I know, I know, pitchforks up right? But before anyone freaks out, I’m not disparaging the film. There’s a lot to be proud about here. The film’s Afro-futurism aesthetic is beautiful, and BLACK PANTHER clearly is the genre’s most substantial foray into film so far. The issue with this film is that quite frankly, it is not the vehicle of symbolism that it is trumped up to be. Many have made the argument that BLACK PANTHER is chock full of themes of refugees, helping the downtrodden and Wakandan outreach.

My response to that would be, where? Where in this movie do you get that anyone is itching to help the needy? The last scene of the film?

Warning: This article contains spoilers for BLACK PANTHER. To be fair, at this point you should have already seen the film. So that’s on you.

Wakandian Outreach

But What About That Last Scene?

Well, let’s talk about that fly in the ointment of my argument. If someone wants to claim that this ending was all part of  T’Challa’s character development, go for it. In fact, that’s an argument that I buy.

However, this not a central focus of the film. And because the Wankadain idealogical struggle between “outreach” as we’ll put it, and traditional isolationism is not the primary focus of the film, that theme falls flat on its face.

The MCU Ain’t The Comics

However, this really shouldn’t be surprising. This is the MCU, not THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW. Marvel isn’t in the business of making dramatic political statements or pissing anyone off. In this charged political environment, you’re going to have people take offense to basically anything out there.

BLACK COMIX RETURNS Review: Vivid Works from Creators of Color

So as much as people want to hear that “everyone should help everyone, etc., etc.” If you did that,  You’d get people claiming that “Marvel is now spouting Commie propaganda.” And as much as people who read this site think that’s absurd, it’s the truth. Companies don’t want to lose money, and there are a lot of conservative people out there; enough to elect our current president at least.

So in the end, what marvel is in the business of making, and what BLACK PANTHER is at its core, is the typical “hero’s journey” story. The inciting incident, first act turn, 2nd plot, etc., are exactly what you would expect in a story about a man trying to reclaim what was taken from him by an enemy obsessed with revenge. This brings me to my next point. Killmonger is great but doesn’t represent anything more than the basis of a villain.

It’s All About Revenge, Not Wakandan Outreach

Killmonger’s motivation perfectly encapsulates how this theme of Wakandan outreach is thrown to the wayside. Here you have a highly motivated character; but what is his motivation? Fulfilling his fathers dying wish? Or, did he just want to rule Wakanda (and the rest of the world) by sharing military tech with like-minded individuals?

After viewing BLACK PANTHER, it seems like more the latter rather than the former. Throughout the film, we do get a sense of character development with Killmonger. We view the “Bugatti Spaceship” ferry away from his father’s murderers. We see that he carries his father’s ring with him and finally, we see him tear up upon meeting his father as he takes the mantle of the Black Panther.

Wakandian Outreach

All of these visuals and moments lend themselves to the notion that Killmonger’s motivation isn’t creating a world for the betterment of his people, it’s revenge. Revenge for his father being murdered by his uncle, revenge for his country for disowning him, revenge for everything that had been taken from him. Outside of him stating to his father that ” Some people might just be lost,” we don’t get a sense that he truly believes in his father’s original plan. And because of that, one is drawn to the conclusion that he wants to do it for his father.

If BLACK PANTHER really wanted to commit itself to showing Killmonger cared, it could have done a lot better then him threatening priests and burning a field of sacred plants. There was ample opportunity to build his character into one seen as someone who had legitimate viewpoints about Wakandan outreach, methodology withstanding. Instead, Killmonger is a  character hell-bent on avenging his father.

Action Overshadows The Message of Outreach

Every mention of this argument between isolationism and outreach gets constantly overshadowed by the action that follows. Nakia’s extraction? You’re so engrossed in everything going on; the dope ass Space Bugatti, Black Panther kicking butt and the following scene that the wayside completely throws her message of why she is helping others. Same situation with W’kabi’s isolationist rhetoric.

You are wrapped up in Panther and Co. about to leave for South Korea (affectionately known as Worst Korea to their northern neighbors) that none of what he says actually resonates with the viewer. Again, if BLACK PANTHER wanted a theme of  Wakandan outreach to seem prevalent in the film, they could have done so much more.

Show Killmonger helping a struggling family outside of Wakanda. Show Black Panther struggle with seeing some downtrodden individual in South Korea. Don’t just have a couple of lines of dialogue and then T’Challa’s miraculous change of heart.

BLACK PANTHER: The Felicity of Representation

Dat mid-credit scene doe

In the film’s defense, I did enjoy the mid-credit scene. It was clear that T’Challa was going full bore with this idea of  Wakandan outreach, and that Wakanda was about to turn over a new leaf. However, there is this another problem with this scene.

Let’s think about it like this; It’s the end of the film. Mid credit scene. This is the last film before Marvel’s most hyped, and most anticipated film ever. Don’t you that think everyone was just waiting for something about INFINITY WAR? Anything? Sure, the audience might have been paying attention to that scene. But don’t you think it’s reasonable to believe that a sizeable portion of them was watching that scene through their phones, just waiting for THANOS to appear?

Looking Towards the Future

One final question that this film brings up is; with the comics being so concerned with social justice, will the MCU keep moving towards this light? It’s an interesting question. One has to think INFINITY WAR will not attempt the political message BLACK PANTHER does. It’s going to be Marvel’s Magnum Opis. And Marvel isn’t in the business of losing money by way of perceived political slights.

Wakandian Outreach

To piggyback off of that, with its massive box office numbers, a sequel to BLACK PANTHER is just a matter of time. One of which I think will not attempt such a level of political grandstanding, weak as the grandstanding may be. But who knows? Times change. And with the literal roundhouse of available characters for the MCU to invest in, it might be awhile before we see another Black Panther film.

All of that said, the theme Wakandan outreach is the only way BLACK PANTHER falls flat. Otherwise, BLACK PANTHER is the typical action-fueled, humor-laced extravaganza that viewers have come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Just don’t go around saying it’s a film that tries to argue the merits of isolationism vs. outreach; because it’s not.

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