Black Panther is great, yes. I think we’re just about all in agreement on that at this point. It’s a fun and exciting action movie, it’s an important moment in culture on about three different levels, it has strong female warriors and a shirtless Michael B. Jordan and a squadron of armor-plated war rhinos, and truly something for everyone. You can read many different takes in many different places, and you should, because the movie meant different things to different people and that’s a really cool thing considering it also is a huge box office juggernaut.
But this post is not about that. It’s not a big sweeping examination of what the movie means in the present or could mean in the future. This post is about one tiny aspect of the film that has burrowed into my brain and made itself a nice little home, hanging up drapes and everything. It’s a simple question, really, but I still am going to need an answer at some point or else I will keep waking up at 2 AM in a cold sweat with a new twist on it lighting up the nerve centers in my mind like tiny little Christmas trees. Here goes…
How exactly does the Wakanda ruse work?
I don’t mean as far as “supersonic stealth airplanes flying into secret passageways to access a hidden futuristic city,” or even “succession rituals that involve fistfights to the death and take place on top of a giant waterfall.” I can dig all that. What I mean, specifically, is this: How do the people of Wakanda decide who gets to live in the vibranium-plated utopian city and who has to live outside it and work in the fields to keep the rest of the world thinking the country is a poor nation of farmers?
How much have I been thinking about this? I would say a normal, regular amount, provided you consider it normal and regular that I have now brought it up twice in two weeks and might start just asking people on the street at some point in the near future. And in this normal, regular series of thoughts, I have developed three theories about it. They are presented below, from least to most likely.
POSSIBILITY NUMBER ONE: It is a punishment
Case for: It is as powerful of a deterrent as prison, arguably. If you commit some form of low- to mid-level crime (tax evasion, marijuana possession, etc.), instead of getting locked up, you have to go outside the city’s borders and live and work in the fields in a way that is believable enough to fool various satellite images from space that are monitored by various government agencies.
Case against: I do not think Wakanda wants the fate of its most important secret to rest so squarely in the possession of its least trustworthy citizens. Like I could see some career criminal out there just getting fed up with it all, thinking about the person who ratted him out cruising around all carefree on a vibranium hoverboard, and trying to burn the phrase “WAKANDA HAS $ECRET$” or something into the brush in large enough letters to be seen by planes flying overhead. Too risky.