“Black Panther” Film Discussion [Part 07: Culture Clash]

It’s like what kind of person ARE YOU? WTF is going on here?


Spies & Ghosts

After explaining the origin of Wakanda, “Black Panther” begins with what appears to be aliens visiting black American humans in Oakland, California.

It turns out that the “aliens” are Africans, specifically Wakandans, and they have arrived to talk business with someone.

The person arriving is revealed as the king of Wakanda and the person he’s talking to is revealed as his own brother, who is a spy for Wakanda in their Hatut Zeraze (basically CIA, referred to as “War Dogs”).

So now, instead of an African speaking to an American, we have an African speaking to an African who’s pretending to be an American so he can spy on who knows what ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ because Wakanda is advanced enough to fly cloaked aircraft and in fact cloak their entire kingdom from being seen for the technological marvel it really is.

This conversation goes on in front of an American… Until the king accuses his brother of treachery and the apparent American reveals that he is also a Wakandan spy who had been spying on the king’s brother throughout his mission.

So now there are zero Americans in this scene.

The king’s brother tries to kill the other spy and the king kills his brother instead, saving the other spy’s life.

For some odd reason, they leave the body in the apartment along with evidence of how he was killed, and by whom, along with the fact that kids see the spaceship fly off, and it turns out later in the film that one of the kids that sees the spaceship is the dead spy’s son.

According to the way the film told the story as opposed to the comic book, the king’s brother arrived in the USA on his own and was stationed in Oakland. Therefore, his son is only half African, as he would have had to have impregnated an American woman, whose genetic makeup we aren’t aware of because we never see or hear about her in the entire film.

Actually, I thought this was an interesting deliberate omission in the movie.

They may have been speaking to the fact that there are a lot of (even though the king’s brother was Wakandan, not black) black fathers raising children on their own with the mothers being absent, out of commission, or dead.

This is good messaging because the opposite is the order of the day in the media, which is going on and on about black kids who have no idea who their fathers are and who were raised entirely by their mothers and sometimes their grandmothers as BOTH of their parents are out of commission due to their own fault or other circumstances.

It leads the viewer to wonder where N’Jadaka’s mother is, and if she isn’t involved in his life, why not and for how long?

Knowing how the court system works, you also wonder how N’Jadaka’s father was awarded custody.

Simultaneously, it speaks to the one-parent household in general.

It would have been a good idea to include N’Jadaka’s mother in the film in order to flesh out his relationship to women.

If she left his father, for instance, that might have led N’Jadaka to consider women as opportunists or disloyal, which would explain how he didn’t mind killing his girlfriend to kill Klaue who was hiding behind her.

N’Jadaka may have viewed women as a means to an end.

It also would have been good to include her because we have no idea how N’Jadaka’s finances changed after his father was killed.

Being the brother of the king, his father was clearly filthy rich, so money wasn’t going to be an object, even if they were pretending to be American blacks living in a slum.

That source of money would have abruptly ended upon his father’s death, unless his father had been saving money for him in case of an emergency.

This would have spoken to the issue of intergenerational wealth amongst blacks.

If his mother wasn’t in the picture at all, N’Jadaka would have had to enter the foster care system or get money on his own with no high school diploma yet, no college diploma, and probably zero job skills whatsoever.

This would have spoken to how a lot of broke kids with no earning potential get caught up in the endless spiral of the American prison system.

Not that N’Jadaka ever went to jail. He ended up attending my school, MIT. alum.MIT.edu/www/BillCammack

From there, he went on to be a successful mercenary soldier.

I’m saying that as far as messaging, and we don’t know if this was originally included in the film and ended up on the cutting room floor, but there was an opportunity to put more questions about the effect of environment and upbringing in front of the viewer’s mind than the final cut of the film offered.

If N’Jadaka had been abandoned by his mother, he would have only trusted his father, a Wakandan.

If something had happened to his mother, that could have fueled his desire for revenge, as BOTH of his parents were taken from him, although by different circumstances.

We can assume that N’Jadaka’s mother was black, as he refers at the end to his ancestors being slaves when he says “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped the ship, because they knew death was better than bondage.”

As we know, Wakanda was never colonized and certainly was never enslaved.

