I've concluded that part of this phenomenon is based in the strong image based appeal the movie has for our people. Africans are used to seeing our people portrayed in all forms of media as buffoonish, and lacking character and especially dignity. So, within that context, its not hard to understand the appeal of a movie that portrays plenty of strong, dignified, African people, living in Africa. Its these types of images that the suffering souls of the ancestors living within our consciousness cry out for everyday. And, "Black Panther" certainly had those images to offer. Beautiful, intelligent, courageous, and confident African women. Courageous, disciplined, and thoughtful African men. A functioning and organized African society. From church to school to television and movies, the message has been reinforced for us since birth that all of these conditions are not possible for our people. That all we are capable of is chaos, death, and destruction. So, for a people starving for dignity, the visual presentation of this movie is an injection of much needed adrenaline.
The other side of the equation is that for decades, Hollywood, California, U.S. has been, and continues to be, the primary conduit of imagery for the entire world. The largest movie producing industry on the planet exists in Hollywood. As a result, every country I've been too, and I've been to dozens of countries, not only has plenty of Hollywood films as a part of its daily dose to its people, but many countries have also set up their own movie industries based on the Hollywood model. This is an important point because one of Hollywood's primary purposes is to serve as the primary education tool for millions of people e.g. what to believe, what not to believe, and how to see the world. Most people are not engaging in regular and serious study of world events so their fundamental perspective of important affairs like the civil rights movement of the U.S., Africa, women's rights, LGBTQ communities, history, etc., are being shaped by what they see on television, movies, etc. Forces who are interested in using the entertainment medium to shape public opinion, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for example, have long been aware of this reality. During the Black power and anti-war in Vietnam era of the late 1960s and early 70s, the mood and perspective towards military and police within the U.S. was predominantly negative. The FBI engaged in extensive research around this issue and determined that the best way to change this was to use Hollywood to re-frame the images of police and the armed forces. These efforts resulted in the FBI pushing for massive funding for television series like "Dragnet" and "Adam 12" which followed "The Untouchables" as television series that cast police and FBI as heroes. Today, movies depicting military and police bravery are everywhere and this plays a significant role in how people see these entities. You don't think that awful movie "American Sniper" wasn't an effective propaganda tool in humanizing U.S. troops who kill innocent people overseas while furthering the continued dehumanization of the people the U.S. is fighting in these unjust wars? How many people do you know who watch movies like that compared to reading books on the political history of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.?
So, the "Black Panther" movie has to be seen as a part of the massive effort from Hollywood to craft images and shape consciousness. That's why its important that we talk about the subtle and extremely damaging elements of this very visually satisfying movie. The first major issue is the portrayal of Michael B. Jordan's character. He is portrayed as the long lost cousin to "T'Challa" the Black Panther who was played by Chadwick Bozeman. Jordan's character was born and raised in Oakland, California. He grows up without parents and experiences life as many young African men experience it in this society which is built and maintained on our oppression. As a result, he grows to learn his cultural ties to the fictional African country of "Wakanda" where the Black Panther comes from. Jordan's mission is to go back to Wakanda and stage a coup against the King Black Panther so that Wakanda's minerally rich wealth can be used - the character's words - to "free up millions of people on Earth who look like me and you!" This position is of course the classic Pan-Africanist position. Africa is the richest place on earth as it relates to mineral wealth while Africans are the poorest people on earth. This dichotomy exists because Africa's rich resources are not controlled by African people. They are controlled by multi-national corporate interests that bleed the continent dry. Meanwhile, African people exist everywhere on earth as non-producers. So, the vision expressed by Jordan's character is only articulating what African nationalists and Pan-Africanists have been saying for centuries. The problem is Hollywood's consistent trick of suggesting that any African who takes an uncompromising position against our oppression has to be either crazy in the head or just simply not a good person. The very insidious suggestion is that the capitalist system, despite its flaws, is still the very best thing that Africans could ever hope for, so anyone who suggests otherwise is insane and cannot be trusted. Anyone who has been active in revolutionary and African nationalist politics knows this is the sentiment we battle in our people's perceptions of us and our politics everyday. So, we know how to recognize it when the Jordan character, articulating this need for African self-determination, is portrayed as a bloodthirsty and brutal person. Because the inference is that although he says he wants these liberation goals, as articulated by his character in the end of the movie when challenged by the Black Panther during their final duel, he's really coming from a place of anger. He doesn't have a vision of justice at all. Just revenge for what was taken from him on a personal level. He has no plan for African liberation. He actually doesn't even really possess any integrity and values because if he did, he couldn't and wouldn't work with racist white mercenaries, as he does in the movie, to get back to Wakanda. This is an often and very tired refrain of African militancy. It comes from a place of anger and a desire for personal power and violence. This backward and dysfunctional depiction of our militant struggle for justice was carried out very skillfully in the "Black Panther" movie.
