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Black Panther: Tradition v. Reform


I watched “Black Panther” the ‘critically acclaimed’ Marvel movie that was released a few weeks ago. It was quite an average superhero movie, and not something that should have received the attention it has received, along with critical acclaim. The movie’s plot by itself is not particularly unique in my opinion.

I was however intrigued by the conflict between T’Challa (the heir apparent) and N’Jadaka (the cousin/challenger) and between their ‘ideologies’ so to speak. This is where the movie stands out. This article (or listicle) my attempt to understand the choices and decisions of the characters in the film.

*spoiler alert*

[If you haven’t watched her the movie, nothing below will make sense to you]

I. The Ancestral Plane Scenes reveal a lot about the characters

When T’Challa becomes King, he is given the ‘heart shaped herb’ to recover, he is covered in sand as he experiences ‘the ancestral plane’. He seems to ‘hallucinate’ and reaches the african savvanah, which reminded me of ‘The Lion King’ to be honest.


The Lion King Savannah


The Ancestral plane that T’Challa experiences

He is in what is presumably a formal traditional Wakandan dress [insert Manyavar Joke], and envisions his ancestors as liteal black panthers – his father, sitting on a low branch of the tree, anthromorphisizes into his human form, dressed in a tribal dress.

Compare this to how N’Jadaka experiences the ancestral plane –

He seems to have been transported into his father’s apartment, and is dressed in a T-shirt and Jeans. He becomes a child, and he sees his father as he last remembers him.

It reveals a lot about the characters and what has influenced them: the environment, the culture, and more. T’Challa is molded in traditional Wakandan values and ideas, while N’Jadaka sees himself as more ‘American’ than ‘Wakandan’. His father was clearly radicalized by the ideas of ‘Black power’ and violence against the state. He has the same ideological inclination and sees the Wakandan State as a tool for the same.

II. N’Jadaka acts against his own interest

No doubt that N’Jadaka is a radical who wants to establish his own empire over the whole world. However, he acts against his own interest by burning the ‘heart-shaped herb’ (HSH) stockpile. This is meant to show his inclination to tyranny and desire for absolute power. This action is however against his own long-term interest. The HSH is a very important tool in Wakanda, both in tradition and as a strategical tool. If N’Jadaka wants to establish a 1000 year empire, he would be sacrificing an important tactical advantage – the abilities that the HSH confers on the user. His political goal – that of ‘reversing’ the ‘injustices’ that the world has dealt to the ‘black people’ and establishing an empire will be reversed if he is unable to institute a proper succession system, and HSH is integral to the formation of such a system.

III. Loyalty to the throne v. Loyalty to a person

The film has a lot of themes and conflicts that deserve attention. One that I quite liked is the conflict between Nakia (T’Challa’s lover) and Okoye (head of Dora Milaje, the Wakandan Special forces) and it resembles a mahAbhArata trope, as @GhorAngirasa noted on twitter. Namely, Okoye remains loyal to the throne after N’Jadaka ‘wins’ the challenge, Nakia on the other hand wants to help out Shuri (T’challa’s sister) and Ramona (T’challa’s mother) and fight the ‘usurper’.

Okoye reluctantly continues to follow tradition and attempts to temper N’Jadaka. But she too shifts her allegiance when T’Challa reappears and continues the challenge. [Question is, was there no injunction against burning HSH? Should that not be considered as a violation of law?]. Nakia emphasizes ideas and persons over ideology and tradition, while Okoye values tradition and structure. Nakia is a ‘liberal’ Wakandan, as is made clear through out the movie. Okoye in comparison is ‘conservative’.

IV. T’Challa is destabilizing Wakanda in the long run

A lot can be said abut the nature of the ideological conflict in the film, but I shall brush past all that and how I disagree with the priors assumed in the film and turn my attention on how T’Challa’s actions are endangering the continued sustenance of the Wakandan civilization. By opening up Wakanda to the world, T’Challa is opening up up to a variety of foreign powers who will attempt to utilize the advanced technology to theor own nefarious ends, which in turn could spark an arms race and more. It could also lead to a possible conflict with Wakanda and other countries threatened by them.

There is a very reasonable and rational reason that Wakanda became isolationist, and those reasons still hold true. The ideas and preconceptions of an American Black Nationalist radical does not change that.


The movie, overall, is certainly not deserving of the sort of attention is has received from certain sections of the media, but it’s certainly worth a watch.


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