Black Panther: Wakandan “Civitas” and Panthering Futurity
Jorge Serrano (Ed.)
by Alicia Matheny Beeson (West Virginia University at Parkersburg)
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The popularity of Ryan Coogler’s 2018 film, Black Panther and the renewed interest in the Marvel comic books and graphic novels have made the Black Panther character and his world a subject of academic discourse. “Black Panther: Wakandan 'Civitas' and Panthering Futurity” is the latest work to venture into this space. Jorge Serrano has arranged an interesting collection of essays to dissect the character, the film’s storyline, and the imagery surrounding Wakanda.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Black Panther in 1966, they were not focused on notions of black pride, black power or Afrofuturism. They did not give the Black Panther an origin story comparable to those of the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Captain America, Spiderman or others in the Marvel universe. To avoid controversies, they made him African and not African American. Over time the white creators of the Black Panther handed the character over to other white writers, and eventually, black authors assumed these duties. It was the latter that engaged in massive character development. As a result, the introduction and depiction of the Black Panther and Wakanda in “Captain America Civil War,” “Black Panther,” and “Avengers: Infinity War” is vastly different from the figure that made his debut in 1966.
For many, this was the first time that a non-comic book reading audience had been exposed to an African superhero, as well as a clear visualization of Afrofuturism. Any book on this subject could find a particular niche. Yet, for many in the academy, Afrofuturism is not solely the inclusion of African Americans/Africans in science fiction. What Serrano and his colleagues want to emphasize is Octavia Butler’s works are critical but not singular in this approach. There is a long legacy of written works -a canon of both fictional and non-fictional materials that have to be called into question in relation to Ryan Coogler’s vision.
“Black Panther: Wakandan 'Civitas' and Panthering Futurity” addresses both the commercial and academic aspects of Afrofuturism and the Black Panther narrative. The Introduction does a good job of preparing and grounding the reader for what lies ahead. It describes the Panther genre as “an obtainable ideal humanism” and places the Panther within the African worldview. The text’s three segments: reconfiguring, visualization and time, are well outlined and defined.
History, anthropology, sociology, and psychology stand out in the key analysis of the key figures, concepts, and locations as the contributors consider the treatment of gender, concepts of utopia, colonialism and colonization. Thinkers like W.E.B. DuBois, Cheikh Anta Diop, and John Henrik Clarke play a role in the methodology. Additionally, the authors ask questions about the African and African American aesthetics, from the use of language, music, colors and mannerisms.
[…] academics will find something important and powerful in each chapter. They might not agree, but they certainly will think about what they read and discuss it. It could be the treatment of “others” in the film. Why, for instance, did the filmmakers go to South Korea for the auction and chase scenes, and what was the impact of having an African superhero in an Asian nation? Or, it could be the use of the Two-Cradle Theory or the Two Soul Theory in confronting the African and African American nature of Killmonger? It sticks with me that this is more than a film about superheroes but rather a film made by an African American about family and roots-two cousins; one born in Africa and the other born in America, contesting for rulership and a vision of the future. In prevailing, does the African cousin make a diasporic change or preserve the status quo? Those points made by several contributors will inform my future viewing of the film and its sequel.
The duality between the casual and the academic reader is the most striking aspect of the work. Casual readers will love Chapter 3: “Step into the Spotlight-Introducing Marvel Comics “Adored Ones” the Dora Milaje”, and can find attractive elements in Chapter 5: “Afro-Asian Film Duet”, Chapter 6: Wakanda Forever: On the Impossibility of Black Visibility” and Chapter 7: “Black Ajax: Why Must N’Jadaka Die?” Professor Serrano’s chapter, “Juxtapositioned Wakanda and Black Metonymy,” is the most successful essay at bridging the gaps between the commercial and academic worlds, and it stands out as one of the strongest pieces in the collection.
“Black Panther: Wakandan 'Civitas' and Panthering Futurity” often discusses more outside of the context of the Black Panther and Wakanda then it does in it. The text is often a lesson in Africana Studies that teaches us how to apply what we have learned in our analysis. For example, on the surface, the discussion of “Five Generations Hence” and “Of One Blood, Or, The Hidden Self” have nothing to do with the Black Panther, but they can allow us to understand how African Americans, past and present, crafted images of utopia.
The scholarship is good, the proses are geared for academics, and the topics have degrees of appeal. The majority of the articles are geared toward academics, but there are enough pieces for general readers to get some crossover audience.
Dr. Leslie Wilson
Montclair State University
This interdisciplinary academic study is for readers interested in film, media, and the comic book genre. Superhero theories are abundant, especially considering their use as a tool for coping with adversity, and some note that it is an integral part of American society, young formative minds, in particular. It is not just about learning morals but also seeing how an ideal society should function and look. There are works that review superheroes and theories about comic book series adaptions in film and text, but the writers in this compendium engage not only with the film and the intersectionality of women, Asian culture, Du Bois, and even Greek Ajax and others for comparison but also comparative analysis of works that capture African and African diasporic representation throughout various historical time periods. The anthology presents discourse that engages a variety of assessments that involve questions of positive and pejorative representation. Educators will find this a useful tool for undergraduate students as well as general audiences interested in this popular film/comic series.
List of Figures
Chapter 1 The “Spirit of Freedom”: Wakanda and Black Utopias of the Progressive Era
Alicia Matheny Beeson
West Virginia University at Parkersburg
Chapter 2 Souls of Wakanda: The Intersection of W.E.B. Du Bois and Black Panther
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Chapter 3 Step into the Spotlight-Introducing Marvel Comics ‘Adored Ones’ the Dora Milaje
Grace D. Gipson
Virginia Commonwealth University
Chapter 4 Cutting the Tongue of the Drum: Black Panther and the Dominion of the Visual
The College of Mexico A.C.
Chapter 5 Afro-Asian Filmic Duet
Michigan State University
Chapter 6 Wakanda Forever: On the Impossibility of Black Visibility
California State University
Chapter 7 Black Ajax: Why Must N’Jadaka Die?
Texas A&M University
Chapter 8 Juxtapositioned Wakanda and Black Metonymy
University of Delaware
Chapter 9 Black Panther and Quilombo, Wakanda and Palmares: How the Past Dreams the Future and the Future Remembers the Past, Creating Afrocentric Utopias across Time and Space
Jorge Serrano is Assistant Professor at the University of Delaware. He has taught at the University of Tennessee and Virginia Commonwealth University. Serrano is a graduate of Columbia, Yale, and Temple universities, where he majored in classics, archaeology, and African American studies, respectively. He has published several books and articles involving the black past and origins identity.
better worlds of freedom, Black prosperity, Black security, African civilization, Black civilizational image, Black positive socioeconomic representation, political history, African American literature, W.E.B. Du Bois, African American literary theory, the color line, the veil, Black women, Black feminist, Black and queer female narratives, tradition, Afrofuturism, Marvel Comics, Afro-Asian Filmic Duet, Black Panther, Wolf Warrior 2, Operation Red Sea; Skyscraper; Pacific Rim: Uprising, Do the Right Thing, Little Shop of Horrors Afrofuturism, Brazil, Cinema Novo, comics, history, myth, race, Ajax, Sehkmet, ancient Egypt, Wakanda, Black film, Blaxploitation, Black Representation, African diaspora, Diasporic Studies, Black superhero, Palmares, Maroonage, Resistance Studies, Africana Studies, Black Studies, Film and Media Studies, Race Critical Studies, Comparative Race Studies, Comics Studies, Cultural Studies, Musicology, and African Studies