I’m not a comic book fanatic. I know very little about superheroes. Don’t ask me to choose between Marvel and DC. If you ask me who my favorite superhero is, I will say Spiderman, not necessarily because I think he’s better than everyone else, but because I’ve had more exposure to him than anyone else. Also, I’ve been a kid all my life, and as far as I’ve seen, so has he. It does not, by the way, have anything to do with my adoption of the spider as my totem. In any case, Kwaku Ananse > Spiderman by principle, because I’m a patriot to the point of stupidity when it comes to fictional stuff. Even though I’m nothing close to deeply invested in any comic book universe or franchise, I’m pretty sure there is nothing that can ever make me love Wakanda the way I wish I did.
The first I heard of Wakanda was before the release of Captain America: Civil War. Before that, I’d never heard much of any African superhero in the Marvel universe. But suddenly, there was a large number of screen names on my primarily Ghanaian Twitter timeline changed to “T’challa” or something with his name or title in it. Now, bear in mind that I was only watching Ghanaians get excited about this African prince superhero being debuted on the big screen. There are a lot of comic book franchise fanatics in Ghana, you know. It was, unfortunately, a bit difficult for me to identify with the excitement, most of which actually seemed to be centered on the sexiness of the suit, rather than race or representation. (I love Ghanaians, no sarcasm here. Because true, true, the Black Panther’s suit is hella sexy.)
The movie came out, and I thought it was good. I was upset about a few things that I tweeted, and for the sake of recollection:
- The love of my life, Iron Man, had nearly all of the wit and sarcasm I adored taken out of his role, and he sounded far too serious, so I didn’t enjoy him as much.
- These folks really, truly pronounced “Lagos” as “Lah-goes” and it stressed me all the way out.
- Every time I heard Chadwick Boseman’s unidentifiable, yet still recognizably “Hollywood African” accent, I cringed. I decided to let it slide because Wakanda is fictional and so doesn’t have anything I can deem as a legitimate accent. But I have a paragraph that will show up later that will come back to this point.
Now, my problem with the Black Panther isn’t even about portrayal or accuracy. I don’t have any argument about why the African hero is linked to a jungle animal or why the Black African has to have Black in his superhero name or that Wakanda is primitive and stereotypical, or complain about how the African superhero has to be royalty as opposed to an ordinary (rich) citizen of somewhere like nearly everyone else. These are probably valid things to complain about, I don’t know. I’m not involved in those. My issue with the Black Panther is that he is American. He is not African; he is American. (Treat absolutely everything I say in this blog post as my opinion, rather than straight, undebatable fact, because I don’t want to have to keep saying “in my opinion” throughout, and it’s obvious anyway.)
T’challa’s Americanness really isn’t his fault; he is fictional and so is his country. So are all the other fictional African countries in the Marvel universe. T’challa and Wakanda, though, were created by a couple of white men. I’m not saying that neither T’challa nor Wakanda are truly Black; I’m just saying that, even though they are fictional, they are part of American people’s Africa. They created it, it is theirs. He is theirs. And perhaps he isn’t white, but he’s American. Let me say something about imagination.
Here is the thing about imagination: perhaps it is limitless in one direction (outwards) and not the other, the origin. It starts from somewhere. We only make things up out of what we know or have. There are no words for things that don’t exist, for example. Once it’s named, it’s a thing, whether imaginary (dragon) or real (spider). For example, (and this is the point about the accent I said I’d get back to), Wakanda is East African? Then it is logically restrained to sound East African, even though not necessarily, since imagination is boundless. But that would be a decision to break out of a boundary, not an automatic provision. Also, Wakanda is made up of reworked versions of aspects of (African) culture that actually exist. Consult Black-culture-expert Twitter for consolidation. All I’m trying to say is, Wakanda did not pop out of a vacuum. Human beings, unlike God, are incapable of making something out of nothing, and in the case of Wakanda, being rewritten by Americans, both Black and White, that origin is not experience. And even this isn’t entirely my problem. My problem is that the things we imagine, we imagine usually to serve a purpose for ourselves. And if Americans created Wakanda, they created Wakanda for themselves, not anyone else.
I can only surmise that Black Americans were the most excited about T’challa’s debut on the big screen. Because, I think, even though the Black Panther was created by White men, he is still a Black man, and a Black superhero on the big screen is a victory, even if a minute one for Black…wait for it…Americans. T’challa is a Black American. He’s for them.