Therefore, NONE of N’Jadaka’s ancestors on his father’s side jumped off of any slave ships into any oceans.

So we can assume that his mother was black, which is neither here nor there because they did absolutely nothing with her character in the film.

If you’re confused about what I just explained, go back and read billcammack.com/2018/02/19/black-panther-film-discussion-part-02-blacks-africans/.

Crime & Retribution

Later in the film, we find out that N’Jadaka walked into his own apartment where he found his father murdered.

It’s clear to him who did it, although not why.

This speaks to a child being subjected to the horrors of violence.

It also speaks to the fear of violence being done to you or people you love without fear of swift and painful retribution.

The Wakandans left the body there where they KNEW his son was going to find him.

They could have easily taken the body with them and claimed he disappeared or deserted his son.

Instead, they knew damned well that nobody was going to do anything to them for killing him so they just left.

This is what used to happen often when the people committing the murders were the judges, police, and jury members of any trial that might MAYBE occur after violence was perpetrated upon blacks in the USA.

The insult to the injury was the tacit understanding that there was no legal recourse when whites did something to blacks.

Of course Wakandans are Africans and not American whites. The effect, however, is exactly the same.

Nobody was going to take revenge for N’Jadaka’s father, so N’Jadaka had to learn to take it for himself, which he did.

Even if we consider the messaging about black on black crime in this situation (which this was African on African crime, committed on US soil), it speaks to people who live in areas without an effective police presence feeling free to do crimes because they probably won’t be prosecuted because who cares what happened to some black guy in a slum apartment?

All of this led to a completely different worldview between T’Challa and N’Jadaka.

As far as T’Challa was concerned, everything in life was lovely.

As far as N’Jadaka was concerned, everything in life was horrible.

In fact, T’Challa’s father was murdered also, in “Captain America: Civil War”:

This may have been one of the reasons T’Challa was so upset when he found out what his father had done to his own brother, N’Jadaka’s father, when he met him for the second time on the spirit plane.

T’Challa knew how he felt when his father was murdered and most likely wouldn’t have wished that on his cousin that he never knew he had.

Reverence & Treachery

Actually, I’ll skip forward for now in the plot to talk about a related issue.

Up until N’Jadaka arrived and told his story, which Forest Whitaker corroborated because he had been there when it happened (he was the spy syping on the spy who the king saved by killing his own brother), T’Challa had the utmost respect for his father and belief in his father’s righteousness.

You can see how concerned he becomes when N’Jadaka tells the story, which he doesn’t fully believe, but he also can’t disprove, so he has to consider it.

You can see how hurt he was when Forest Whitaker confirms the story about how his father murdered his uncle and left the body there for N’Jadaka to find AND stranded N’Jadaka in a United States slum instead of bringing him home to the glory of Wakanda.

You can DEFINITELY see how hurt T’Challa is when he enters the spirit plane for the second time and confronts his father, who admits what he did.

There’s this really painful but necessary interaction where T’Challa reluctantly lets go of his reverence for his father and almost yells at him that he’s wrong.. That all of the preceding Black Panthers were wrong for how they decided to interact with the outside world.

T’Challa was raised by his father, as his mother, N’Yami, died in childbirth.

Angela Bassett is actually T’Challa’s stepmother and Shuri is his stepsister, not his sister.

So all of T’Challa’s worldview was initially based on his father’s worldview.

All of N’Jadaka’s worldview was initially based on his father’s worldview.

All of MY worldview was initially based on my father’s worldview.

I’m an American from Manhattan, NYC.

My father was an American from Washington, DC.

His father was an American from Virginia.

My personal culture is at least 5th Generation American.

There are principles that I believe in because I received them from my parents, relatives, friends, teachers, etc. and when I eventually became an adult, I kept the elements that I believed in and discarded the rest.

I can’t imagine the horror, shame, disappointment, anger, sorrow, and everything else that would be involved with instantaneously finding out that your father killed his own brother, your uncle, and stranded your cousin in an Oakland slum.

It’s like what kind of person ARE YOU? WTF is going on here?

Especially if you consider that Ross was injured and brought back to health by Shuri. N’Jadaka was offered to be healed by T’Challa because he knew they had the technology and ability. Obviously, T’Challa’s father knew he could have avoided killing his brother and he chose to kill him anyway.

