'Black Panther' Has Made Me Want Real-Life Superheroes Again

In order to throughly examine this work and provide fair criticism, this article contains spoilers.
You have been warned.

I remember seeing the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy for the first time. Bale’s Bruce Wayne was brooding, often angry, but most of all of he was a “real” superhero. Viewers and critics praised the gritty realism of those films—referring chiefly to the hero’s lack of superpowers and the villains’ lack of interest in world domination. These criteria are what passed for “real” in the Nolan trilogy, but I feel that misses the point of superhero films. These films inspire not where they are realistic, but rather where they are genuine. The difference lies not in the content, but in the earnestness of the pursuit, and that is where Black Panther shines. 


The film’s story operates around several debates on justice, colonialism, and activism. T’Challa, portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, is the newly crowned king of an isolated African nation with extraordinary technological ability called Wakanda. Wakanda has existed for centuries with this technology, while being disguised as an impoverished nation of farmers. The philosophical questions begin flying immediately: is it moral for Wakanda to withhold their advancements? Does the country have a responsibility to help those of African-descent elsewhere in the world? These questions comes from a place that is clearly aware of the conversation surrounding Pan-Africanist theory in both the U.S. and Africa. Despite the film’s clear preference towards its established morality, it remains mostly sympathetic towards other approaches to socio-economic liberation, including the villain’s plan for a full black uprising. 

The movie’s conclusion manages to strike a predictable balance between the two competing ideologies, while still appearing earnest in its delivery. It sets up a hopeful message of cooperation in the face of oppression. It isn’t the Bruce Wayne approach to change; it goes beyond the power of one man and instead seeks a more attainable goal. I don’t want real heroes who fight crime and throw bad guys in jail. I’ve seen the attempts by singular billionaires to attain world harmony, and frankly, I’m skeptical. The path forward is much more like what appears here: attempts at diplomacy and outreach that operate within an ideology of unity and peace. It’s idealistic, sure, but it’s presented as an ideal to strive towards. It isn’t easy; there isn’t a nation like Wakanda—a place rich with technological advancement that is also unspoilt by capitalist pursuits, but there’s a thread of hope there that inspires me now like a hero would have when I was a child.