Remember all the potential reasons I gave near the beginning of this post about why one might have beef with Wakanda? Well, some people actually do have that kind of beef. Why, they ask, is a Black superhero being envisioned by white people and then served to Black people so that Black people can say, “Yay, representation?” So, what’s the solution: To have T’challa recreated and continued by a Black person, of course! Someone who empathizes, someone who identifies. Boom: Ta-Nehisi Coates. (After reading Between the World and Me, I have my own beef with this guy, but it’s largely unrelated to BP, so I won’t bring it up here.) Perfect, right? Yes, completely. A Black American author, I think, is the best person to write a Black American superhero.
Marvel is American, and everything Marvel creates is American, even if it isn’t. I highly doubt Stan Lee had African kids in mind as a target audience for his stories. Perhaps as the early critics say, Wakanda, though fictional, was primitive, stereotypical and under-researched. Cool beans. And so we thank goodness that Ta-Nehisi Coates is doing proper research about Africa before he writes his own Wakanda, no? Well…wouldn’t a white author also be capable of doing proper research? But you see, it’s not about research in the least, no matter how much we like pretending it is. It’s about identity, specifically the identity of the author. Or actor. 😊
I cannot love Wakanda the way I would like to, because it will never be part of an Africa that is for Africans. I have no doubt that it is significant and important to all the Black kids elsewhere who have just been growing up for ages without their skin colors and no memories of what could have been their cultures – several of them do not know, thanks to the slavers — on the screen. I think Wakanda is cool and it’s lit. It’s just for them and that’s absolutely okay. It doesn’t feel useful to me.
I have turned it over in my mind, whether I might be able to generate a more genuine love for Wakanda if the series were ever taken over by an African writer. I have decided that I would not. I think the Americans deserve to keep what they have created, and I’m not about to be the one who comes and wrestles it from them. Especially for the Black Americans, there has already been enough wrested from their ownership. Let them keep what they have, for goodness’ sake. I strongly believe that, especially in the case of imagination, we have our own that we can use and make… ONCE WE STOP BLOODY SHOOTING OUR CREATIVE KIDS DOWN OR FORCING THEM INTO CAREERS THEY DON’T WANT TO BE IN AND QUIT TELLING THEM THAT AFRICA ISN’T READY FOR FANTASY OR SUPERHEROES OR SCIENCE-FICTION OR…. Excuse me, I spasmed on my keyboard, but I’m back. Yes, we have our own imaginations that we can use and make. And if you don’t believe me, Google “Aburiria.” And if your argument is that Aburiria is clearly not imaginary, that it is just Kenya with magic added and its name changed, I will ask you who the hell doesn’t know that Gotham City is just New York City. Sit down.
[I think this is the paragraph that most holes can be poked in.] Now, not only is Wakanda American, it also feels fairly irrelevant to me within the Marvel universe. T’challa’s relevance, especially in the American Marvel universe, is in his interaction with international events or with American superheroes, or with Americans in general. Think well. T’challa’s first on-screen appearance was in the movie Captain…America. Ooh, what a shock. See, everyone in Wakanda be tryna mind their own damn business until suddenly some Americans are suspected as responsible for the death of their king. The Black Panther, I believe, would have continued to mind his own Wakandan business, and needn’t have had any relevance in that story, if his role didn’t rest on the premise of reacting to the Americans. I further hypothesize that T’challa would be rather irrelevant if he were contained in Wakanda, the way, for example, Batman is largely contained in Gotham. How interested would Americans be in reading a Wakandan story just about a Wakandan in Wakanda? (Usually, when I think things like this, they are accompanied by thoughts like: Have as many Americans read Purple Hibiscus as have read Americanah?)
I think every non-American superhero, whether in Marvel or DC is American, because Americans made them, and America makes them relevant. The most foreign superhero I know is the alien, Superman, and he is just lucky enough not to be required to have an accent.
Wakanda is good, Wakanda is lit, Wakanda is useful. For Americans. They have a fictional Black space to dwell in, and it is very good for them. I’m happy for African-Americans who are excited to claim their hero in his own movie on the big screen. In fact, I just watched the trailer, which got released halfway between me starting and finishing this post, and it looks LIT AF. I’m almost certain I’m going to love the movie. And certain still, that I’ll never love Wakanda the way I wish I did. Also, Chadwick Boseman is kind of hot.
As a side-note, I have been increasingly amused at African-Americans’ indignation about things about the Black Panther movie regarding Africa’s representation, which Africans ourselves are not offended in the least about. In fact, several of us are sitting down behind our computers wondering what at all people are complaining about. But that’s just by the way.
Speaking of African heroes, I made one, and if you haven’t read Kuukua and the Magical Markers, you should! Second installment should be out before June ends, by the grace of Odomankoma!