In class we reviewed how aspects of Black Panther acts as a response from Ta-Nehisi Coates to the criticism he receives as a writer. I thought it would be interesting to see if any of these themes are present in ‘The World of Wakanda’ authored by Roxane Gay, assisted by Coates.
Phil pulled out 3 critiques that Coates is often called out on:
- Too much pessimism.
- Shows no way out.
- Privileges personal struggles over collective action.
Some of the ways in which ‘Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet’ responds to these criticisms:
The contrasting ways in which Tetu and T’Challa go about asserting power or regaining control/peace within the kingdom can be seen as Coates showing a more optimistic view and a critique of current political systems. On one hand, Tetu seeks to manipulate and capitalise on the rage of the people in order to overthrow power. Whereas, T’Challa opts to grow personally to have a more transparent and open leadership in order to listen to the will of his people. It is sending the message that there are viable and hopeful agents of change and ways to improve political systems but it is the choice of the people to enact them (people including those who enter into power). In some ways we can see this as a critique on Tr*mp’s campaign where he preyed on hatred and anger, anything that would provoke an outraged response to gain votes over a hopeful message.
As was pointed out in class the title being ‘Black Panther’ focuses on the individual but the story focuses greatly on the people of Wakanda. In doing so we see Coates acknowledging the personal struggles, in a leadership that exists in an initially centralised bubble, within the context of a collective. It simultaneously centralises and decentralises T’Challa as a leader and titular character. I agree to a large extent with Coates that it is important to tell the individual’s story and struggles within a collective, it is both the story of the individual and the collective that make for an interesting, grounded, and well-paced plot, particularly in the case of BP.
Ways in which Black Panther: World of Wakanda responds to these criticisms:
** I just want to write a quick disclaimer that having read Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay over 3 years ago and only starting to read Hunger a few days ago I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to pick up on critiques of her writing. However, something that she acknowledges herself in a few interviews/Twitter feed that isn’t necessarily a critique but more of a common theme in her writing is that she often has a lot of contradictions from ideals she holds vs how she feels/acts (mainly towards herself)**
Within the first few pages we see evidence of Gay’s theme of ideals vs actions, as Aneka goes to punish Ayo for her bragging/speaking-ill of the training facility. It is revealed that Aneka once too began her journey in the Dora Milaje as a more rebellious member despite now acting to punish Ayo and her out-spoken nature, we see throughout the entire series that Aneka increasing agrees with Ayo’s critical lens.
Additionally, I think the early-stage arguments and power struggle between Ayo and Aneka reflect the conflict of Coates dealing with the criticism of needing to show a way out VS pessmistic resistance. For example, Aneka ends her plan for the Dora Milaje on pg. 35 with “the better things will be” (i.e. follow this plan and we can find a way out) but Ayo responds with “I do not share such confidence” mirroring the pessimism that Coates places in much of A Nation Under Our Feet. In this instance Ayo is serving the purpose of echoing the opinion of the wider Wakandan people and their waning faith in T’Challa.
Later in the series Aneka accepts T’Challa’s decisions regarding Namor and the consequences of his flood because it is her duty, yet Ayo is heavily critical of this. We see that Aneka is priviledging the struggles of the individual (of both T’Challa and herself as she struggles with her loyalties) but believes she is acting in the best of the collective. This exchange amplifies the difficulties at the intersection of the 3 critiques of Coates when placed in the context of Black Panther. As the story revolves around a monarch, providing a solution or way out from an authoritative power is going to be based on the struggle of an individual (T’Challa) but that is inevitably going to evoke a pessimistic response from those that are critical of this single ruler system- which as it turns out most of Wakanda is or at least starting to become. The three are difficult to balance and throughout Coates’ Black Panther there is often compromise between the critiques in the plotlines that are chosen.
Overall, within the dialogue between Ayo and Aneka, coupled with the regret they feel in the latter stages of the story (trying to avoid any major spoilers… but I guess as it is a prequel it doesn’t really matter) from taking time for themselves outside of Wakanda, Gay explores how actions for the good of the individual(s) can be percieved or lead to guilt when they result in a failure for the collective. This is a parallel to T’Challa who is acting in what he believes is best for himself and his sister but is having a harmful effect on Wakanda. The difference being the ultimate power that T’Challa has and also the resolution in these separate character arcs. In the case of Ayo and Aneka they eventually reject the will of the monarchy whereas T’Challa begins to change within it to correct the wrongs he has neglected or (unintentionally) perpetuated in Wakanda.
I really enjoyed World of Wakanda, it is always nice to see more of secondary characters and be given more context to stories, particularly with a plot as detailed as Black Panther!