An international relations narrative of the Black Panther movie


By Pelumi Olugbenga

History is made not only by the most significant events of our lives but also by our own shrewd imaginations, creativity and ingenuity.

The global space over the past few weeks has been agog over the super hero flick – the Black Panther. Millions around the world have been trooping out in so much mirth to see this phenomenal Hollywood masterpiece at the cinemas.  However, while the apparent majority are no doubt mesmerized by the fictional Wakanda and its vibranium deposit, I find the International Relations aspect much more enthralling.

Pelumi Olugbenga

For the uninitiated, Wakanda is a fictional African nation in American comic books. Wakanda first appeared in 1966 in a comic book called “Fantastic Four”. Despite its over fifty (50) years of existence, the fictional Wakanda only gained this wide and wild global prominence recently following the release of the Black Panther movie.  Wakanda – home to the Black Panther; practised what International Relations scholars refer to as “Isolationist Policy”.

According to Bear F. Braumoeller(an Assistant Professor at Harvard University) in his article – The Myth of American Isolationism, isolationism is “the voluntary abstention by a state from taking part in security-related politics in an area of the international system over which it is capable of exerting control”.

In a similar vein, Cathal J. Nolan of Boston University sees isolationism “as a long-term policy of rejecting formal alliances”. Simply put,  a nation or state is thus said to be isolationist when it resolutely refuses to join core international politics or throw its hat into the ring for any military peregrination or combat.

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Flowing from the above authorities, it is apt to view Wakanda from the prism of an isolationist country who for the most part of the movie was contended with itself. King T’Challa – the numero uno and ‘protector-in-chief’ of  Wakanda Kingdom chose to toe the path  of his forebearers.  In spite of its isolationist posture, Wakanda  was still able to build an unparalleled proficiency in science and technology. Wakandan leaders at one point or the other in their history mooted the idea of exporting some of these rare resources to other countries – most especially the vibranium( a very powerful albeit fictional metal). There was however no solid attempt to transport these resources beyond the Wakandan borders till when Erik Killmonger took over the throne following a brief interregnum.

Historically, many existing countries have chosen to be isolationist at some points in their history.   After Zheng He’s voyages in the 15th century, the foreign policy of the Ming dynasty in China became increasingly isolationist. The United States for some parts of the earliest 20th Century can equally be viewed as isolationist.

Contemporarily, Switzerland who only joined the United Nations in 2002 can be described as mildly isolationist as the Swiss have refused to join the European Union or the European Economic Area. The Swiss populace remains opposed to these regional alliances.  Some scholars of International Relations have also pointed out the subtle isolationist posture of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

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UN General Assembly

For clarity purposes, nations become isolationist mostly when faced with internal challenges and wrangling. More often than not,  when countries take an economic hit following a major war or downturn in vital economic resources, they tend to operate more within their borders with a view to recuperate economically and socially.

Nevertheless,  for a peaceful, prosperous and united world, isolationism must be frowned at. It was exhilarating that King T’Challa, very rightly so; eventually took Wakanda to the United Nations. Our world from the Wakandan point of view  stands to benefit greatly from the scientific knowledge of the Wakandans – like the one that completely healed Everett’s bullet wounds in some hours or the medicine that revived King T’Challa after the merciless sword of Eric Killmonger had almost eternally sent him to the abyss.

Although the movie did not shed any light on post – United Nations Wakanda, I do strongly believe that Wakanda shared its wealth of knowledge and discoveries with the rest of the world. In reality, we as one world, need one another to achieve the fullness of our potentials.  A proper blend of the minerals and brilliance in Africa, the ingenuity in Asia as well as the creativity in Europe, the Americas and beyond can surely make our world a  greater place.  The colours of our skin maybe different but our destiny is shared.

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Hypothetically,  if Everett K. Ross (the American C.I.A agent) in Black Panther had not saved the life of Nakia (an African) and very crucially made his way to Wakanda, would T’Challa have been able to reclaim the throne and the resources of Wakanda halted from being used to destroy the world? It took a white and a black, a male and a female as well as intelligence and creativity to save Wakanda and our world from a point of no return.

Long live our world!

Wakanda Forever!!!

Pelumi Olugbenga is a 400level (Senior Year) student at the Lagos State University (LASU) Ojo in Nigeria where he studies History and International Relations. Pelumi is a 2017 Hesselbein Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States. He is interested in international development and policy.

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