By Farayi Mungoshi
DESPITE its jaw-breaking action sequences and cinematography that keeps you at the edge of the seat throughout the film, it is the story and essence of Black Panther that I found most captivating.
Given the title of the film, Black Panther, we all know that the story is about the Black Panther; it is also about his quest to defend and protect ‘Wakanda’ and all things ‘Wakandan’.
Because of its highly advanced technology and fear that should the rest of the world catch on and discover the secret behind Wakanda’s superiority and power (which is the alien metal called vibranium and is used to develop Wakanda), Wakanda would be in danger.
History has taught us as Africans that if you have something that the rest of the world does not have, it is only a matter of time before they come out and wage war against you to exploit the resource.
The natural resources scattered across Africa have been, for centuries, at the centre of the world’s attention and are partly the result of our never-ending conflict.
Europeans and Americans have, over time, waged war against African nations in search of this wealth; at times even using mercenaries or by enforcing the divide-and-rule strategy that has destroyed so many African nations leaving them in civil war while the opppressors loot the countries dry. Thus it is only understandable when an African country like Wakanda (though fictitious) decides to lie and pose as a Third World country when in actual fact it is way more advanced than all the First World countries.
However, it is not the Black Panther’s storyline I found most engaging in the film but rather Killmonger’s (Michael B. Jodarn).
In order for us to understand Killmonger’s quest, we first have to explore his back-story.
Killmonger is the son of Prince N’Jobu, brother to the late King of Wakanda and father of the Black Panther, T’Challa.
Before his death, Prince N’Jobu is sent to the US as an undercover agent.
It is while in the US he discovers how people of African descent have been reduced to living as mere paupers and are suffering. For example in the US, black neighbourhoods are filled with drugs, guns and gangs. This rot was brought about through the segregation laws in the US that prohibited blacks from living in white neighbourhoods and also prohibited them from inter-mingling with whites or marrying them. This made it easy for the US government to target and persecute them; remember Tulsa 1921?
Most black communities have since turned into filthy ghettos (Projects) filled with drunks, drug addicts and gangsters.
Prince N’Jobu saw their pain and sufferings and told his brother, King T’Challa that their brothers and sisters of African descent across the world needed their help and that it was time Wakanda stopped operating in hiding.
He proposed that Wakanda shares its technology, including weaponry to arm and strengthen blacks across the world against the oppressors. The late King T’Challa refused and N’Jobu decided to go it alone.
He recruited and sent black market arms dealer Klaue to Wakanda to steal some vibranium.
In his mission, Klaue also attacked a village and killed people there including W’Kabi’s parents.
W’Kabi is Black Panther’s best friend and will stop at nothing to get his revenge on Klaue.
However, another undercover agent, Zuri (Forest Whitaker), discovered that Prince N’jobu had betrayed the king.
When confronted, Prince N’Jobu attacks Zuri but King T’Challa intervenes and kills Prince N’Jobu, his own brother.
They decided to keep N’Jobu’s death a secret and they abandoned Killmonger (who was still a child at that time) in Oakland, California.
In a history-repeats-itself style, I’ve discovered common with most films and stories, Killmonger vows to complete his father’s mission and deploy weapons to people of African origin around the world in order for them to fight the oppressors and set themselves back on top as the most powerful and feared people across the globe.
He trains throughout his life, joining the US Black Ops and killing people at any given chance.
Killmonger kills Klaue and takes his body to Wakanda.
He presents the body to W’Kabi, who was already angry at King T’Challa/Black Panther, for failing to bring Klaue back to answer for his crimes against Wakanda and for killing his tribesmen and sisters.
When Killmonger finally reveals his identity — that he is of royal blood and challenges the Black Panther for the throne of Wakanda — W’Kabi decides to support him instead of his best friend.
The Black Panther is defeated in ritual combat.
In a heart-rending scene, Killmonger throws the Black Panther’s body down a waterfall and leaves him for dead as he takes over the throne.
Killmonger unleashes hell on Wakanda as king and he divides the kingdom, with those who believe in his mission to arm blacks with Wakanda’s weapons on one side, and those opposed to the idea on the other.
He sets fire to a field of the heart-shaped herbs, (a plant which is given to the king upon his ascension to the throne and also gives the king superhuman powers while allowing him to visit the land of the ancestors before taking the throne).
However, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) manages to steal one herb before all the herbs are destroyed and escapes with Ramonda, the Queen mother (Angela Basset)and Black Panther’s sister, Shuri, to M’Baku’s land (Jabari) while Killmonger deploys warships to deliver weapons across the globe
When Nakia, Shuri and Ramonda arrive in Jabari to ask M’Baku to fight alongside them against Killmonger, they also discover the Black Panther survived the fall and fight.
Apparently some Jabari fishermen had discovered his body by the river, unconscious.
The Black Panther is given the herb and immediately re-awakens.
We can all guess what happens next!
The Black Panther returns to Wakanda; his appearance gives the rest of his people who were opposed to Killmonger’s mission hope but not W’Kabi.
A civil war breaks out between the tribes, as Black Panther’s men and women fight to stop the warships that had been sent across the globe by Killmonger.
In a heated battle sequence, Wakandan against Wakandan, lovers against lovers, W’Kabi finally puts his weapon down when he comes face-to-face in battle against his love, Okoye (Danai Gurira).
The Black Panther defeats and kills Killmonger and, once again, peace is restored in Wakanda.
The Black Panther also decides to share Wakanda’s technology with the rest of the world.
In an UN summit, King T’Challa reveals to the world that they will be giving aid to the less fortunate and sharing their knowledge with them. Shuri and Nakia are assigned to run the AID programme, starting off with the run-down black community of Oakland where their uncle was killed.
While the story might not be ‘our own’, meaning African as argued by others lately, there is no doubt concerning its intentions.
It’s not a coincidence either that the film was released during the US’ Black History month.
It serves as a reminder that we do have brothers and sisters across the seas, products of the slave trade who are suffering and are still being persecuted.
Perhaps it is now time Africa lifted its head and put its natural resources to good use; maybe one day we will be able to send aid even to the US, like Wakanda.
After all, that is what film is all about; a make-believe mechanism created to challenge the mind into believing that if you can dream it, perhaps you can have it.