Black Panther has created a strange and wild phenomenon as the film’s swept across the country and now across the world.
Critics have raved about how refreshing the film is to the Marvel Universe, how awe-inspiring the characters are, and— most notably— how many people of color are involved in the film, both on and off the screen. Even with these accolades though, there has been a wave of critique among personal blogs, podcasts, and news articles claiming that non-PoC have felt compelled to see Black Panther purely out of an obligation to give credit to a predominantly PoC centered film.
This got me thinking…do a majority of non-PoC feel roped into supporting Black Panther, simply because it would seem negative on their part for not doing so? Do they not want to go see the film to see an awesome superhero kick butt across the vast plains of Wakanda? Or learn more about his origins, and culture in spite of his race? Whatever the reasons, here is why I feel Black Panther is not only for us, but our non-PoC friends too.
I’ll begin by distinguishing the contrast between the only two non-black characters in the film (well, excluding the short glimpse we recieved of White-Wolf).
While it may be obvious to most, there is an incredibly interesting dynamic Ryan Coogler has set in motion between Ulysses Klaue and Everett K. Ross. We’ll begin with Klaue, who is more than your stereotypical villain: although Klaue is an outsider, he has had contact with Wakanda from the very beginning, and is responsible for bringing death and wreaking havoc as we learn from W’Kabi. Klaue was also one of the first legitimate connections we had to Wakanda in the Marvel universe, long before we even met T’Challa.
He was in cahoots with N’Jobu (T’Chaka’s brother), and worked with him in stealing rare vibranium and Wakandan weapons. After N’Jobu’s death, Klaue reconnects with Killmonger (N’Jobu’s son), and works with him in continuing the crime spree and theft he began all those years ago.
What is interesting to note here, is how Klaue’s presence—and his subsequent death—play a role in Killmonger’s access to Wakanda. Upon killing Klaue, Killmonger presents his body before W’Kabi (whose life has been bitterly affected by Klaue’s influence) and calls the act a “little gift”. This sacrificial justice is ultimately what gains W’Kabi’s trust in Killmonger, and hence what helps aids Killmonger in (literally) overthrowing T’Challa.
Klaue was used metaphorically as a way to portray the negative and biased perspectives of those who choose to believe in stereotypes and racist portrayals of Africa and people of color. Wakanda of course, serves as an allusion to real life African countries, and the African continent as a whole. Klaue’s complexities lie in the way he dismissed Wakanda as a lowly primitive African country, while also in the same breath fetishizing the culture, artifacts, and weapons of the Wakandans.
This mindset mirrors real life perspectives of those who believe Africa to be a third world country with nothing to offer—yet do everything in their power to rob it of resources, culture, and (in the worst cases) people. And the irony that Coogler illustrates, is that these outdated prejudices haveabsolutely no standing. Klaue describes the Wakandans as savage, uncivilized people ignorant of the power they hold with Vibranium—yet with every racist, prejudiced statement that leaves his mouth, the audience is shown the complete opposite.
We’re shown the vast brilliance that is Wakanda, from its architecture, culture, and civilians. We’re shown T’Challa’s brilliant genius sister Shuri who—at only 16—is responsible for the entire country’s technological advances. We’re shown how she intricately weaves Vibranium into the fiber of Wakanda’s being. We’re shown how Wakanda has used Vibranium as a healing power, a way to earn respect, and as a right to rule.
So, Klaue was not just a stock villain utilized to make T’Challa feel better about himself. He was used to show an outsider. A non-PoC’s male gaze into a land such as Wakanda. He set into motion many of the events that transpired throughout the film, and proved that those who hold these negative viewpoints of PoC and Africa are very well wrong.
This serves as a critical self-examination of those who may be ignorant or wilfully bigoted to understand that their perspectives on PoC and ethnic countries are not correct. And through Wakanda’s portrayal in Black Panther, it allows them to see that Wakanda—and Africa in general— is a land and culture that has so much to offer, and so much to be recognized for.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Everett Ross: a special agent who immediately becomes an important asset to T’Challa and the rest of the team. Even when he could have, he doesn’t give T’Challa up when he meets him and his entourage in the casino—even though he knows fully well that T’Challa plans to take Klaue back to Wakanda to answer for his crimes.
Later on, when T’Challa and his agents are ambushed in their interrogation quarters, he takes a (almost fatal) bullet for Nakia and protects her.
Later on, he assists in gathering information on Killmonger, escaping with the royal family to help keep them safe, and—in the final battle—he uses Shuri’s inventions to help destroy the crafts carrying Wakanda weapons, helping to prevent them leaving the border, and effectively helping to save the world—and almost at the cost of his own life, yet again.
Everrett Ross may have stuck out like a sore thumb and been the token white guy, but the great thing about Coogler’s interpretation of him is that he was able to become much more than that. Ross did not have to stay in a box, nor did he have to submit to a typical representation of a white character navigating an ethnic country of PoC.
Ross’s character was used to give further insight from an outsider’s gaze, but in a more positive sense. His willingness to immediately help T’Challa showed that the differences between him and Wakandans didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
He was able to genuinely appreciate and understand the Wakandan culture as a vibrant, thriving community that has been a force to reckon with for eons. He was used as a connecting point to Wakanda, and he was able to quickly integrate into T’Challa’s team—and later on, the Wakandan society—without issue or animosity on either end. And as a non-PoC character that is important. Especially considering that, as much as Ross helped T’Challa and Wakanda, he never gravitated into the “white savior” role.
Wakandans—and PoC in general— are not weak, simpering victims who must be “saved” from themselves.
Neither should the world be something that must be saved from the Wakandans. And Coogler illustrates that beautifully. Everett Ross and T’Challa are equals, with their own strengths and power. And when working together to save the world, it is on equal terms, which is amazing.
In the film’s final cut scene, T’Challa and his entourage arrive at the World Summit to announce Wakanda opening their resources and borders so that, in the words of the king himself, they may all become “one tribe”. I don’t think he or Ryan Coogler meant that line only for the film; they were speaking to us as an audience as well.
The importance of this film celebrating ethnic culture and people of color, while also including non-PoC characters and treating them thoughtfully and with respect, speaks to the vast yearning for us as a world community to open up our own cultures, technology, and assets to everyone, without fear, hate, or theft.
What good would a film like Black Panther be, if it wasn’t able to be truly enjoyed by everyone? So, yes, it is unapologetically black (and rightfully so), but not at the exclusion of every other race. And in the same vein, non-PoC should not feel obligated to see Black Panther in order to be politically correct.
There’s so much more to the film than that, and the treatment of the non-PoC characters in the film illustrates the notion that you can be anyone—black white, PoC, non-PoC—and still appreciate different cultures, and different ways of life that are not familiar to you. In my opinion, that final scene—and Black Panther in general— was used to show a sense of solidarity between us as a people, and to bring others into the fold so that we all can become – one tribe.