Also, The Wakandan people have extensive mineral wealth and they have used this wealth in the movie to develop their society on a technological level that not only exceeds the rest of Africa, but the entire world. The suggestion by Jordan's demented character (the dysfunctional revolutionary of course) is that this wealth needs to be used to advance Africa and African people as a whole. This again is the general concept of Pan-Africanism in a very broad sense, but the movie's subtle reaction to this is to have the people of Wakanda declare nationalism for Wakanda, not Pan-Africanism for Africa. The outstanding general of Wakanda, played magnificently by Leticia Wright, declares this in clear terms when she states that she is loyal to the country and the king's throne. This entire element of the film is a subtle nod to U.S. nationalism and Africa's micro nationalism which each stand on the long discredited concept that "I got mine, you need to get yours" which would be ok if the conditions were level, but you got yours - as was articulated by Jordan's dysfunctional revolutionary character - "by stealing from my ancestors" so there can be no you steal to your hearts content and then once you use my wealth to establish your empire, then, we need to start talking about me having to earn my way through you. This type of limited and extremely reactionary nationalism is the problem for African people not the solution. From African countries fighting each other over trivial colonialist terms to Bloods and Crips fighting over false pride and land space they don't own, this type of false nationalism displayed by Wakanda in the movie is not for us, yet the movie presents it as something we should all strive for. And, most damaging, at the end of the day, the movie's subtle suggestion is that African liberation is a good idea, but a dream that of course, can never actually happen. I won't even discuss the insane concept portrayed in the movie of a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent being some type of hero to Africa. The CIA has blood on its hands for tragedy in Africa's past, current conditions, and future.
Finally, the portrayal of strong women leading the military, facilitating the world's cutting edge technological advancements, of course will seem overwhelmingly positive for a people starving for dignity, but at best, like much of what this movie has to offer, this is token advancement at best. At the climax of the movie, its still the masculine men, through the epic battle between the Black Panther and Jordan's character, or the strange tribe of all men who rescues the women warriors, the same patriarchal messages come up supreme, that men are the rulers of society.
Now, this lack of dignity thing for African people makes it so we lash out for any sign of dignity we think we can covet. As a result, many people who just don't have the time and capacity to develop an analytical perspective on things like this are going to be upset at this piece because they want to stay in that realm of enjoying the visual strengths of this movie. I've already seen several references to not criticizing the movie. To just enjoy what it brings us, but an oppressed people can never relax in analyzing the conditions around them. An oppressed people can never afford to "let stuff slide." These subtle messages are breaking away at our people's ability to see our own vision by suggesting to us how we need to see ourselves and our struggle. And, those messages are not coming from us. They are being directed at us because even if we are confused, Hollywood understands that its primary responsibility is to uphold the capitalist system that it is the propaganda arm for. So, enjoy "Black Panther", but understand what is actually being presented. The messages are overwhelmingly anti-African liberation and anti-Pan-African. The ending of the movie is essential in making this point. T'Challa traveling with his technological genius sister played brilliantly by Lupita Nyong'o, end up in Oakland, California, to engage the community where the cousin - the dysfunctional revolutionary played by Jordan - grew up. T'Challa decides to buy some buildings there and develop some sort of community center where he enlists his genius sister to develop the technological program for the center. When the "Wakandans" make a space ship appear, the children playing basketball stop to marvel at the vessel. One of the children asks T'Challa if the ship is his and who he is. This is one of the most telling parts of the movie to me. Clearly, the only reason Africans from the continent would travel to a U.S. ghetto would be to make a connection with their long lost people there. Even the most ignorant and vehement racist would be able to understand the logic of that. Yet, in this scene, instead of providing the most logical answer for the situation, which would be something like "I am your brother, family, etc." T'Challa smiles and says nothing. This is how the movie ends and its fitting for such a massive Hollywood propaganda film. You oppressed Africans can talk about liberation all you want. You can come to our Hollywood movie dressed in African outfits and other forms of cultural warfare against your oppression. You can even organize programs before, during, and after the movie. But, at the end of it all, you will not be organizing yourselves collectively to seize back the minerals we are stealing. You will not be gaining control over your lives. You will not be breaking down the barriers that keep you divided and keeps us on top. The best you will get is a good feeling when you leave this theater and maybe some basic reform program for a few of you in some ghetto. But, at the end of it all, we thank you for your ticket and we must excuse ourselves. We have a trip to the bank to make.