That whole situation is tragic, which is one of the reasons you have people taking sides on who the hero of “Black Panther” actually was.

The messaging here is that revelations of treachery perpetrated by people who you’ve based your worldview upon can be extremely emotionally and mentally jarring.

Foreign Culture

It can also send you on your life’s quest.

T’Challa’s vision was to continue his father’s vision.

N’Jadaka’s vision was to continue his father’s vision.

N’Jadaka’s father was killed by T’Challa’s father, so revenge against both of them became a part of N’Jadaka’s life’s quest, along with vanquishing all of the people that he was aware of who did his people wrong.

T’Challa’s vision changed when he was made aware of the treachery of his father. He realized he was following the ideas of the same man who could kill his own brother, strand his cousin in Oakland slums instead of bringing him home to the good life in Wakanda, *AND* hid the fact that his cousin even existed from him for his entire life.

This is why he accepted N’Jadaka’s challenge. Not because it was the time for a challenge, which is supposed to happen once every year, but because N’Jadaka had already been denied his birthright for his entire life, and he deserved a chance to attempt to become the ruler of Wakanda.

Of course this was the wrong decision and T’Challa got his ass kicked and thrown off a cliff.

It wasn’t the wrong decision because he lost. It was the wrong decision because N’Jadaka was BORN half-Wakandan, but was RAISED American black. As I said in billcammack.com/2018/02/19/black-panther-film-discussion-part-02-blacks-africans/, those are two ENTIRELY DIFFERENT sets of people, due to experiences, customs, and culture.

If M’Baku had defeated T’Challa (which also wouldn’t have made sense because M’Baku isn’t a statesman and doesn’t want to be), he’s still mentally on the same page with Wakandans because he and his family and friends and everybody else he knows grew up there and share the same culture, though his clan rejected the technology of Wakanda and lived much like their ancestors did without technology.

N’Jadaka, though blood-related, is a foreigner. People who conflate Africans with blacks won’t recognize that.

The comic book version is easier to explain. N’Jadaka’s father was coerced into helping Klaue and died in his treachery. Because of that, N’Jadaka’s family was exiled to Harlem, NYC. Eventually, N’Jadaka was allowed to return to Wakanda, and long after that he staged a coup AND THEN he fought T’Challa and beat him to take Black Panther status and legitimate control of Wakanda.

In the comic book, by the time the challenge fight occurred, N’Jadaka had been a Wakandan resident for years, PLUS he had been born in Wakanda and exiled, so he wasn’t half-American, PLUS he would have been bitter because he knows the difference between Wakanda and Harlem, as far as splendor and ease of life.

It makes sense to let the comic book Killmonger fight for the throne, not the movie Killmonger.

The messaging here is that if you create something, there had better be fail-safes against someone with a completely different ideology taking over your country or company or whatever.

The other message is that if the only way that you keep control of something is by a physical contest, YOUR MAIN JOB is to be the best fighter in the world all day erryday.

I think this also brings up an interesting question about BEING the Black Panther… If the herb gives you super strength, etc, that means you don’t have to work out because you’re already at your peak condition… If you REMOVE THAT POWER in order to accept challenges for the throne, your body should revert to whatever condition it was in without the herb, so simply BEING Black Panther nerfs your ability to prepare yourself physically for combat trials.

Antiquated Customs

Next up were the yearly throne challenges, which made no sense because nobody other than T’Challa was sophisticated enough to be the leader.

M’Baku had rejected the technology of Wakanda, so if he had won, what was he going to be able to say about the direction of their laboratories? Nothing. What was he going to be able to say about diplomatic relations with the rest of the world? Nothing.

This is probably why he rejected the herb and told them to give it to T’Challa.

M’Baku knew that he wasn’t a better leader than T’Challa.

He explained it away as T’Challa sparing him in their fight, so it was “a life for a life” and they were even now, but you could see that M’Baku never even considered accepting the herb.

Again, the comic book version makes more sense, as M’Baku was already strengthened from eating the flesh of the White Gorilla which had been irradiated by Vibranium just as the herb had been.

So there was really no reason for M’Baku to absorb more Vibranium in order to attack N’Jadaka.

