Excited for Black Panther? So are we. Which is why we’re rolling out obsessive coverage with Black Panther Week.
As Black Panther has broken records ahead of its wide release, with critics and fans applauding everything from the casting and performances to the story and visuals, the very concept of Wakanda itself has also been elevated to its own status of celebrity.
For the past few months, fans on social media have been sharing their wishes to go to Wakanda, with some declaring themselves Wakandans. It’s fitting that the wide release of Black Panther falls within Black History Month; Wakanda has been built up as a home for black excellence, a place born from and characterized by blackness.
Though Wakanda has become the newest hotspot in our collective cultural imagination, it reveals a trend that differentiates it from its fellow mainstream fictional worlds.
Middle Earth, Narnia, Westeros, etc.: In so many of these popular fantasy worlds, black people are the exception – rarely seen, if visible at all. But the issue isn’t simply limited to that of the lack of representation amongst characters. There’s also the narrative freedom with which these white worlds function.
From the Shire to Rivendell, from the Vale to the Crownlands, the reach and breadth of these worlds is infinite, overwhelming even. But we have protagonists who journey and embark on quests, encountering new allies, villains, magical creatures and landscapes along the way. These fictional worlds exist independently from the real world; they establish their own rules and logic, and the protagonists need only concern themselves with conflicts that are particular to those worlds.
Black imaginary worlds are not only rare in the mainstream, but when they are written, they are largely rooted in the real world.
It’s no coincidence that these worlds are populated by white people. These locations, based out of the white imagination, are spaces of privilege, where whole worlds may be whitewashed without question, and where conflicts may be more dreamed-up than mined from real-life problems.
That isn’t to say that these white worlds cannot be rooted in the politics of the real world. Many engage directly or indirectly through metaphor. There’s the influence of European history in J. R. R. Tolkien’s vision of Middle Earth, or the allusions to Nazism and genocide in Voldemort’s pure-blood ideology, or the white colonialist narrative in Avatar, among others.
But even these kinds of metaphors are a privilege of white imagination, which may choose to engage with the world or wholly depart from it.
Black imaginary worlds are not only rare in the mainstream, but when they are written, they are largely rooted in the real world. In fact, some degree of social and racial politics seem to be an unspoken prerequisite for black worlds.
The CW’s Black Lightning, though set in the fictional Freeland, still has its black heroes in a realistic urban setting, facing systemic racism. Nisi Shawl’s novel Everfair carves its eponymous fictional land out of the history of African colonization and slavery by Europeans. And then there are the notably diverse, multiracial worlds of Octavia Butler – but while they are not always explicitly tied to the politics of the real world, they, too, build on themes of prejudice, segregation, slavery, racism, and classism in ways that are clearly rooted in historical context.
This brings us to Wakanda, a fictional country in northeast Africa with magical stores of vibranium. Wakanda has a geographic identity, and its language, fashion, and aesthetic in the film are all influenced by those of various African countries and cultures. Boseman based his accent on the Xhosa language, as well as languages from Kenya, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone, while costume designer Ruth E. Carter based the costuming on African fashion from tribes across the continent.
Overall, the whole look of Wakanda onscreen took real-life inspiration from Africa. “We wanted to honor and have reverence for the continent, and bring it to the screen in a way that you haven’t seen before, as being a prosperous place,” production designer Hannah Beachler told Nerdist.
Indeed, it’s important that Wakanda exists as a representation of black resilience and success. Although Wakanda is separate from “real-world” Africa as we understand it, it’s still politicized by the very nature of its location and isolation.
Let there be Wakandas where blackness can be owned and celebrated – and where it can thrive.
Though Wakanda has not been colonized, it’s at risk of having its main resource, vibranium, exploited by a white man, Ulysses Klaue, who, in the comics, is the son of a Nazi. And the main conflict in the Black Panther movie, between T’Challa and Killmonger, reflects the collision of the African experience with the African-American experience.
The message, then, is that blackness is generally politicized, tethered to history even in its imagined worlds.
One may argue that to try to consider blackness without those politics would be disingenuous, an erasure of a cultural history made more complex by the prejudices black people have suffered and continue to suffer today. However, that also means there are limits on the black imagination, which determine there can be no black worlds, real or imagined, that can exist without contending in some way with the prejudices and injustices of reality.
But is there such a thing as blackness that’s not anchored by this history? In an age when our president dismisses “shithole countries” and black (and brown) lives are disregarded, I say no.
So if blackness is, in fact, inherently political, if even our alternative fictions must be bound to a history both complex and inerasable, at least let there be Wakandas where blackness can be owned and celebrated – and where it can thrive.
More From this publisher : HERE ;
We also Recommend : [wp-stealth-ads rows=”2″ mobile-rows=”2″]