Black Panther is not the film we were waiting for…


Black Panther, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2018

From LA Review of Books:

We were waiting for a film like Black Panther, but Black Panther is not the film we were waiting for.  The first sign of ambiguity is the fact that the movie was enthusiastically received all across the political spectrum: from partisans of black emancipation who see in it the first big Hollywood assertion of black power, through liberals who sympathize with its reasonable solution — education and help, not struggle — up to some representatives of the alt-right, who recognize in the film’s “Wakanda forever” another version of Trump’s “America first” (incidentally, this is why Mugabe, before he lost power, also said some kind words about Trump). When all sides recognize themselves in the same product, we can be sure that the product in question is ideology at its purest — a kind of empty vessel containing antagonistic elements.

One of the signs that something is wrong with this picture is the strange role of the two white characters, the “bad” South-African Klaue and the “good” CIA agent Ross. The “bad” Klaue doesn’t fit the role of the villain for which he is predestined — he is all too weak and comical. Ross is a much more enigmatic figure, in some sense the symptom of the film: he is a CIA agent, loyal to the US government, who participates in the Wakandan civil war with an ironic distance, strangely non-engaged, as if he is participating in a show. Why is he selected to shoot down Killmonger’s planes? Isn’t it that he holds the place of the existing global system in the film’s universe? And, at the same time, he holds the place of the majority of the film’s white viewers, as if telling us: “It’s okay to enjoy this fantasy of black supremacy, none of us is really threatened by this alternate universe!” With T’Challa and Ross at the helm, today’s rulers can continue to sleep in peace.

That T’Challa opens up to “good” globalization but is also supported by its repressive embodiment, the CIA, demonstrates that there is no real tension between the two: African aesthetics are made seamlessly compatible with global capitalism; tradition and ultra-modernity blend together. What the beautiful spectacle of Wakanda’s capitol obliterates is the insight followed by Malcolm X when he adopted X as his family name.

“Quasi Duo Fantasias: A Straussian Reading of “Black Panther””, Slavoj Žižek, LA Review of Books