Black Panther is well on the way to be the most successful superhero movie of all time.
Kudos to the overwhelming number of African Americans, both in front of and behind the cameras, who made this movie so entertaining.
But many of the audience will not know or care who made the movie. They will simply enjoy it because it is a bit funnier, a bit smarter, and a bit easier on the eye than the average super hero film. (And a warning – there a plot spoilers ahead.)
So why bother to review this film? Black Panther also offers a delightful thought experiment on the choices that a nation has when it finds itself with the means to become an imperial conqueror.
Imagine a country with superior weapons, and a belief that its technology, culture, language, religion, medicine and forms of rule are the best on the planet. It could, like the ancient Romans, set about building an empire. Or in a similar vein a thousand years later, behave like the Europeans, fanning across the globe, with lawyers, guns, money, alcohol, flour and missionaries to spread its beneficence. A beneficence that includes setting nations against each other and enslaving people with no means of defence. Or in an example closer to home it might mean (Like the Russians or Americans), arming minorities just enough to irritate you enemies and maintain an uneasy balance of power.
Alternatively, a potential global superpower might choose a more ethical course. Although we currently lack a worked historical example!
In the world of Black Panther, Wakanda is such a country. Hidden from view in central Africa, it is fabulously wealthy, high tech, and populated with a happy, stylishly dressed and enlightened citizenry. They have great music too!
Although my utopian dreams of government tend more towards decentralised anarcho-syndicalist collectives, I cannot fault the Wakandan King’s decision.
After some elegant CGI battles, the King emerges victorious from an internal civil war in which his opponent was intent on using Wakandan resources to forcibly establish an empire. (A very cool villain, with a heart- tugging back story)
We next see the King at the United Nations, offering his country’s wealth, science and technology to promote peace and prosperity for all.
And why not?
There is a corrupt hypocrisy that operates between governments and their citizens. All nations claim that whatever they do in the foreign policy space is guided by the noblest of motives. But everyone privately acknowledges that any congruence between good ethics and the “national interest” is a happy coincidence.
By and large the drivers of “national interest” are racism, sectarianism, fear of refugees and short term economic gain.
Lets hope we grow before we blow up.