Politics

Black Panther: The Next Avenger

Costa Avgoustinos

The politics of Marvel's Black Panther would make this unsung character a smart addition to the next Avengers movie.

Since we're all on an Avengers high, now is the perfect time for a close look at the fascinating sometimes-Avenger: The Black Panther, Marvel’s first black superhero. Specifically, let’s look at the revamp of the character in the 2010 BET animated TV series, Black Panther, because the politics in it are, frankly, stunning.

What politics? Well, here's the premise: The Black Panther is the leader of the fictional African nation, Wakanda. Wakanda is the exclusive home to a precious mineral called vibranium, an impenetrable metal with exceptional properties, and so The Black Panther's job is to protect Wakanda's borders from bastards that want to invade and exploit its riches. This includes French colonialists, ruthless mercenaries and, in the TV series, the modern U.S. government.

This premise serves as a springboard for thinly-concealed commentary on US foreign policy and the problems with Western intervention in African nations. Specifically, Black Panther seems to me to be a love letter to the battered ideology of protectionism. Here's a quick and (over)simplistic rundown… In the mid-20th century, when developing countries in Africa and Asia were freeing themselves of their colonial ties, many opted for protectionism -- that is, an economic policy to limit the amount of trade externally and instead focus on getting the economy pumping internally (eg. place high taxes on imports/exports so people are inclined to support local business and local businesses will trade with each other and build off each others' development). Generally speaking, the protectionist policies in many of these countries were a success. But they were rudely interrupted by Western foreign powers that wanted access to their resources and access to their markets. So free market ideology was thrust upon them -- sometimes violently -- to get them to fling open their borders (eg. IMF loans only given out if countries open themselves up to trade; coups/dictators get the backing/resources of foreign powers if they promise to support free trade policies when in power).

So the series asks a big "what if?": What if there was a country in Africa untouched by Western intervention? What could it look like today? Black Panther presents Wakanda as the (exaggerated for comic book purposes) utopian answer -- a thriving technologically/medically/culturally/economically advanced African nation which gained such prosperity, not only from following a strict protectionist policy, but by rejecting any imperialist impulses of their own that come with power. Wakanda does not use its extraordinary achievements and technological know-how to conquer its neighbours. Instead, it treats its natural resources as a treasure that needs to be protected for the good of the world. The Black Panther makes clear in the series that Western nations (and several neighbouring African ones) cannot be trusted to use vibranium for peaceful constructive purposes.

While the series champions a pro-protectionism stance, Black Panther goes for the jugular when depicting US foreign policy. The US government is portrayed as nakedly imperialist -- disrespectful of Wakanda’s sovereignty, motivated by delusions of entitlement to Wakanda’s natural resources and willing to play dirty and team up with dodgy figures to get its way. In my opinion, however, the series stumbles by blaming these flaws on the Bush Administration specifically, rather than acknowledging that such traits have been a common theme in U.S. foreign policy well before President Bush (Jr. or Sr.) and have been a common theme after.

Apart from that gripe, Black Panther is everything you’d hope pop culture could be. It places non-American people of colour at the centre of the story with agency and kick-assiness, embeds the story with interesting, relevant ideas about developing countries and the rights of their people and governments, and while the whole thing is drenched in politics it doesn’t take away a smidgeon of the entertainment value you’d expect from a comic-book action series. Watch the first episode below.

NOTE: A live-action Black Panther movie is in the works. It is unclear, however, whether the plan is to include him/her (the Black Panther changes identity every generation so has sometimes been female. Excellent, right?) as part of the Avengers franchise.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image