Yes, Wakanda Forever, but why not South Africa Forever?

After watching the imaginative tour de force that is Black Panther, Sindile Vabaza thinks about the lessons of the movie and how they relate to South Africa’s future.


© 2017 – Disney/Marvel Studios


Black Panther is, on its own merits, quite simply the best Marvel film to date.


For 2 odd hours, I went on an imaginative tour de force in which I was transported into a world where black people stride across the stage of life as moral actors and agents with all the complexity that implies, rather than those who are often acted upon in our own world.


Yuval Noah Harari, in his bestseller Homo Deus, writes about the intersubjective realities human beings create; the imaginative projects of our minds which we tell other people which ultimately change the way we arrange our lives individually and collectively.


Nation states are imaginative projects.


Democracy is an imaginative project.


And so in one sense, for those two hours, Wakanda was as real to me as the intersubjective reality of Johannesburg is.


It is precisely why I found the film so profound, because in it I saw what we could be, the boundaries of possibility stretched and in the very real moral quandaries and happenings of the film I saw a world in which black people participated as equals.


The would-be villain, Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (who has a strong case for being Marvel’s best ever cinematic villain) is played with intensity and fury and sheer alacrity by Michael B Jordan. Orphaned and left to grow up on the violent streets of Oakland’s ghetto’s Stevens grows up to visit that same grammar of violence on anyone who stands in the way of his goals.


© 2017 – Disney/Marvel Studios


Stevens, in a tense scene with the protagonist T’Challa, argues for a Wakanda that uses its technology and wealth to uplift all oppressed people and of course he is right because this is the moral equation faced by all wealthy and advanced nations on some level. In the movie, it takes on added significance because Wakanda is a black nation and in our own world, black nations are those who are most often in need of assistance.


What we also learn is that even though Killmonger is indeed right, the quality and nature of our actions matter very deeply in the moral universe.


Towards the end as black Wakandans slay each other because of Killmonger’s ruthless pursuit of his own goals, I was reminded of another would be liberator close to home; Robert Gabriel Mugabe.


He too was right about redress for Black Zimbabweans but ultimately under his leadership, a genocide against poor and vulnerable black people (the Gukurahundi) happened.


Killmonger is a complex and layered character, a flesh and blood human being formed by violence and loss and oppression but ultimately his status as a villain is down to him, his own choices and actions.


As it should be.


T’Challa himself is so shaken by his encounter with Killmonger and the truth of his father’s own moral choices that he himself begins to question and change Wakanda’s isolationist policies. At the end of the movie, we are left with a poetic scene in which T’Challa has instituted the first Wakandan centre for global outreach in Oakland, on the site where his own father killed his uncle and Killmonger’s father.


Seemingly it is our choices in the present that can right the moral wrongs of the past.


For all of its spectacular fight scenes and epic vistas and sunsets and the sublime humour of the movie, what makes Black Panther so special was its imaginative humanizing and dignifying of the black experience and of black people’s lives and therein lies the movie’s real power.


People dressing up in traditional attire and NBA players like Victor Oladipo competing in a Black Panther mask during All-Star weekend was an imaginative lunge towards that, a yearning for an intersubjective reality and a world in which black people are moral actors and agents rather than those being acted upon.


There is supreme dignity in having your actions have real moral weight and seeing them have real moral weight and affecting the world in very real ways.


As black people, we are often at the bottom; our dignity and humanity questioned and belittled at every turn but for 2 odd hours we got to see a world in which that was simply not the case. We got to imagine a world that is starkly different from ours.


Yes, Wakanda forever, but why not South Africa forever or Zimbabwe forever?


It all starts with a bit of imagination.


© 2017 – Disney/Marvel Studios

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