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Ryan Coogler's Black Panther is a beautiful, action-filled comic book blockbuster, but not to be ignored is the surprising depth of its socio-political themes. The central nation of Wakanda is unlike any nation on Earth -- incredibly advanced thanks to its unique Vibranium mines -- but the fact that it's shut off from the rest of the world creates a fascinating conflict: do the immense resources manifest a responsibility for the country to help people beyond their borders, or does the horrible history of colonization and slavery in Africa justify their choice to stay hidden? It's the issue that ultimately drives the entire film -- so it may not surprise you to learn that the actors playing it out on screen have some strong opinions on the subject.
Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with the cast of Black Panther during the film's Los Angeles press day, and my first question in every interview was exactly the same: if you were a Wakandan citizen knowing what you do about the rest of the world, how would you feel about the country's border policy? The responses I got were impressively diverse, and it was Lupita Nyong'o -- who plays Nakia in the Marvel film -- who pointed out the reason why: because I was hardly the first person to bring up the topic. Said the Oscar-winning actress,
While we were making this film, that was a debate we were having - as we were figuring out exactly how the story was going to unfold, and getting very specific about each of our characters and their viewpoints. We had long conversations about what Wakanda is facing and how we feel about it, because it is so relevant to the real world. I think the whole world at this time, lots of places in the world, are debating about what citizenship means, what nationhood means, what patriotism [means]. I would find in Nakia/Okoye conversations, or Killmonger/Black Panther conversations, I see the validity of each argument, and it is really a conundrum! How do you keep yourself intact, and also share? That is a question.
One very important advocate for keeping the borders of Wakanda secure in Black Panther is T'Challa himself -- and as it turns out, Chadwick Boseman shares the perspective. While most of the actors I talked to weighed both sides of the challenging argument in their responses, the star of the film made a straight argument for why the African nation is better off in isolation. According to Boseman, history and the incredible dangers of the outside world both contribute to the argument for staying hidden, but also worthy of consideration is the geography of Wakanda:
I feel like it's a conversation that... it's an ancestral conversation. It's one that tradition has proven, especially because of the history of Africa with colonialism and slavery, that in this specific case it's best for us to be hidden. Wakanda is an enclave where the mountains sort of protect it. Nature protects it. The idea of the borders being protected is part of what god intended because we were put here. I feel like the borders in that particular case, because of that history, have to be maintained to a certain degree.
The nation of Wakanda was founded on top of the aforementioned mine full of Vibranium, which found its way to Earth courtesy of a meteorite crashing down from space. Because of this, the country is naturally concealed within a crater -- which Chadwick Boseman seems to interpret as a kind of sign. If Wakanda were meant to interact with the rest of the world, it wouldn't be surrounded by natural walls.
Danai Gurira, however, disagrees. While her character in the film, Okoye, is extremely loyal to the classic traditions of Wakanda, she personally recognizes that Wakanda's relationship with the rest of the world doesn't entirely coalesce with where we are in modernity, and sees the border policy as archaic. Said Gurira,
It is a really deep and challenging question, and I could understand the Wakandan old policy. But then the idea that how do you justify continuing that policy? But then how do you preserve? I think for my character it was a conundrum, because she's a traditionalist... So the idea of how difficult it could be to secure a nation that has been secured in a specific way for hundreds of years, but also how do you become a modern part of the world? And so I think, as Lupita was saying, it's an absolute conundrum, but I do think that at the end of the day it becomes an outdated structure to live in isolation.
You can watch all of the stars of Black Panther -- including Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Danai Gurira, Lupita Nyong'o, Forest Whitaker, Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis, Winston Duke and Daniel Kaluuya discuss the controversial Wakanda border debate in the special video we've cut together below!