By Angelique Walker-Smith
At the end of the newly released and popular superhero film, “Black Panther,” an ambassador to the United Nations asked this question: “What can a country full of farmers offer the world?” The question transitions the viewer from the imaginary place of Wakanda to reality today. Wakanda helps us envision new possibilities in advanced development of natural resources, wealth, and prosperity—not only for African nations, but for all nations.
It is a story about political will and resources for all. Unlike popular negative stereotypes and imagery of African nations, the portrayal of Wakanda uplifts the dignity and imagery of African peoples throughout the African diaspora. In a recent interview, Lupita Nyong’o, one of the film’s stars, said that “Black Panther’s Wakanda is Africa if it had never been colonized.”
While the material prosperity of Wakanda is important, it is the commitment of the leaders and warriors of Wakanda to the spiritual and ethical care of their people and their wealth that is most compelling. This includes the development of advanced healing properties and practices, equitable relationships, and moral currency.
In essence, Wakandans live out the vision of Acts 2 that promotes sharing within a community. In Wakanda, men and women are warriors and leaders who honor their parentage and ancestors. This contributes to their sense of reverence, not only for their community, but also for strangers. Even in a time of struggle and battle, they fight with resolve to protect their people and their legacy.
The world often forsakes the positive contributions that African peoples have made and continue to make. Agricultural economies of the African continent are often not celebrated and encouraged even while outside nations and groups take advantage of the natural resources of African nations. Nyong’o said that “what colonialism did was it rewrote our history and our narrative—and our global narrative is one of poverty and strife—and so the wealth of the continent is very seldom seen on such a global scale.”
Black Panther helps us see African peoples differently and reminds us that Black History is the history of all of us. It inspires hope, which can be seen in the revival of urban and rural farming in Pan-African communities. Groups like the Black Church Food Security Network and public policies such as the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) are evidence of this.
Today we, too, can live out the principles of Acts 2 by advocating for a moral budget and for appropriations that protect all people, including those most affected by hunger and poverty.
Angelique Walker-Smith is senior associate for Pan-African and Orthodox Church Engagement at Bread for the World.