I sat in the movie theater transfixed. Here was a cast and a film crew featuring African Americans. Here was a technological utopia built and peopled by blacks. Here were complicated villains and heroes. But as stunned as I was by the silver-screened marvel that is Marvel’s mythological Wakanda, I could not help but think about very real places like Austin and many other predominantly black and brown locales like it that exist around the country.
I’ll try not to spoil things for the few who haven’t already seen the mega blockbuster, but there’s a point where the people of Wakanda decide to build a bridge to the real world, to share some of their wealth, knowledge and expertise with their brethren trapped in history and time, contained within a system that, for nearly half a millennium, has kept them confined to ghettos, favelas, shantytowns and prisons (if not physically, then psychologically).
A Wakanda-built flying machine lands in (what I’ll just call) any inner city in America and the fictional nation’s leaders work to implement what is essentially a social outreach effort to share their knowledge and technology with their black American brothers and sisters who have been shut out of the African nation’s freedom and bounty.
The gesture is the equivalent of Barack Obama (our flesh-and-blood Wakandan King T’Challa) building his presidential library on the South Side. The expansive proposal, Wakanda-esque in its design, has generated a groundswell of grassroots opposition for what critical voices say could lead to gentrification and displacement down the line.
The Obama library controversy demonstrates that solutions to the poverty, blight, disinvestment and violence that characterizes so many black and brown communities (and countries) outside of Wakanda are messy and are not so easily resolved by simply exposing the denizens of these unfortunate areas to technological wizardry and wealth.
As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
“Modern man has brought this whole world to an awe-inspiring threshold of the future. He has reached new and astonishing peaks of scientific success. He has produced machines that think and instruments that peer into the unfathomable ranges of interstellar space. He has built gigantic bridges to span the seas and gargantuan buildings to kiss the skies. His airplanes and spaceships have dwarfed distance, placed time in chains, and carved highways through the stratosphere. This is a dazzling picture of modern man’s scientific and technological progress.
“Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.”
Join me on Saturday, April 14, 1 p.m., at Loyola Strict School of Medicine’s Tobin Hall, 2160 S. 1st Ave. in Maywood, for a town hall-style dialogue about this and other matters related to ‘Black Panther’. This is a free event that will feature African drummers, food, networking and fun.