Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is, at its core, a moving drama about the grief of a nation for their lost King T’Challa and the grief of his closes loved ones. But the film also takes a deeper dive into the geopolitics of the MCU, and really our own world and how the legacy of colonialism, European slavery of Africans, Indigenous genocide, and the pillaging of resources of Black and brown countries continues to this day.
Like with his first installment, visionary director Ryan Coogler beckons the audience to think more critically on how the malevolent forces of white supremacy and western colonialism have shaped our world for ill, and what we must do to undo their legacies of terror and create a better and more equitable world. As Wakanda Forever shows in its climax, if we don’t, then we may be left to perpetuate our own destruction.
It’s made clear at the beginning of the film who the ultimate bad guys are. As Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) addresses the UN, she calls out France and other western countries, whose histories of exploitation and colonialism in Africa have effects that linger to this day, for hypocritically claiming that Wakanda is not “helping” the world with their wealth of Vibranium, when they clearly just want the Vibranium to make weapons for themselves. To demonstrate her point, the Dora Milaje deliver the French soldiers that attempted to raid their facility, showing the French for the criminals that they are. Today, through continued exploitation and capitalism, western countries and companies still have their tendrils in the economies of these countries, and rarely, if ever, to the citizens’ benefit.
Both Wakanda and Talokan have vast stashes of Vibranium that has allowed their societies to flourish for centuries, hidden away from white colonizers who ravaged and pillaged (and in many cases continue to do so) their continental neighbors. When Americans nearly discover the Vibranium in Talokan, this spurs Namor (Tenoch Huerta) to blackmail Queen Ramonda (Angela Bassett) and Wakanda to assist them in taking out the MIT student scientist, Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne), who created the device for class, not knowing her professor would send it to the government.
Namor and his people have felt the effects of European colonialism directly. As presented in the film through flashbacks, their nation was founded in the 1500s as a refuge for the Mayan people under the ocean, after they received the ability to breathe underwater. While Wakanda, of course, has always known what the Europeans are capable of and have seen the slavery and exploitation happen to their neighbors over the centuries, they haven’t engaged as directly as the Talokanis have now done, and Namor attempts to have them be a full partner against the western powers, leading to further conflict between the two nations as the film goes on. It is western imperialism, begun hundreds of years ago and which remains in many ways, that is the main driver of Namor’s antagonistic actions throughout the film.
While the film, through this conflict, asks audiences to think about the reasons why this conflict is happening, and has the direct callout of western powers, it is still part of the MCU, and thus can’t rock the boat too much; i.e., we can’t have a western or European force or person as the full-blown villain or antagonist. The geopolitical conflict between Wakanda and Talokan is compelling, and wouldn’t have happened were it not for European colonialism, but there are times where it feels frustrating that the conflict is happening at all, and that they should find a compromise to unite and stay vigilant together against the colonizers. And to be sure, they do in the end, but it takes a war between the two to get there, including the tragic death of Queen Ramonda herself.
Ryan Coogler and his team weave a rich conflict that is steeped in colonial trauma and resource exploitation, and seemingly sets up a wider conflict with western imperialists (namely, Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine of the CIA as played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) who want to find any excuse they can to exploit the African and Mayan nations. I hope that we get to see this play out in the third Black Panther film, and let a western force be the explicit villain, and not just the one in the background.
The question remains whether Marvel Studios, long known for their US military propaganda, will allow for such an explicit and direct conflict with a western force against African, Mayan, and other Black and brown nations where the latter are explicitly the ones to root for as they are in Wakanda Forever. To fully put colonists as the explicit main villains in their place on the big screen would be an incredibly welcome step for the MCU.
We saw hints of this in the Ms. Marvel finale when the final (albeit not main) villain was a rogue and Islamophobic police force. For the deeply resonant themes that Coogler and his team care about, I truly hope it comes to fruition, and that we may see Wakandans, Talokanis, and other Black and brown peoples triumph over western imperialism.
Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is now playing in theaters.