Warning: contains spoilers.
Ever since the trailer dropped for Black Panther, giving us our first glimpse into the vibrant, afro-futuristic utopia of Wakanda, the refrain of choice of trolls, mad that they could never, has been “Wakanda isn’t real.” The phrase is essentially shorthand for silencing and infantilizing Black Panther fans and denying the African history that inspired Wakanda, so it’s no surprise that right-wingers have latched onto it. And it’s definitely no surprise that this morning, supposed temple of conservative intellectuals National Review published an article titled “Why We Can’t Have Wakanda,” which is essentially, “Wakanda Isn’t Real: The Blog.” It’s a useful look into the ways that one movie is causing conservatives to feel profoundly threatened.
In the piece, writer Jim Geraghty explains that after watching Black Panther, which he enjoyed on the whole, one tiny little doubt plagued his mind: “The film is maybe a little too good at giving the audience something to think about amid all the action, and the science-fiction concepts at the heart of the story eventually become sand in the gears of whatever social message the filmmakers intended.”
It’s rare that a movie is criticized for being too good at something, but welcome to this review. Geraghty goes on to say that Black Panther is too successful at presenting Wakanda—a sci-fi utopia in a fictional movie—as within the realm of possibility, when really it would never survive in the real world. Why would a conservative writer be so intent on highlighting the supposed absurdities of a black utopia? You tell me.
Throughout the piece, he cherrypicks inconsistencies in the film, attempting to conflate its extremely elementary lessons meant for children—like learning to share and having compassion for one another—with some kind of treatise on resources, scarcity, government, and diplomacy. He seems to do all this just so he can critique Wakanda, a fictional place, for having no greater sophistication than you would usually find in, say, a Marvel movie.
For example, Geraghty actually argues that T’Challa’s decision at the end of the movie to share Wakanda’s technology and resources—kept secret for thousands of years out of fear of war—with the world would never work out because human nature always inevitably leads us to war and other atrocities:
As much as we in the audience love our heroic protagonist T’Challa, experience tells us that when he reveals Wakanda’s wonders at the end of the film, he’s bringing, at best, some serious and probably painful changes to his beloved country.
That’s the point. What made T’Challa’s decision to reveal the truth of Wakanda so pressing and weigh over the span of the entire film was the massive risk it posed to the security of the nation and its people. It’s literally what drives the plot of the film. Did Geraghty not watch the movie?
Geraghty then throws out some completely random ideas that only make sense if you’re hellbent on undermining a kid’s movie.
The worst-case scenario is that Wakanda is about to surpass Israel as the world’s preeminent scapegoat and target.
Another aspect about Wakanda that nags at the audience is that we never get much sense of what life is like for the average civilian there. Do they mind not having free elections?
What are you even talking about? Literally no one who bought the premise that black people could successfully run a peaceful country thought that. Also, I checked to see if Geraghty had decried the lack of democracy in, say, the fictional universe in which white person and fellow Marvel hero Thor exists. He had not, though he did write a whole blog about why any attempt to turn Thor into a woman would be problematic.
Yet the same vibranium that, if revealed, would unleash global chaos seems to somehow have made Wakandan society eerily, implausibly harmonious. The lone venues for resolving disputes of governance are fights to the death or submission by a waterfall. Has the vibranium made Wakanda so prosperous that greed and avarice no longer exist?
Again, the point of the film was to present a utopia—something that is, by definition, “implausibly harmonious”—and then challenge the concept of utopian societies. The whole idea is that Wakanda isn’t perfect, in part because of its unwillingness to share with outsiders.
Wakanda can’t exist, not owing to any inherent flaw in Africans, but because of the inherent flaws of human beings.
Okay, honestly, the fact that he needed to point out that Africans specifically aren’t inherently flawed is unnecessary and just suspicious. But given the audience for National Review, it might make sense for him to put that caveat in.
Geraghty goes on to say that real countries seen as utopian, namely Scandinavian ones, aren’t as good as everyone seems to think they are because they have high taxes and bad food. From there he manages to point out the fact that Niger, whose bountiful resources are as close to vibranium as we could get, is a mess—WITH NO MENTION OF COLONIALISM, MIND YOU—and therefore, Wakanda can’t exist.
But at some point, the film ends, and we’re left with our flawed world and its need for imperfect solutions implemented by fallible human beings. Fantasies can offer us visions and goals, but they can’t function as blueprints.
Who was saying that they wanted to model an entire society on a two-hour Marvel movie? Who is this man even talking about?
It’s almost as if, in his fervent determination to undermine a fictional nation, Geraghty himself needs the most painfully ironic of reminders that uh, bro, Wakanda isn’t real. What is real is that Black Panther presents an unapologetic vision of a world with limitless black potential—and that’s frustrating and threatening to people like Geraghty and places like National Review.