The new movie Black Panther is out and it is all the rage. Countless black people in America and, indeed, the world are beside themselves with glee, that at long last there is a superhero that black children can emulate and identify with – a black action figure who looks like them, battling for justice, morality and the American way of life. If you take into account the amount of cash the movie is raking in, you’ll have to conclude that a fair amount of white people are also voting for this movie with the price of a seat.
To sum up the movie: When his father dies, T’Challa becomes the new king and ruler of the advanced kingdom of Wakanda. Because it is never colonized, Wakanda develops without any outside meddling to become a technically advanced African empire. Wakanda has an endless supply of a supernatural element called vibranium which empowers its technology.
Whenever a challenger for the crown announces his intentions, T’Challa must give up his Black Panther powers and take the challenger on in a physical challenge.
Along with his technologically savvy younger sister Shuri and his guard Okoye, T’Challa must stop the evil Ulysses Klaue from using vibranium to take over the world. The action is furious on two continents, complete with shootouts, car chases and amazing feats of acrobatic gymnastics. Klaue is finally killed; the world is once again safe.
In the second plotline, a new challenger, Erik Killmonger, presents himself and proves he’s of Wakandan background and royal blood. In fact he is a first cousin, and T’Challa must take on the new challenger. More acrobatic gymnastics follow, but of the highest order, with so many twists on who is winning the battle that the WWF would be envious. In the end Killmonger is defeated and, in finishing himself off, he utters one of the most meaningful lines of the entire movie. Explaining why he chose death, he says that he was like his ancestors who jumped into the ocean, preferring death to enslavement.
There are two or three other moments in the movie with lines that resonate like that one, but for the main part, I went hungry looking for dialogue I consider relevant to my concerns.
Bigots used to say (maybe they still do), never give a Negro an inch or he’ll want a mile. They were talking about me. Now that we have an invincible black screen superhero I’d prefer not to waste his time or his energy jumping SUVs, dodging cars and dueling kin. No, I’d like to put my superhero to work performing real civic duties. I’d have my superhero battling Confederate flag-waving Klansmen and gun-toting white supremacists. I’d have my superhero patrolling mean inner-city streets seizing illegal guns and enforcing binding gang peace. My superhero would ride shotgun with white policemen prone to shooting unarmed black citizens. My superhero would engage in impactful social endeavors that would make America as safe as Wakanda for people of color.
Oh, I understand the symbolic importance of the movie and the character, but I also know that having him engage in issues that promote the good life for such a large portion of Americans would only enhance his symbolic importance. Yes, my superhero would deliver substance along with symbolism.
I may see my wish come true. Black Panther has grossed, they say, $700 million worldwide in two weeks, and it rates a 97 on Rotten Tomatoes, so a sequel is surely in the future. The writers will have to come up with villains for the Black Panther to defeat, but they shouldn’t have to invent villains, they can easily just choose from a host of existing enemies with a natural antipathy to Wakandan culture and traditions. Make the sequel relevant to the lay of the land – the lay of this 2018 reality in America. What’s the danger?