Marvel’s Black Panther has almost single-handedly ignited a movement of Pan-African revivalism and Afro-futurism unlike the world has ever seen. Not only will the movie gross well over one-billion dollars by the time of this article graces the net, but among the 2 billion Africans across the planet, it has emboldened the conversation (particularly among African Americans) of what it means to be African. Out of this has come the symbolic representation of Wakanda as a mythical Black Heaven, where Africans have been able to grow unmolested by European hands and can be themselves unapologetically. Appropriately, this movie and movement has sparked a number of critical concerns: what does Wakanda mean symbolically? And can this phenomenon be interpreted through a religious lens? In this brief investigation, this essay will employ elements of Kwanzaa as an analytical tool to dissecting the Black Panther cinematic phenomenon.
To begin, the Black Panther phenomenon has commanded the interest of Black people across the world-wide-web through creative cos-play (costume play) and public reenactments of Wakandan ceremonies and scenes from the movie. With this phenomenon has come the notion that Wakanda, like Zamunda, is a type of Heaven for people of African descent. But the question indirectly posed by many is: who gets to enter the kingdom of Wakanda? In other words, who is Black enough, down enough, and cultural astute enough to be welcomed to Wakanda? This query was given life by R. Kelly, who boldly claimed his first-class seat on the soul plane to Wakanda only to be quickly shot down by #BlackTwitter with comments such as: “NO THANK YOU. WE JUST CLOSED THE BORDERS” and “Wakandan ICE is waiting for him at the doh.” The fundamental idea behind the pointed sarcasm is simply – everybody who believes in heaven ain’t going – Heaven must be earned and those who abuse Black girls and commit other nefarious acts against African people, will not be allowed into Wakanda.
What this suggests is that there is perhaps a code ethics being developed from the mythology of Wakanda that has began to take shape and gain substance in the minds of the audience. It is difficult to say with specificity and clarity what exactly those ethics would be, but based on the responses of fans and the clear messages put across in the movie, we can start to give shape to what those ethics may be. For example, cos-play was huge for Black Panther, however, for this movie, it was not simply dress-as-your-favorite-character cos-play; many Black people came out in their African best: kufis, dashikis, bubus, and all manner of beautiful headdresses. What this suggests is that audiences recognize their connection to the cultural motifs presented in the film.
Religiously speaking, the film presented the belief system of Wakandans, which is symbolically representative of ancient African religious traditions. To explain, throughout the movie the characters make many references of Bast – the Black Panther God of Wakanda. This deity is directly correlated to Kemetic God Baset, who is also represented as a Black cat or panther. Bast, in Kemetic mythos is a warrior goddess who was a protector of the Kemetic royalty. In Marvel’s Black Panther, Bast’s qualities as a Goddess remain in-tact and expanded upon. What is critically important about Bast is that she is an African deity, not a colonial transplant like Jesus or Muhammad, and is therefore a source of internal strength for Wakanda and its people.
The philosophy of Kwanzaa - developed by Maulana Karenga - provide an understanding of African cultural elements that are useful for analysis products of creative expression. The purpose for using Kwanzaa as an analytical tool is that it, like Afro-futuristic phenomena, is an African American effort to connect with their African heritage through myth making. Therefore, using this as an analytical tool can be helpful when evaluating the merit African people cultural production. Black Panther’s director Ryan Coogler presents a number of cultural elements that can be discussed within this paradigm. For instance, the concept Kujichagulia suggests that Black people must look inward, both individually and collectively for strength and direction. Throughout the film there are a number of instances where Wakandans display a clear understanding of Kujichagulia, such as their understanding of religion, their focus on self-reliance as well as their strong opposition to colonization.
There are also clear manifestations of the concept Umoja (unity) that are presented in the film. To explain, throughout the movie, T’Challah is constantly being aided by his sister, mother and the Dora Milaje (the all female royal guard). Without these support systems the Black Panther is essentially a house cat. In addition, throughout the film and within the lore of the comic book, the Black Panther is constantly seeking the counsel of his ancestors, his Black Panther predecessors. These individuals are also part of T’Challah’s community that protect and guide him through the trials of life.
Given this very brief survey of Black Panther’s world there are several ethical qualities we can extract: One, there is a definite Afrocentric tone that resonates throughout the Kingdom of Wakanda. Due to world circumstances this notion can seem a bit insular, but it is a strength that resulted in the development of a technologically and culturally advanced society within the story. Second, there was sustained conversation regarding the respect for tradition (elders) and the honor of Black women (feminine). As well, his elders counseled him and the women of his life brought him back from the dead. Again, Black Panther’s support system is the only reason he survived his ordeal. That is to say, through the Ujima (collective work and responsibility) demonstrated by the royal family of T’Challah and the citizens of Wakanda, he survived to win the day. This is a critical point that resonates from interpersonal relationships to international alliances for Africans throughout the world.
To bring this full circle: Baltimore preacher, Jamal Bryant developed fliers and posted images of himself as T’Challah, more than likely as a way to boost attendance and to reach out to the youth. Black Twitter exploded on him after this image was posted online, so much so that his church has since taken this image down and erased all comments. Black Twitter’s reaction to Pastor Bryant was similar to that of R. Kelly, in that the preacher’s place in the community as a leader/icon was challenged. If you are known for disrespecting black women, being a arbiter of colonial religious beliefs or generally a “sell-out”, you will be stopped by Wakandan customs agents and asked to step out of line for a “random search”. The renaissance of the 2010s has ignited dynamic artistic and philosophical within the Africana world that will be studied as our history progresses. As it does, it is critical that we constantly examine phenomena in relation to where we are in the world and explore its merit in order to consciously shape our culture.
 I qualify the statement with the word “almost” because there has been a building movement with movies (Get Out), TV shows, (Black Lightning) and comic books (TaNahesi Coates run with Black Panther) that can be measure over the past decade or so.
 Credit must be given to the rise of White Supremacy in the US and throughout the world for helping to spark this movement. Much like the Harlem Renaissance received fuel for its fire from the rise of lynchings in the US.
 Jessica McKinney. “Twitter Denies R. Kelly Access to Wakanda After His Tweet About ‘Black Panter’. (Vibe Magazine, February 2018).
 Donald L. Horowitz. Ethnic groups in conflict, updated edition with a new preface. (Journal of American Ethnic History. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001, Summer 2001), 4. “The ability of a small group of adherents to invent new myths and traditions is one sign of the strength of nationalism.”
 Characters mention Bast many times in passing conversation “Bast help us” or “If Bast is willing” and so forth.
 Maulana Karenga, and T. Karenga. Kwanzaa: A celebration of family, community and culture. (Los Angeles: University of Sankore Press, 1998).
 The symbolism of the death-to-life scenes are loaded with religious significance. First, the Balboa tree is a very important spiritual symbol in Africa. Second, the burial ceremony seems very reminiscent of Kemetic burial rituals evidence by the crossing of the arms. Lastly, this rite is extremely communal, involving T’Challah’s extended family as well as ancestors.
 The fact that this film openly dealt with this issues in also a very important quality of the film. It is essentially an Afrocentric philosophical issue being discussed through the vehicle fictional comic book characters.
 Also, important is the aid of the Jabari tribe. While there was definitely some strife between them and the rest of Wakanda, when the King’s life was in their hands they honored him as a human and their King, despite the conflict between the two rulers.