79 Colonizers vs. The Colonized: Black Panther

Mason Masotta

The impact of colonialism across the entire world is a persistent and permanent one in today’s connective understanding of society. In many forms of media this relationship is often given a physical representation to re-contextualize the idea. One of the most interesting ways that recent filmography has done this is in the 2018 film Black Panther. This film deals with the effects of colonialism on individual cultural identity, and even the effect of it on the rest of the world.

The film centers on the hidden fictional African country of Wakanda. Using advanced alien technology they have remained hidden from the rest of the world for thousands of years. They have remained completely un-colonized by outside European or western influence and remain “their own country.” This is an idea that is discussed as many members of the community do not wish to expose their country to the Western world for fear of colonization, or the alterative that they may need to impress their own world order with their advanced weaponry.

A major figure who enters in the film is Erik Stevens. He is the son of a Wakandan who was raised an orphan in America and as such grows up with an African-American identity that is entirely different from the ideals and history of his home country. By growing up in the Capitalist and colonized United States, he is shown to grow up with an inherent anger and violence that is correlated with being a black man in the United States. Near the middle of the film he “returns” to his father’s home and states that Wakanda should take over the rest of the world because they are superior to the Western “colonizers.”

This is a startling concept to come to terms with. So often in historical and film examples we are used to seeing the European colonizer arrive and change landscapes and cultures (Avatar is a great example of this), but here it is an African man who plays the role. Erik Stevens was only given an opportunity in the United States to be successful by doing one thing: Killing (hence his nickname Killmonger). As such, it is all he understands and knows in his adult life, which is why he seems determined to have Wakanda take over the world in order to free his oppressed people.

Killmonger’s entire world view and experience as a person of color stands in direct difference from that of the protagonist of the film T’Challa, the Black Panther. He grew up a Prince of a country with trillions of dollars in economic surplus and expected to one day become King. Erik Stevens did not. He grew up in Oakland, California without parents in a place that, he saw, would never accept him as equal. T’Challa may be the hero, but he never grew up in the same environment as Stevens and was content with Wakanda hiding from the world. The fact of the matter is, if he never was challenged by Killmonger for the throne, he never would have shared Wakanda with the rest of the world.

This entire situation is showing how the arrival of the colonized Erik is a form of colonization in of itself. His culture is an American one, in his dialect, dress style, and personality traits. As a result of this, Wakanda is forever changed. Once the outside colonizing force has arrived and challenged the ideas and ideals of the un-colonized country there is a permanent change that is undergone. By the end of the film it is even shown that Wakanda will enter the open market of the entire world and start sharing their resources, thus allowing outside influence to enter the country. Erik was changed by the colonized US, and Wakanda is equally changed by the appearance of Erik. He is no longer African in their eyes. He is African-American.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Mason Masotta is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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