I will be presenting a paper at the The Midwest Popular Culture Association Annual Conference in Minneapolis on Thursday, October 4th! My paper, entitled “Black Panther: Imagining Worlds Without Colonialism,” during the Heroes in Popular Culture panel.
The presentation abstract is as follows:
Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther represents a significant shift in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has always “played it safe.” Unlike most of its MCU predecessors, Black Panther directly tackles issues of race and colonization in both Africa and America. Erik Killmonger, born in the Wakandan diaspora within California, has become acculturated to the discourse of American Imperialism both via his youth in Oakland, and his training by the CIA. Even after he makes the return journey to his homeland of Wakanda, a space he has never known, but always dreamt about, he challenges T’Challa, the current king, for his rightful chance at the throne. As king, Erik seeks to use Wakanda’s power not to reshape or combat colonialism but to affect a hegemonic swap, placing himself at the head of a new “empire.” During his quest to retake the throne, T’Challa must reckon with his father, T’Chaka’s, isolationist policies, including the choice to abandon Erik in Oakland, exiling him to a diasporic life. Since Erik is an enemy of their own creation, his incursion forces T’Challa to confront the ways in which Wakanda has tried to hide from and ignore the problems created by colonialism outside their borders. While Erik’s solution—to use the violence of colonization against the colonizers—is tempting, T’Challa instead learns that he must subvert this process and use Wakanda’s power to shelter and support the oppressed without embracing the role of colonizer. Drawing upon theories of postcoloniality, transnationalism, and polycentric multiculturalism—including the foundational work of Albert Memmi—this paper situates Black Panther’s hero and villain within the context of The Colonizer and The Colonized, showing the ways in which Wakanda represents a new “imaginary world” untouched by the imperial enterprise. Given the immediacy of racial tensions in modern America, critical engagement with this film is both necessary and culturally relevant.