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.
POSSIBILITY NUMBER TWO: They ask for volunteers
Case for: Solves the whole “disgruntled felons selling the country out with flames” problem. And maybe the people of Wakanda feel enough of a sense of pride and duty that you could recruit people to do this, giving up the luxuries of paradise for a few month/years at a time — possibly in exchange for a large lump sum payment upon their return, kind of like how the military will pay for med school if you agree to give them a few years of cheap doctoring afterward — in order to maintain the country’s way of life. Plus, I mean, maybe some people just prefer the simple life, you know? Maybe they’d want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Case against: Also kind of risky. And a pain to coordinate and manage. What if people don’t sign up? Does the government then have to, like, force people to do it? That doesn’t seem very cool and also reintroduces the blazing message problem if someone gets fed up with it all. The blazing message is the biggest drawback here, in any plan. You have to keep whoever is out there happy or at least reasonably content. Anything short of angry enough to turn to fire as a recourse. Plus, and this is admittedly not the biggest issue, I bet the kind of people who opt to live outside the city are really snobby about it, like the way people who do cleanses or who don’t own a television love to tell everyone about it.
“Oh, yeah, I don’t even use vibranium anymore. You should try a year without it. It’s quite enlightening.”
I will not.
POSSIBILITY THREE: It is a job and they do it in shifts
Case for: We do it like shift workers at a hospital. Mornings (7-3), afternoons (3-11), and nights (11-7). You put in your eight hours like any other job, then head back into the city at the end of the workday to enjoy your various vibranium-lined luxuries. I mean, people need jobs, right? Well, here you go. They’ll need some sort of government clearance so the most obvious troublemakers get weeded out, but this can work. This feels right. At the very least, it’s better than the other two options.
Case against: Okay, two potential drawbacks. First, a rotating collection of workers that changes throughout the day would raise questions if anyone from the outside world looked into it. Like if they came by one morning and talked to a farmer and then came back the next afternoon to ask another question, but they came by after the shift change and he was just gone. You could explain that once or twice, I guess, but if it happens a few times someone might start to pick up on the fact that the village has a whole different group of citizens moving in every eight hours. Logistical nightmare to work around that aspect.
Second, people get disgruntled at work all the time. Especially government employees. You’ve been to the post office and DMV. Someone’s vacation doesn’t get approved, or they have to pull a double because freaking Larry called out “sick” again even though everyone totally saw him out at the bar the night before, and next thing you know, you guessed it, flaming message in the fields.
Maybe the solution here is just to ban gasoline. I don’t know. But you can see why this is bothering me. Someone please help.