What Black Panther’s ‘Wakanda’ And America Could Learn From Each Other

Written by Steve Pauwels on April 4, 2018

Some phenomena delight or fascinate me; others dispirit; some surprise. Then, there are those that simply bewilder.

File under that last category the current box-office leviathan Black Panther. As of this writing, it’s receipts are closing on $1.3 billion, the most financially successful superhero flick ever. Nothing short of explosively historic.

Additionally, reviews have been uniformly swooning — even talk of Oscar nods(!). Over at RottenTomatoes.com, the movie enjoys 97% positive notices. Beau-coup bucks and critical acclaim? That’s a rather big deal, a stellar combo which is not always a given.

Still, I’ll say it: Black Panther is not a great film. Solidly okay, sure. I’d rank it somewhere in the middle of Marvel Universe’s cinematic pack, but nowhere near their most impressive efforts.

BP, admittedly, brandishes a plot that serves up a dose of gravitas, aiming at themes profounder than your typical comic-book fare — but even these are treated glancingly. Although it’s visually superior overall, its action sequences are conspicuously forgettable. The inevitable final battle scene plays like a paste-job from an above-average video game: Starkly underwhelming. The movie is competently acted — but nearly absent? Much-needed humor; a deficiency underscored by BP’s principle characters, a particularly tedious bunch: overly self-serious when they’re not sneering, smirking and/or glowering.

How to account, then, for the word-of-mouth delirium and cash-register triumph of Black Panther? Doubtless, much of its success can be chalked up to widespread passion that this socially aware cinematic showpiece score big all around. Toplined by an African-American director and cast, set predominantly in Africa and inner-city America and contemplating topics of historic white “colonialism”, BP is the kind of high-profile project virtuous folks are supposed to root for. “Culturally significant”, was Ben Shapiro’s summary. “[Y]oking wokeness to a corporate franchise,” (Ross Douthat, National Review.) A vocally progressive film-buff described it to me as a “more evolved” Marvel outing.

Hippopress.com’s not-easily-impressed Amy Diaz, heaps an “A” on Black Panther, admitting she was wowed by its “awesome … cast made up mostly of black actors (especially in a genre movie) getting to show character range where race … is not anyone’s sole defining characteristic”; and “each [prominent] woman … [was] allowed to portray a different kind of strong womanhood … [S]hocking and wonderful.”

A major actioner showcasing an African-American superhero and admirable ladies? Audience good-will is practically guaranteed, nearly inebriating. A fashionable and profitable winner, hands-down.

Black Panther‘s super-powered name-sake is actually the masked alter ego of T’Challa, monarch of the fictional, mysterious and hyper-advanced Kingdom of Wakanda. Whether that nation should reveal itself to — and share it’s splendorous medical and technological developments with — the rest of the planet supplies the pressing moral question driving the film’s central conflict. Confronted with varying viewpoints, King T’Challa wrestles dourly with them throughout the movie’s two-plus hours.

Well, if the thoughtful folk of Wakanda are honestly searching for an example to simultaneously inspire and caution them, I submit for their consideration: the good ol’ US of A.

Over the course of its two-and-a-half centuries, what nation on earth has expended more of its treasure and citizens’ blood in causes which, often lop-sidedly, have bettered non-Americans’ experience? Indisputably, notwithstanding exceptions scattered ignominiously throughout, wherever Uncle Sam has planted his outsized shoe abroad, individuals and countries have, on-balance, benefited quantifiably.

Even in Iraq, a sample of one American foreign adventure execrated by many liberals and conservatives alike, we were en route to bequeathing a much-improved situation — when along came Barack Obama, unconscionably dribbling away the noble achievement.

America’s part in Africa’s slave trade? Certainly, shameful; that continent was grievously wounded. Yet, remember, Great Britain and the States were among the first to officially foreswear “the peculiar institution”, igniting a liberating trend that engulfed the globe. Recall, the latter even engaged in a ravaging Civil War, in part to vanquish that human trafficking.

Name your national disaster: Who is nearly unexceptionally first on the scene, brimming with essential humanitarian supplies and enthusiastic rescuers? That’d be legions of “nasty” Americans. Who, at this very moment, are serving overseas. with varying intensities of involvement, keeping at bay the bad guys via freely disbursed technologies, money, military expertise and, often as not, on-the-ground personnel? If you guessed the denizens of this Republic, congratulations! You win an all-expenses-paid trip to Wakanda.

Dennis Prager properly has called the United States military “the world’s greatest force against evil”.

And even as immigration issues continue convulsing America’s policy debate, millions of men, women and children from all four corners are annually and exuberantly welcomed into life here.

This is not to defend all these undertakings. Some, initially praiseworthy, have been prosecuted blundersomely; others never should’ve been essayed from the get-go. There’s a decided downside to ceaseless foreign “meddling”. Imprudent intrusions worldwide can overextend even the best-intentioned civilizations — as the US is presently confirming.

Point is: no one with intellectual integrity and historical awareness can, with straight face, aver America has only ever cared about itself. The country’s fairly bankrupting itself demonstrating otherwise.

Which supplies a lesson the “Wakandans” also should take to heart: while ethical imperatives might be satisfied and desirable pay-offs gained through exposure to ways and cultures beyond-the-borders, there are concomitant risks involved, too. Best proceed with care.

Do foundational principles matter? As Richard Weaver asserted, do “ideas have consequences”? If so, any society recklessly and indiscriminately deluging itself with persons operating under incompatible values and attitudes will face corrosive impact. A country’s long-serving laws, cherished convictions, very personality can be incrementally metamorphosed into something unrecognizable; and unpleasant. An America increasingly and ongoingly importing those who wink at wife beating, support “honor killings”, favor “strongman”-style government, a pervasive welfare state or undiluted collectivism, endorse theocracy or mob-ocracy, or sniff at a free press or religious liberty might not remain “America” for long.

The United States’ tradition of honorable, sometimes self-less, outreach has much to recommend it: life-enrching diversity, exchange of tech know-how, economic vibrancy, homage to essential human decency. It’s, nonetheless, hatched some pronounced challenges, even dangers, threatening the homefront.

Any injudicious nation, including one boasting a ruler who moonlights as a superhero named after a jungle cat, can run up against the same vulnerabilities. That’s a warning reinforced courtesy of America. Another international public service we’ve provided, thank you very much.

Wakanda, heads up.

While we’re on the subject: you, too, America.

Image: Fair Use; Screen Shot: Black Panther Trailer; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaPnbzNUjZo

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.