of what can be achieved if you apply yourself in school, work, obey the law and take responsibility for the children you bring into this world that would be a very good thing. If they use it to perpetuate the victim-mentality and fan the flames of identity politics then as a message-movie it will have failed.

    • Fred

      Yes, even given “vibranium” it’s extremely unlikely an African tribe would have developed science as we know it and advanced technology. In the real world, science arose indigenously only in the Christian West and in the West only after it had been Christian for a millennium or so. That’s no coincidence. Christianity posits a God who created a universe with its own causal powers that operate in an orderly fashion, and He created human reason with the capacity to comprehend that order. And since He is a covenental God, we can depend on the stability of that order. Every other culture on earth up to modern times has seen the workings of nature as determined by either an inscrutable God who could easily change His mind from moment to moment or the chaotic interactions of capricious anthropomorphic gods or animist living objects. Gnu atheists to the contrary notwithstanding, the origin of science was in studying the creation to better know the creator. None of that is politically correct, but the truth almost never is.

  • Anthony

    Can Marvel’s Black Panther help carry the torch of Black radicalism? “The film is far from revolutionary (it never needed to be) and still its marketing campaign proclaims the opposite. Meanwhile, its effects on popular culture has been peculiar at best, and worrisome at worst: fans now laud the film as an act of representational progress, a shift in the larger cultural conversation, when, quite simply, Black Panther has instead planted its flag in the neoliberal dreamworld and declared, ‘I’m here’. Black American culture is not divorced from American culture, whatever fascism imprints white America does Black America, too.” ( https://thebaffler.com/latest/black-comic-universe-philo )

  • Kevin Johnson

    Really ironic, huh? Considering that the Afrocentrists are decidedly pro-capitalism, but the Oakland Black Panthers, and other such organizations elsewhere, where decidedly socialist or even Maoist.

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