The following article contains major spoilers.
Black Panther is a love letter to people of African descent all over the world. Its actors, its costume design, its music, and countless other facets of the film are drawn from all over the continent and its diaspora, in a science-fiction celebration of the imaginary country of Wakanda, a high-tech utopia that is a fictive manifestation of African potential unfettered by slavery and colonialism.
But it is first and foremost an African American love letter, and as such it is consumed with The Void, the psychic and cultural wound caused by the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the loss of life, culture, language, and history that could never be restored. It is the attempt to penetrate The Void that brought us Alex Haley’s Roots, that draws thousands of African Americans across the ocean to visit West Africa every year, that left me crumpled on the rocks outside the Door of No Return at Gorée Island’s slave house as I stared out over a horizon that my ancestors might have traversed once and forever. Because all they have was lost to The Void, I can never know who they were, and neither can anyone else.
It is also The Void that creates Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger, the antagonist of Black Panther, cousin to Chadwick Boseman’s protagonist King T’Challa and a comic-book villain so transcendent that he is almost out of place in a film about a superhero who dresses as a cat. Black Panther is about a highly advanced African kingdom, yes, but its core theme is Pan-Africanism, a belief that no matter how seemingly distant black people’s lives and struggles are from each other, we are in a sense “cousins” who bear a responsibility to help one another escape oppression. And so the director Ryan Coogler asks, if an African superpower like Wakanda existed, with all its power, its monopoly on the invaluable sci-fi metal vibranium, and its advanced technology, how could it have remained silent, remained still, as millions of Africans were devoured by The Void?