The MCU’s Black Panther dazzles moviegoers with its representation of a technologically advanced African power, but to what extent does it’s foreign novelty cover up its admittedly brutal nature.
The plot of the movie (Spoilers ahead) centers around the benevolent and super-powered king Tchalla of Wakanda as his throne is usurped by the cruel and malevolent Killmonger, who seeks to use Wakanda’s weapons to overthrow the world order. The central conflict and setting provide some interesting set pieces for fun superhero action, but it also begs the question: Is Wakanda an African North Korea?
Both countries are poor isolated nations with xenophobic streaks and hereditary monarchs which wield absolute power and supposedly have supernatural abilities. Everybody’s favorite ‘Glorious Jucheist Republic of Korea’ is also technologically advanced, at least according to government officials.
Killmonger is doubtlessly evil and vindictive, yet the reason that he poses such a threat is because in Wakanda democracy is tossed out in favor of trial by combat. Killmonger even finds allies in Wakanda nationalists who believe in militaristic interventionism not-at-all dissimilar to Kim Jung Il’s communist revolutionary network.
Why does Wakanda get off the hook? (Other than the fact that Black Panther is a superhero film)
One possible reason is that Wakanda’s existence is steeped in orientalism, or stereotypes about non-western countries. The music playing in the Wakandan setting is literally called “(Tribal music playing)” in the subtitles for Avengers: Infinity War.
The trial-by-combat that decides the Wakandan dictator is not portrayed as a gross betrayal of popular sovereignty but instead as a “Noble commitment to honorable traditions”. With enough bone necklaces and Nigerian accents even the most archaic government can become a proud tradition.
In a cinematic universe filled with realistic national governments led by pragmatic and greedy leaders, the African one (Wakanda) gets to be treated like some fantasy kingdom such as Camelot or Andor. (Which to be fair it mostly is)
Of course, this is an over analysis of what is supposed to be a fun movie, so take this with a grain of salt.
What do you think?
One thought on “Orientalism: Is Wakanda a Rogue State?”
I think this is a very interesting take on Black Panther, and on Orientalism. I do agree that potentially problematic aspects of Wakanda are covered by acceptance of Orientalism in Western culture. I would also maybe attribute it to a broad acceptance of one type of culture that exists in Africa by Americans, who may feel guilty for the way they have treated African-Americans for the last few centuries.