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Squires: ‘Wakanda Forever’ shows that you can sell any worldview to fans who think ‘representation’ is life’s highest virtue

I am not a film critic, so my take on “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” won’t include a detailed exposition on cinematography or the musical score.

What I am is someone who understands that movies are built on stories and that those stories are framed in specific ways to deliver a message. Some of those messages touch on universal themes like love, loss, and overcoming adversity. Others reflect the cultural zeitgeist, especially today when art and culture are explicitly used to groom unsuspecting children by normalizing gender confusion, drag queens, and pregnant “men.”

The Black Panther franchise is significant because the films are much more than movies. They are cultural events. Black moviegoers come adorned in dashikis, sporting more kente cloth than Democrats in Congress kneeling for George Floyd. They post images to social media of themselves with their arms crossed in the familiar “Wakanda forever” pose.

To many Black Panther fans, Wakanda is a futuristic black utopia — technologically advanced, rich in resources, and protected from the rapacious greed of white colonizers. The films are a vehicle to express what life would look like in a world free from anti-black racism.

The world created in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” is a Black Lives Matter paradise pulled straight from the mind of Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza.

To its credit, the film opens and closes by giving honor to the late Chadwick Boseman, who played T’Challa in the original “Black Panther.” Boseman died in 2020 of complications from colon cancer. His death was a major part of the storyline in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

Unfortunately, he was the only man treated with any reverence in the film. Every other man in the film was made to submit. CIA agent Everett Ross was eventually arrested by his ex-wife, who is now the CIA director.

M’Baku, the leader of the Jabari tribe, eventually yielded to Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister and the new Black Panther, when she demanded his support in a potential battle against the kingdom of Talokan.

Even Namor, the king of Talokan, yielded to Shuri in battle.

The image of dominant females and submissive males is quite an inversion of the social norms you would expect in the most powerful and prosperous African nation. I assume that choice was deliberate. To paraphrase a theme in the film, the relevant question is not how that decision was made, but why it was made.

The men in Wakanda don’t even have love interests on screen. The only expression of romantic affection was between two women – the new general of the Dora Milaje and one of her underlings. When sexual norms are at stake, the typical issues around power dynamics and consent suddenly become much less relevant.

This disconnect between the film’s plot and subtext is not new.

The original “Black Panther” film was full of vibrant colors, pageantry, and talk of black liberation.

But W’Kabi, one of T’Challa’s closest friends, responded to the king’s musings on potential pro-immigration policies with an unashamed “Wakanda First” rejoinder – “You let the refugees in … they bring their problems with them, and then Wakanda is like everywhere else.”

The militancy levels shot up significantly when Killmonger, an American-born trained assassin and cousin of T’Challa, comes to Wakanda to challenge the king for his throne.

Killmonger’s decisive victory against T’Challa – which he completed by tossing him off a cliff – was reminiscent of Bane’s back-breaking fight against Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises.” In that film, the audience got to see what life in Gotham City was like under supervillain rule. Wealthy Gothamites were attacked by people who thought their wealth should be forcibly redistributed.

Bane instituted show trials and public executions. He trapped the police underground and freed all the prisoners. He killed the mayor and blew up a football stadium. He executed cops and federal agents. He armed a nuclear bomb that would have destroyed the city if not for Batman’s heroic return to defend Gotham.

Like Bane, Killmonger was an ideologue bent on imposing his vision of justice on those who were never held to account for oppressing the weak and vulnerable. He waxed poetic about using Wakanda’s resources and advanced weaponry to “liberate” black people across the globe.

But he couldn’t get a single plane, missile, or spear out of Wakandan airspace.

In fact, one of the people who prevented him from exacting revenge on the oppressors across the globe was a white CIA agent who was brought to Wakanda for emergency medical treatment. Even after T’Challa regained his throne by the end of “Black Panther,” he still didn’t invite kids from America’s inner cities to travel to Wakanda for a cultural exchange program. For all of the film’s Afrocentric rhetoric and visuals, the only person to be brought into Wakanda from the outside world in that movie was a man referred to as a “colonizer.”

I guess fans should think of that as Wakandan white privilege.

“Wakanda Forever” is no different. Queen Ramonda and Namor were both very critical of the industrialized countries they believed would destroy their lands – and people – for access to vibranium. But ultimately, it was all talk, because the only war in the film was fought between the two “kingdoms of color,” largely because Shuri, the new Black Panther, refused to join Namor in waging war against the imperial West.

The Black Panther franchise gives audiences just enough revolutionary dialogue to make them think they are watching actual Black Panthers, but ultimately the real product being promoted is something far different.

“Wakanda Forever” spends more time tearing down the patriarchy and traditional gender norms than it does uprooting the forces of settler colonialism.

The film will likely do great at the box office and lead to additional calls for representation by ethnic and sexual minorities. But when the people who control the culture know that “representation” is a specific group’s highest priority, they also know they can sell any worldview if the packaging has the right color. For instance, “The Woman King” lied about the Dahomey kingdom’s insistence on participating in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but the “we need to teach true history” crowd didn’t care because they got to see a middle-aged black woman kick butt and rule over a nation.

In a post-credits scene for “Wakanda Forever,” the audience learns that T’Challa fathered a son with his girlfriend before his death. Given Marvel’s trajectory and the heavy-handedness of cultural messaging, I wouldn’t be surprised if the child came out as non-binary in a future film, used personal pronouns, and legalized “gender-affirming” surgeries for Wakandan teens.

That would be completely on brand. The Black Panther franchise enjoys an exalted status among black Marvel fans. This makes it the perfect vehicle to subtly shape the worldview of its most vocal supporters, especially the men who either miss or dismiss the cultural programming.

I wonder if any would object if the final installment was entitled “Black Panther: The Man Queen.”