CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR bore its claws with the captivating debut of comics’ wealthiest warrior: T’Challa, the Black Panther. #BlackPantherSoLit trended nation wide as a declaration: the Black Panther is a favorite. Many tweeters were seduced by the culture, tradition, and wealth of both T’Challa and the mystery of Wakanda. In truth, T’Challa and Wakanda are perhaps the most culturally appealing motifs delivered in the last two decades of comic book cinema. And it’s about time their story was told.

CIVIL WAR climaxed with the debut of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. T’Challa’s regality was apparent and his pride clung to his accent like the rhythm of a slave hymn. He represented a man unrestrained in his self confidence. The Black Panther stood in his blackness, rather than as a token whose blackness only existed when placed before a shiny white background.

Unlike many black characters who have garnered similar public recognition, T’Challa is a hero of his own right. Many have criticized the portrayal of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes (War Machine) for being glorified sidekicks or “the Black Best Friend,” a trope that describes many attempts at pseudo-diversity in television and film. Like all fake substances, the consumer can taste the difference. Placing Falcon in a scene beside the Black Panther reveals it almost as clearly as day and night—or cat and bird.

INTERESTED in a review of CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR? Read our spoiler-free review!

T’Challa is definitely not a character designed for the white gaze. Even in his origins, the Black Panther has stood for a sense of self and of his nation. His comic introduction heavily invested itself in the strength he derives from his African heritage with the besting of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. To those who might not know T’Challa’s obscure introduction: the Fantastic Four were defeated because they came into Wakanda and underestimated what could happen to them in a “primitive” African nation.

The Black Panther began as a character designed to defeat the narrative of western superiority and to remind the world of the strength in outsider cultures. His costume is a neutral black and his name strikes up an imagery that is both Afrocentric and culturally significant within the African Diaspora. A black panther, rather than a mere leopard, is a variant of its species solely defined by its darker tone. Unlike other heroes, the Black Panther must maintain a connection to his race and culture. In the brief moments when the Black Panther’s name was changed to prevent allusions to the Black Panther Party, it crippled the reception to the character.

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Now that T’Challa exists as a subject of comparison, other cases of black characters designed for the white gaze are easier to scrutinize. Many English students have had to sit through the cultural whitewashing of Aphra Behn’s Oronooko, where an African king is glorified only by how he is not like the average African and how he disassociates with the savagery of the “typical” African tribesmen. T’Challa’s representation in CIVIL WAR defies these standards of both body and mind. T’Challa wears a crown of curls in opposition to the “safer” clean-cut fade of Sam Wilson. He is unapologetic in his goals and demands the respect of the “leaders” of either side: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, as opposed to James Rhodes and Sam Wilson whose absolute dedication to their respective leaders causes constant confrontation between the two.

But this is not the empowerment that ignited the fires of #BlackPantherSoLit, the trending topic that set fire to millions of black superhero fans ready to see themselves in a place of power, rather than roles of pain and suffering. Contrary to belief,  there is nothing empowering about pitting two POC against each other to declare what is black pride and what isn’t: there’s no way for someone to “correctly” represent blackness. The true mystique of CIVIL WAR’s cultural effect is not the Black Panther alone, but the nation where his throne is situated: Wakanda.

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To first understand why Wakanda is so important, one must understand the heart of the setting’s narrative.

The core genre explored when delving into the soul of Wakanda is Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is a literary and cultural appreciation that combines magic realism, fantasy, and historical- and science-fiction with Afrocentricity. With Afrofuturism, it’s never a surprise to see a group of ebony-skinned warriors on a flying island or a world where all technology is built from the beautiful flora landscape. More often than not, the core themes of Afrofuturistic texts, songs, and movies deal with alienation, which is often brought on by these advanced settings’ cultural or geography.

Afrofuturism has picked up its literary and cinematic exposure in the last decade. Nnendi Okorafor’s Akata Witch explores the genre as a coming-of-age tale featuring an albino girl named Sunny and her initiation into the magical culture of sorcerers in Nigeria. The text features alienation, and isolation by association, as a recurring theme in the form of Sunny and the society of sorcerers, Leopard Knocks. Sunny, being an American-born Nigerian albino who is considered an outsider in the magical world, struggles with fitting in and the loneliness which manifests in her talent for ghostly transformation. Leopard Knocks itself is a surreal-yet-advanced society which prides itself on its “forward” thinking and yet alienates others to the point of prejudice: prejudice against Free Agents, or the mudblood, like Sunny; prejudice against mundane society for pursuing monetary wealth over knowledge; and prejudice against western magical practices.

Yet, the Afrocentric theme of Akata Witch still gets to the root of Afrofuturism: empowerment. Sunny grows into her own and the Leopard people often attempt to grow as a community beyond their petty prejudice. Similar themes are revealed in Afrocentric music, like Janelle Monae’s “Tightrope” which explores walking the line of self-love over the empty, gaping abyss of isolation over an electric beat.

FIND out what CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016) left out in its interpretation of CIVIL WAR (2006)!

