SEATTLE — In February 2018, movie audiences everywhere were introduced to Wakanda, the “uber-developed,” high-tech African country virtually untouched by colonialism, in the Marvel box office hit Black Panther. Wakanda, ruled by T’Challa (the titular Black Panther played by Chadwick Boseman), shows how Black Panther and development are intertwined.
Foreign Assistance is Virtuous and Effective
Initially, Wakanda is an extreme example of isolationism. It’s veiled as a third world country so that the rest of the international community remains unaware of its vast resources. However, T’Challa announces in the post-credit scene that Wakanda will open its technology — including futuristic public transportation and seemingly miraculous healthcare — to the rest of the world.
This policy change is a result of the antagonist’s political worldview. Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger wants to institute a new world order led by Wakanda’s technological and military superiority. While Killmonger’s plan obviously is dangerous, T’Challa’s decision to bring Wakanda into global society illustrates how Black Panther and development are connected. It shows that, even though doing so is risky, there are moral reasons to share immense resources.
The U.S. is a Donor – and Recipient – of Foreign Aid
As part of Wakanda’s new foreign policy, it creates outreach centers in areas where primarily black communities are deeply affected by marginalization, including Oakland, CA. Although it might seem odd that an African country, even one as advanced as Wakanda, would give aid to the U.S.; it happens regularly.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, more than 90 countries offered the U.S. a total of $854 million in aid (only $40 million had been accepted and used by April 2007). More recently, Mexico offered assistance in 2017 following Hurricane Harvey. Even though the offer was withdrawn due to a deadly earthquake in the country, Mexico helped distribute 184,000 tons of supplies in Texas after Katrina and often sends “bomberos” (firefighters) to assist in putting out U.S. forest fires.
Wakanda’s lead general is a woman; its head of science and research is female; there’s gender parity on Wakanda’s governing council. With these levels of inclusion, it seems Wakanda has achieved social and political gender equality. This is also indicative of the connection between Black Panther and development, and the research that suggests women’s empowerment benefits development efforts.
One study found each year of education for women in developing countries correlated with a 9.5 percent decrease in child mortality. According to the International Monetary Fund (and an article by The Borgen Project), if women had access to the same agricultural resources as men, food production could increase by 2.5 to 4 percent.
Human Trafficking is a Far-Reaching Issue
In an opening scene, Wakandan intelligence officer Nakia, played by Lupita Nyong’o, is attempting to free dozens of women from human traffickers. It’s estimated there are 20 to 30 million victims of human trafficking globally. Although some African nations do not have the legal framework or necessary resources to adequately address this crisis, countries such as Ghana and Nigeria are fighting it.
The countries enacted anti-trafficking laws and created specialized police units to combat human trafficking. Additionally, the Nigerian government provides medical and psychological services, temporary visas and financial assistance to victims.
Western Museums Displaying Stolen African Artifacts
Killmonger steals Wakandan weaponry disguised as ancient artifacts from a British museum early in the movie, but he says the weapons are his because the British took them during imperial conquests. This scene, in many ways, mirrors real-life.
While it may not relate to extreme poverty, per se, it does feature Western cultures exploiting African ones; such exploitation has implications for the theme of Black Panther and development. Currently, there are Nigerian artworks taken during an 1897 British military expedition in museums all over Europe. And Nigerian authorities want the artifacts back.
In 2014, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston returned eight Nigerian artifacts that were likely illegally acquired, but not all experts support this action. Kenyan curator Kiprop Lagat, for instance, said Western museums should keep these artifacts because they have better resources to maintain them.
T’Challa announcing the truth about Wakanda certainly comes with drawbacks; nevertheless, by committing himself and his country to worldwide development, T’Challa is setting a positive example of global leadership His actions represent how the blockbuster, along with being a cultural phenomenon, is a meditation on foreign policy and further shows the connection between Black Panther and development.
– Sean Newhouse