Black Panther A Risky Move By The Walt Disney Company

Last Updated: 19 Feb 2023
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The making of Black Panther could have been considered a risky move by The Walt Disney Company. It was the first mega-budget superhero movie that involved a predominantly black cast. Wesley Spines attempted to make Black Panther in the 1980s and 90s, but to no avail. While the movie may have been turned down due to lack of popularity or computer-graphic imagery (CGI) at the time, the decision was also likely influenced by political and racial motives. In 2018, Black Panther was finally released after years of a predominately white representation in movies and the Oscars . In fact, the 2016 Oscars even led to a social media campaign brining light to the issue as posts containing “#OscarsSoWhite”. This movie not only attempted to disrupt the trend, but also included a great deal of African history and culture. The costumes, artifacts, and traditions presented in Black Panther were not only a great addition to the movie itself but also were accurately depicted based on African history.

Black Panther takes place in the fictional country of Wakanda, which is located in Africa. As the movie shows, the country is blessed with the most powerful substance in the universe called vibranium. Before the time of man, it was brought to the country when a meteor containing the substance crashed on Earth and enhanced the plant life around it. Eventually, there were five tribes who discovered the substances and developed the new country Wakanda. One of the plants affected by the vibranium gave those who ingested it “superhuman strength, speed, and instincts. The warrior to discover this became the first black panther and assumed the role of king and protector of Wakanda.

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However, one tribe in the area decided to not live under the new king’s rule and isolated themselves in the mountains. Wakanda thrived as they were able use vibranium to develop more advanced technology than any other nation. As the world around them started to collapse, the country decided to hide in plain sight using the power of vibranium to protect themselves from the outside world. This was an attempt for the country of Wakanda to live in isolation rather than succumb to the outside force that would be used to obtain their powerful resource, reminiscent of the colonization of Africa.

European countries started to colonize countries in Africa starting from the mid-1700s. The Europeans were competing against each other for political and economic power as they took advantage of the African people and their rich resources. During this time, colonizers left a lasting impact on Africa. They influenced Africa’s economy, education, religion, and left many poor and homeless. Even as African countries became independent, they still had to heavily rely on foreign nations. Due to the culture changes left behind by Europeans, including cash-crops, many African countries continue to trade with overseas countries rather than neighboring states. Unfortunately, these countries are still being taken advantage of in these deals.

The African country of Zambia has a great wealth of resources, including copper, but continues to be extremely poor. Although copper prices have been increasing, they have not seen many benefits. Instead, foreign companies have been causing Zambia to remain as one of the poorest countries in the world due to tax evasion. Multinational corporations have extracted $29 billion worth of copper from Zambia, and yet they are still one of the 20 poorest countries. This is the exact situation that the people of Wakanda were hoping to avoid by isolating themselves and shielding off their country.

On top of the historical accuracy of colonization in Black Panther, the movie also represents clothing worn in African culture. Because the movie centers around five different tribes, costume designer Ruth Carter was able to develop multiple styles based on her research of African culture and clothing. One instance where this is present in the movie is through the representation of the Dora Milaje, the female warriors of Wakanda. They were inspired by the real-life soldiers from the country of Dahomey, which in now known as Benin, who were notable for fighting wars for their kingdom, including against the colonial French army. In the movie, these women protected the king of Wakanda at all costs and were represented as fierce warriors. The clothing that the Dora Milaje wore depicted by a different group.

For inspiration on their costumes, Carter turned her attention to the Maasai group in Kenya who are known for their deep red armor and tall spears. The Dora Milaje are clearly representing this Kenyan culture through the use of their primarily red battle armor and long spears used in battle. The Dora Milaje also represented the Ndebele tribe from South Africa by using their necklaces. The females in the Ndebele tribe wear gold rings around their necks, known as indzila, as a symbol of marriage. There can be many women seen wearing the indzila in Black Panther, although it is not directly shown whether they are married or not. There are also painting in the movie that resemble the paintings of the Ndebele tribe in South Africa.

Another African group that was displayed in Black Panther is the Basotho group from Lesotho. Living in mountains that surround South Africa, the Basotho are known to wear blankets filled with meaningful symbols as coats. In the movie, these blankets, containing Wakandan symbolism and technology, are worn by a tribe of warriors that are protecting the boarders of Wakanda. This tribe is disguised as farmers in the mountain who are blending in by living in a simple village. However, their Basotho style blankets are filled with vibranium that can turn them into warriors if needed. On top of that, they are also skilled at riding the armored rhinos in the movie, similar to the Basotho people’s advanced ability at riding horses.

One of the most recognizable depictions of African culture was the use of a lip plate worn in Black Panther by one of the Wakandan elders. This lip plate is used as a source of pride by the Mursi group in Ethiopia. However, the movie shows one of the male leaders wearing the lip plate while it is usually worn by women in Mursi culture.

The African relics displayed in the London museum scene did not receive much screen time but are certainly worth noting. T’Challa’s, who becomes the Black Panther in the movie, main villain, Killmonger, steals a mask featuring horns and bared teeth during this scene. This mask, called Mgbedike, is of Igbo origins from Nigeria and depicts acts of aggression, corresponding with Killmonger’s intentions later in the movie. Another noteworthy African relic showcased was the bronze heads from ancient Benin, also from Nigeria. One of these heads was removed from a Cambridge University museum as students protested for repatriation of the art. This display is consistent with Killmonger’s anti-colonial theme in the movie. He accused museum officials’ ancestors of stealing the artifacts and informed one of them that he would “take it off her hands”. This anti-colonial display by Killmonger is brought up again toward the end of the movie when his dying request is to be “buried in the ocean with my ancestors that jumped from the ship because they knew death was better than bondage”.

The characters represented in Black Panther show a great deal of culture and national pride. As noted by, the characters follow many traditions and show displays of spiritualism that are meant to signify Pan Africanism. One instance of this display is the kingship of Wakanda being passed down to the eldest son after the passing of the current king. The crowing of a new king comes with rituals including chants, dances, music, and ceremonial outfits. On top of that, each tribe in Wakanda, as well as royal blood, is able to challenge the new king before he becomes crowned.

This challenge is either a fight to the death or ends when one of the contestants concedes, leaving the remaining competitor as the king of Wakanda. Following the battle, the winner is taken to a cave where he ingests the herb that gives him the powers of the Black Panther. During this ritual, the participant is buried in sand after consuming the herb and taken to the ancestor plain. Displayed multiple times through the movie, this tradition holds great significance to the people of Wakanda as they get to speak to their ancestors before assuming their great power.

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Black Panther A Risky Move By The Walt Disney Company. (2023, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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