In the mid-credits scene of CIVIL WAR, persistent viewers witness the visual debut of the nation of Wakanda, a place mentioned for years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The isolated nation first debuted as an Easter egg in IRON MAN 2 as a “hot spot” for metahuman activity by S.H.I.E.L.D. Its mystery is analogous to its symbol, the black panther, which symbolizes mystery, isolation, and challenges hidden in the darkness. Wakanda is isolated from not just Western nations, but seemingly Africa itself as they religiously protect their borders and the vibranium mounds therein. Viewers are led to believe in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER that all of the world’s vibranium is forged into Captain America’s iconic round shield. In truth, there exists a nation with enough vibranium to build a society on its mining and manufacture, as revealed in AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON.

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Wakandan isolation, however, is said to be the root of their success. With the society naturally abhorrent to the idea of integration with western—or even African—civilization, they’ve escaped many of the more horrible offenses against the African continent. By hiding its resources, it is implied that Wakanda has amassed greater, secret technology and wealth.

Afrofuturism flees the idea of black pain as a central theme. In the past decade, films like 12 YEARS OF SLAVE achieved both critical acclaim and scrutiny for parading black pain through the multi-layered abuse of blacks through slave culture. The Academy Awards often snub cinematic projects that focus on the empowerment of people of color for projects that concentrate on “the black struggle,” from interpretations of a crack head to the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse of inner-city youth.

Representation in Afrofuturism is expected to represent the African Diaspora not as a punching bag for pain and torment and instead as human beings capable of triumph, joy, strength, and wealth. It was born from the need to empower black people by what could be rather than what was. Though there is a past of struggle to being black, Afrofuturism tells the stories of the great things we are capable of doing if given the right circumstances. It’s the honest beauty of the world told through fiction.

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Though we only get a brief glimpse of Wakanda, the mid-credit scene of CIVIL WAR explores enough themes of Afrofuturism to leave an impression of what to expect in the Black Panther movie: A room full of black scientists experimenting with projects beyond anything we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, outside of Thor’s Asgardian super science. This is after we saw the technologically advanced airship piloted by Black Panther, which avoided any of the known detection software of Tony Stark himself both on his Quinjet and his latest Iron Man suit.

READ: PACIFIC RIM‘s attempt at groundbreaking representation marred by misogyny.

Following the debut of AVENGERS: EARTH’S MIGHTIEST HEROES, Wakanda has not been explored on any screen. The animated adventure featured Wakanda in a number of episodes as a mysterious nation bound both by tradition and their secrecy. Their technology daunted the likes of Tony Stark’s best software and cloaking machinery and left a bitter taste in the technological genius’ mouth. Besides the almost habitual underestimation of Wakandan technology, power, and influence, the country went largely unexplored outside of its adherence to tradition and Ancestral worship. It featured the overwhelming might of the nation in a few simple episodes, but never more.

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Ta-nehesi Coates’ BLACK PANTHER run explores Wakanda in its exclusivity. The mysticism of the Black Panther role is represented equally in the mantle shared both by T’Challa and his half-sister Shuri. The wealth and intellect of Wakanda is in the subtle technological milestones of their culture, from the unhackable quality of Wakandan computers to the impressive Kimoyo beads that include personalized applications for every Wakandan citizen. It’s no wonder that many in the Twitter subculture known as “Black Twitter” have taken to using #BlackPantherSoLit—there is nothing not to aspire to in the fictional lore of Wakanda.

BLACK PANTHER is expected to subvert so many harmful tropes of Black films following T’Challa’s debut in CIVIL WAR. Black wealth, nobility, and strength are all rolled into one powerful warrior king and his country, and the anticipation has no need to go anywhere but up. There is no better way to duplicate such captivating cultural traffic than through artwork that speaks to a people on a cultural level like the inclusion of Black Panther and Wakanda in blockbuster movies that will be seen by millions of people worldwide.

There has rarely been such a fanfare and cry of joy following the cinematic reveal of an African-American hero. Already, I’ve heard plans for Halloween involving tight black spandex and foam claws from my nieces and nephews. I’ve seen hundreds of social media accounts change their personal handles to “Wakandan-American” or “T’Challa” or some hilarious variation of it all. The excitement is amping up, and with the recent announcements of potential cast mates for Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther including the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o and Michael B. Jordan, there is much to be expected from director Ryan Coogler’s vision of Wakanda.

Black Panther truly is this lit and maybe now Hollywood will recognize the importance of authentic representation and its benefits following the debut of the ebony king himself. However, despite my apparent dissatisfaction with the state of black superheroes in comic book movies, there is a benefit to the inauthentic portrayals. Without the inauthentic, one couldn’t understand what is real. Like the Powerpuff Girls once sung: “There’s no joy without the sad, there’s no good without the bad.”

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Likewise, there’s no authentic way to speak the African-American Vernacular, but you know when someone is inauthentically using it; there’s no right way to be black, but there is a wrong way to use the culture.

And yet, the Black Panther still defies this logic and trailblazes. He is a fictional Black man contrived by white men in a nation which does not exist, yet he is the first authentic portrayal of a Black man in this universe, the first black hero to not appear as a token.

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