How "Wakanda" Became a Slur

Those who watched Obama’s Nelson Mandela Lecture (17/07/18) on YouTube may have noticed the added dimension of an adjacent comment section scrolling in real-time alongside the event — the medium being the message, and all that rot. One thing that I could not help noticing among the barrage of nonsense assaulting my peripheral vision was the frequency of comments saying something to the effect of "Wakanada forever," "Is this Wakanda?," or even just the single word, "WAKANDA." Evidently, the mere presence of an African setting is enough to be immediately equated with Black Panther’s residual impact on the popular imagination’s impression of the entire continent.

Though it may be difficult to discern whether this is the result of true malice or simple ignorance, there is certainly something to be said about the co-opting of the fictional nation to become a vehicle for such regressive discourse. Given that Black Panther has been unilaterally received as a moment of progress for African American filmmaking and Black culture in general, attention must also be given the unfortunate consequences of its omnipresence, particularly as it has been received by white (and especially conservative) audiences throughout the West.

This article should examine the subtle process by which the film’s iconography has acquired these less-than-favourable connotations, and what that may mean for its continued existence in this highly fractured media landscape. Does this fallout in any way negate the film’s thematic emphases on the legacy of colonialism and globalization vs. isolationism? In a real-world political climate wherein an American president refers to Africa as being comprised of "shit-hole countries," does the mass exposure received by a fictional Afro-Futurist utopia serve as a genuine antidote to these misconceptions? Where is the line between empowerment and sophistry? What impact might this cross-pollination between popular culture and current politics have on the advancement of the latter, as Obama’s lecture was undeniably meant to represent?

  • An interesting topic. I loved Black Panther, but when a friend who I'd recommended it to watched it, she said it "wasn't that great". I had to explain what the film meant for the whole culture and industry; using people of colour in the cast, traditional names for those people's characters, a soundtrack written and produced by black artists that put songs from a different genre on the top charts. Perhaps it is just ignorance, or perhaps the people commenting "Wakanda forever" simply don't understand why this culture association can be seen as offensive. It's a tough question, but I'm sure you're not the only one to notice these comments so maybe there's some research out there you could try to find to help make your point? – Gemma Ferguson 6 years ago

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