(OBVIOUSLY THIS POST IS MADE OUT OF SPOILERS)
First things first: there was no way this movie wasn’t going to be a huge hit. It’s almost literally an all-star lineup of acting talent, given that it’s got at least half a dozen black actors you’ve heard of right off the jump and some more you’ll be hearing about for years to come (take a bow, Letitia Wright) AND that it was directed by Ryan Coogler, who might be the 21st century Orson Welles at this point. (Fruitvale Station, Creed and now a Marvel blockbuster that’s going to crack $2 billion worldwide? Are you serious?) Even the Tolkien white guys, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis, are proven rock stars of genre media. And of course there’s the Marvel-Disney vault to pay for the whole thing. This wasn’t the little movie that could, this was the cinematic version of Coogler’s beloved Golden State Warriors. We’re gonna run Curry and Thompson and Green out there and then add Durant and then come and get it.
No, this movie worked because it was real and it had depth and it hit a bunch of different levels and hard questions. What do we owe to the rest of the world? What do we owe to our less fortunate brothers and sisters? What do we owe them at risk to our own lives, our own safety and security? What do we do when the sins of the past step backward out of the fourth dimension and ram a blade through our shoulder? All tough and profound things to think about, none of them with clear and obvious answers.
But the one that jumped out to me is this: this movie is the most valid artistic commentary yet on the Electoral College and the election of Donald Trump.
Think about it. Wakanda is a modern 21st century country under the veil, with unbelievable technology and prosperity. On what grounds does it make sense to have a system of ritual combat by which anyone can show up, get a lucky break with a spear, and suddenly be the unconditional ruler of the country? Granted, there is (presumably) a winnowing process through the various tribes where they say whether or not they want to challenge, but what sense does it make to say that if the Omega Psi Phi in the furs (don’t front, M’Baku is absolutely the Ques, I will die on this hill) can sweep the leg, they’re suddenly the most suitable king?
Well, it makes about as much sense as the Electoral College, in that: it’s an old practice, it was handed down hundreds of years ago, it tends to work out most of the time, and we’re willing to overlook the times it hasn’t and say “well that isn’t going to happen” right up until it fucking happens and now you’re up there and it’s a hell of a lot higher than your dumb ass thought it was, ain’t it? And then you have some decisions to make, because your process has just put the worst person in the world on the throne. Now: do you accept that leadership and go along with the plan? Do you break off and reject it and rebel? Do you vow your loyalty is to the throne, the office, the title, the Constitution or the country rather than to the man and try to finesse things?
And then, what happens next? What happens if you don’t manage to renew the challenge through the loophole of “not actually dead yet” and the guy stays on the throne and starts implementing his plans? At what point do you change your mind about going along to get along, or about saying you’re staying to prevent something worse? Where do you draw your line and what happens when it inevitably gets crossed? Then what happens?
Sadly, we don’t get time to delve into this in the movie or in Avengers: Infinity War. But the dynamic duo of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze have delved deep into this in their run on Black Panther in the mainstream Marvel Comics line (and some of their design and philosophical DNA is absolutely in this film) and it poses a difficult question: what does it mean the entire system that put you in a position of leadership is irreparably broken, and what happens then?
And that’s the question this country has to grapple with: what happens now? What happens after that? And after that? You can’t turn back time, you can’t undo what happened, you can’t hit the reset button or ask the rest of the world for a do-over. This is now, this is real, and we might don’t come back from this. It’s way past time to be thinking about what we do now beyond just try to hang on and survive and hope that this was a blip. Because it’s not. Because sadly, Wakanda isn’t real. Neither are Infinity Stones.