The biggest success of the new Marvel film isn’t representation, but its contemplation of identity, responsibility, and the future of a diaspora in an interconnected world.
This article contains light spoilers.
Blackness invites speculation. The very idea of a global African diaspora creates the most fertile of grounds for a field of what-ifs. What if European enslavers and colonizers had never ventured into the African continent? More intriguing yet: What if African nations and peoples had successfully rebuffed generations of plunder and theft? What if the Zulu had won the wars against the Voortrekkers and the British, and a confederation of Bantu people had risen up and smashed Belgian rule? What if the Transatlantic children of the mother continent had been allowed to remain, building their empires with the bounties of the cradle of civilization?
These are the questions that vibrate beneath the vibranium bedrock of Marvel’s Black Panther, due out in theaters this week. The basic premise of a superpowered king fighting crime in a futuristic feline-themed suit is the kind of fresh-off-the-panel action absurdity that marks today’s comic-book movies. But, on a deeper level, the fictional African nation of Wakanda is the same Atlantean archetype that has always haunted this diaspora. And like all variations on that archetypal story, Black Panther is a fantasy about black power.