This wouldn’t have worked in the movie, as T’Challa was drained of Vibranium to make the fight fair, which he would have easily lost against a Vibranium-Enhanced M’Baku.

So the challenge itself doesn’t make any sense just like allowing N’Jadaka to fight for the throne without having ANY Wakandan culture at all didn’t make any sense.

Some customs make sense until times change.

It’s all well & good to say that if you have 5 or 6 tribes that consider themselves one team, you’re going to have a yearly contest to figure out who the strongest fighter is, and then that squad will take the lead for the next year until the next challenge…. ***ASSUMING*** all of your squads are equal.

If one team is responsible for technology, one team is responsible for war, and one team is responsible for diplomacy, they all have different functions and should not make decisions outside of their realm of expertise.

At some point in Wakanda’s development, they should have realized that they had become entirely different teams with entirely different skill sets, and to decide who makes policy by a physical fight is ridiculous.

On top of that, in the movie version, T’Challa is already Black Panther when his father is killed. The king is supposed to be the Black Panther. This means that the right was HANDED TO T’Challa by his father like everything else had been handed to him while N’Jadaka had to fight for everything he ever got, all the way to his death.

What sense would it have made for T’Challa’s father to still be king but then M’Baku challenges T’Challa for the throne? o_O

Again, the comic book explains this differently, as T’Challa’s father was killed first and then his uncle (N’Jadaka’s father) was Black Panther until T’Challa grew up and was able to PHYSICALLY defeat his uncle and become Black Panther.

According to the movie version, T’Challa was becoming king after already having been Black Panther for who knows how many years, and M’Baku challenges him for the throne. If this is a yearly occurrence, M’Baku should in fact have challenged T’Challa while his father was still king. The only reason why he wouldn’t have is that he respected the king.

I also found it strange that Wakanda was isolationist and supposedly poor, but was also involved in major global conferences.

Who was going to attend those? M’Baku?.. Nope. N’Jadaka?.. Nope. T’Challa was the only choice because he was the only person groomed in diplomacy.

Assuming The Position

I think the next thing that occurs is the N’Jadaka / Killmonger reveal.

The first message here is obvious and stated, which is that blacks are often followed around in stores as if they’re going to steal something.

What’s even funnier about the packaging of this message is that N’Jadaka *IS* there to steal something! 😀

Another message here deals with conflation.

Even though he’s an MIT grad, Since N’Jadaka’s skin is brown and his hair is styled a particular way, he’s written off as simple and unsophisticated.

This is obviously to the detriment of the conflator, as N’Jadaka has poisoned her drink and when she falls out, Klaue and his boys rush in pretending to be EMTs and abscond with the chick and the artifact.

You also see the puzzled look on her face when N’Jadaka tells her she’s wrong about what the artifact is. She can’t believe that her book knowledge is being challenged by “an obvious simpleton and intellectual inferior”.

I say all the time that assuming you know something about someone else because of how they look only puts ***YOU*** at a disadvantage, not them.

In fact, it gives them an AMAZING advantage, because you can’t possibly be prepared for what they’re going to do, and they’ve already done it a million times.

At that point in the film, we don’t know who Killmonger is anyway, because they made no reference to the king’s brother having a son when they killed him.

Also interesting about that scene.. I don’t watch trailers because as a video editor with visual memory, I would know that a character has to stay alive until I see that particular scene in the film and it ruins my immersion… is that it looks like N’Jadaka is a henchman for Klaue.

I felt that way all the way until N’Jadaka killed Klaue, and I still didn’t believe it until he opened the bag and showed Klaue’s body to Get Out.

The dude from Get Out had the same problem that N’Jadaka and T’Challa had, which was that his parents had been killed and he wanted revenge.

The bond between Get Out and N’Jadaka is that they both wanted their fathers’ killers dead dead dead, while T’Challa PREVENTED his father’s killer from committing suicide so he could be arrested and punished for his crimes.

Even Klaue seemed to be surprised that N’Jadaka wasn’t his subordinate in the scene where he dies.

Having not seen any trailers, I figured they were going to team up against Black Panther until that scene, and then I was like welp… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Continued in “Black Panther” Film Discussion [Part 08: Conflict & Consequences]

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