CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR bore its claws with the captivating debut of comics’ wealthiest warrior: T’Challa, the Black Panther. #BlackPantherSoLit trended nation wide as a declaration: the Black Panther is a favorite. Many tweeters were seduced by the culture, tradition, and wealth of both T’Challa and the mystery of Wakanda. In truth, T’Challa and Wakanda are perhaps the most culturally appealing motifs delivered in the last two decades of comic book cinema. And it’s about time their story was told.
CIVIL WAR climaxed with the debut of Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther. T’Challa’s regality was apparent and his pride clung to his accent like the rhythm of a slave hymn. He represented a man unrestrained in his self confidence. The Black Panther stood in his blackness, rather than as a token whose blackness only existed when placed before a shiny white background.
Unlike many black characters who have garnered similar public recognition, T’Challa is a hero of his own right. Many have criticized the portrayal of Anthony Mackie’s Sam Wilson (Falcon) and Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes (War Machine) for being glorified sidekicks or “the Black Best Friend,” a trope that describes many attempts at pseudo-diversity in television and film. Like all fake substances, the consumer can taste the difference. Placing Falcon in a scene beside the Black Panther reveals it almost as clearly as day and night—or cat and bird.
T’Challa is definitely not a character designed for the white gaze. Even in his origins, the Black Panther has stood for a sense of self and of his nation. His comic introduction heavily invested itself in the strength he derives from his African heritage with the besting of Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. To those who might not know T’Challa’s obscure introduction: the Fantastic Four were defeated because they came into Wakanda and underestimated what could happen to them in a “primitive” African nation.
The Black Panther began as a character designed to defeat the narrative of western superiority and to remind the world of the strength in outsider cultures. His costume is a neutral black and his name strikes up an imagery that is both Afrocentric and culturally significant within the African Diaspora. A black panther, rather than a mere leopard, is a variant of its species solely defined by its darker tone. Unlike other heroes, the Black Panther must maintain a connection to his race and culture. In the brief moments when the Black Panther’s name was changed to prevent allusions to the Black Panther Party, it crippled the reception to the character.
Now that T’Challa exists as a subject of comparison, other cases of black characters designed for the white gaze are easier to scrutinize. Many English students have had to sit through the cultural whitewashing of Aphra Behn’s Oronooko, where an African king is glorified only by how he is not like the average African and how he disassociates with the savagery of the “typical” African tribesmen. T’Challa’s representation in CIVIL WAR defies these standards of both body and mind. T’Challa wears a crown of curls in opposition to the “safer” clean-cut fade of Sam Wilson. He is unapologetic in his goals and demands the respect of the “leaders” of either side: Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, as opposed to James Rhodes and Sam Wilson whose absolute dedication to their respective leaders causes constant confrontation between the two.
But this is not the empowerment that ignited the fires of #BlackPantherSoLit, the trending topic that set fire to millions of black superhero fans ready to see themselves in a place of power, rather than roles of pain and suffering. Contrary to belief, there is nothing empowering about pitting two POC against each other to declare what is black pride and what isn’t: there’s no way for someone to “correctly” represent blackness. The true mystique of CIVIL WAR’s cultural effect is not the Black Panther alone, but the nation where his throne is situated: Wakanda. keep reading