Review: The Anti-Colonialism of ‘Wakanda Forever’

Two superpowered titans clash on the field of battle, their outlandish costumes illuminated by sparks and energy beams. Powered by the magical element Vibranium, the Black Panther unsheathes her claws and hurls herself toward her opponent, the centuries-old mutant Namor. Desperate to replenish himself in the sea, Namor lifts into the air via the tiny wings sprouting from his ankles. If he reaches the water, Namor will have the strength to defeat the Black Panther, leading the armies of Talokan to conquer the nation of Wakanda. 

Such action sequences are to be expected from a movie like Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

As the latest entry in the enormously popular Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda Forever brings to the screen superheroes who began as four-colored adventurers in Marvel Comics. They exist in a fantastical world, in which the Norse god Thor rides a rainbow bridge to help the people of Earth, and radioactive spider bites give teenagers superpowers instead of cancer. But despite these over-the-top plot mechanics, Wakanda Forever roots its story in real-world geopolitics, giving its battles surprisingly deep resonance. 

The movie follows the lead of its predecessor, 2018’s Black Panther. Directed by Ryan Coogler, who co-wrote the film with Joe Robert Cole, Black Panther transcended the superhero genre to become a cultural phenomenon. In adapting a character that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created in 1966, Coogler and Cole realized Wakanda, a fictional central African nation, whose technological superiority stems from its supply of the super-element Vibranium. The movie pits Wakanda’s protector, Black Panther, aka King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), against his prodigal cousin Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), who plots the violent takeover of his lost country. 

The first Black Panther captured the attention of the world, not just for Coogler’s impeccable filmmaking (save for some dodgy CGI effects, a symptom of Marvel’s exploitation of visual effects artists) or the electric performances by Boseman, Jordan, and others. Rather, the film put Afrofuturism on screen, giving us an advanced African nation without the taint of colonialism or the slave trade, led by both a Black superhero in Black Panther and a supporting cast of compelling women, including Letitia Wright as T’Challa’s kid sister Shuri, Danai Gurira as Okoye of the elite Dora Milaje, and Lupita Nyong’o as spy Nakia. Even more impressive is the way that Coogler and Cole made Killmonger a sympathetic villain, whose anger toward Wakanda stemmed largely from the dehumanization he suffered from Western systemic racism and the American military. 

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