So, yesterday I was invited to an advance press screening of the Ryan Coogler-directed film Black Panther, based on the comic Marvel. Practically, the entire time that I had my eyes on the screen, my mouth was agape.
This movie is just so magnificent…from the dazzling costumes, to the startingly original screenplay by Ryan Coogler and Joe Robert Cole (drawing on the foundations by Marvel comics creator Stan Lee and Jack Kirby) to the acting. Even grand actors in small roles were in magnificent (Angela Bassett as the Queen Mother Ramonda, and Forest Whittaker as Zuri, the kingdom griot and judge).
As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Wakanda was a metaphor for Haiti. There were so many similarities and parallels, you didn’t need to mentally squint to see them either. Here are the ones I noticed…
Wakanda is an isolated kingdom. Though having (in Wakanda’s case ) It’s referred to by outsiders as a third world country, and one of the poorest countries in the world. Sounds familiar?
In Wakanda, white men don’t have a say. There’s a scene where a CIA operative (played by Martin Freeman) is bullied into silence by Wakanda’s women. Oh my goodness. Sounds like the time Haiti leader made it illegal for whites to own land in Haiti.
There’s even a scene where W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) takes a conch shell to signal war in Wakanda. Haven’t most of all read about the symbolism of the conch shells in the Haitian Revolution and in the Slave Uprising in Haiti, then known as Saint-Domingue?
The word Tchaka is actually a word in Creole. It’s the name of a dish. Have you ever seen it, or eaten it? It’s made up of corn and beans, and pumpkin is added too. And T’Challa is, coincidentally, a word in Haitian Creole. It’s a book of dreams.
T’Challa, the heir to Wakanda is called back to Wakanda after his father T’Chaka (John Kani) passes. He returns to set things straight and to contribute to the stability of Wakanda. King T’Challa’s return is a symbol of the return of the children of the boat people and the contributions of the Haitian Dyaspora to Haiti (who contribute more than 52% of Haiti’s Annual Gross Income, according to statistics available by world agencies).
How often are people of Haitian descent called back to Haiti to help, whether by way of their physical self or through the millions of dollars they contribute to Haiti!
King T’Challa’s army is made up entirely of women (Florence Kasumba, Sydelle Noel, Janeshia Adams-Ginyard, Jenel Stevens, Marie Mouroum, Marija Juliette Abney, Maria Hyppolite) headed by Okoye (Danai Gurira). This makes one recall women warriors like Jeanne Lamartiniere, Cecile Fatima, Suzanne “Sanite” Belair, the women who were the backbone of the Haitian Revolution.
And it’s been pointed time after time by economists who’ve studied the Haitian economy, how vital Haiti’s market women are to its economy and sustainability. The character of Okoye is so vital in the Kingdom of Wakanda. Though she acts with the humility of a bystander, she’s a true and key player in the operations of Wakanda. If you’re in her corner, she displays faultless loyalty. As she says at one point, “I am loyal to whomever is sitting on the throne”.
Disorder in the Kingdom
A kingdom can only thrive when it’s united. The disorder that threatens the existence of Wakanda when two kings (Chadwidck Boseman and Michael B. Jordan) vie for the throne is similar to a situation that existed in post-Revolution Haiti.
Henri Christophe, a fighter and General in the Haitian Revolution, born outside of Haiti (Grenada) and Alexandre Petion, differed on their philosophy on how Haiti should run. Petion thought the key to Haiti’s success was to end the world-wide embargo by first getting recognition from France. Christophe thought setting up a fortress and fighting off France. Wakanda exists because the outside world doesn’t know its true power.
Erik Killmonger, the rival to the Black Panther’s throne, wants to use Wakanda to deliver people of color whom are oppressed all over the world. But the Black Panther/King T’Challa knows that if he were to adopt his nemesis’ plans, this would be the end of Wakanda.
This somewhat parallels the dilemma faced by the fathers of the Haitian Revolution. Christophe stomped a would-be Haitian Revolution continuation in Jamaica, in order to stay on good terms with England (Jamaica being a British colony at the time).
Both he and his predecessor Dessalines agreed not to take the Revolution in other parts of the islands and the United States of America. When Dessalines and his successors (Jean-Pierre Boyer, Faustin-Elie Soulouque) launched the immigration of Blacks from the United States to Haiti, scholar Leon D. Pamphile emphasizes how they didn’t try to recruit slaves but freedmen.
To encourage slaves to leave to the United States for Haiti, would have threatened Haiti as a new nation, and put them at odds with the world’s biggest world powers at the time.
Wakanda king-crowning ritual
People getting buried alive! Part of the Wakanda king-crowning ritual is to make the monarch drink a substance, and give him a public funeral while alive. Now, have we that before?
These are the similarities I noticed when watching Ryan Coogler’s film. So Wakanda is not quite Haiti, but it is Haiti…somewhat.
Black Panther is so unlike anything you’ll ever see on a big screen. I liked the light humor, though not the heavy violence (but this is a movie based on a comic strip, after all). I have to say that Klau the villain looked a bit familiar. I wondered in what other movie I had seen the actor playing him, and when I finally figured it out, I was in total awe of Andy Surkis and how he morphed himself into from comedian to ruthless villain.
And speaking of villains, I was really struck by the character M’Baku (Winston Duke). King T’Challa’s sole challenger for the throne of Wakanda, M’Baku is a fur-wearing, sickle-yielding kingdom warrior. Though he at first comes across as a divider, instigator, his much more noble side emerges later.
Actually, I was impressed by the entire cast, especially with Danai Gurira. There was just something about her, about how she played her role, and her overall screen presence. I thought Michael B. Jordan was Nick Cannon at first, and then I realized he wasn’t. What a performance though.
I loved how Black Panther tried to flip all the tables. Women among the village elders. Tribal marks not as decorations but as sources of identity and pride. Okoye’s rejection of long hair in that one scene in Busan, Korea, where she vows to return to baldness once the operation at hand is over.
How Letitia Wright’s character is the scientific mastermind (and therefore operational genius, and therefore National Engineer) behind Wakanda. Again the power of the female community, though T’Challa is king, it’s Okoye who’s really running Wakanda.
And we must not forget the bravery of Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), and her power as the one who makes The Black Panther/T’Challa’s little heart freeze.
Black Panther was short in Australia, Korea and Georgia. Wish a scene could have been filmed in some parts of Africa. But for a movie that’s black in every other aspect, I know that if on-location shots from Africa aren’t part of the film, it’s because massive redtape got in the way.
Last Updated on November 10, 2023 by kreyolicious