Whitewashing 'Black Panther'

The alt-right loves Black Panther.

Wait, what? These people insisted Obama was born in Kenya. They throw fits when a statue of a slave owner is torn down. Some of them are literal Nazis. Nevertheless, they’ve found something in the movie that they can relate to.

The movie’s a hit. And the alt-right wants in.

“We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.” In a mid-credits scene, the Black Panther, aka T’Challa, addresses the United Nations in what was unmistakably a clapback at Trump’s “America first” ideology. Wakanada would now take part in the world, instead of walling itself off and refusing aid to non-Wakandan Africans. Yet somehow, for alt-righters like Ian Miles Cheong, writing for Milo Yiannopoulos’s site DANGEROUS.com, the speech exemplifies a colorblind movie that rejects “identity politics.”

In other words, the first major film about a black superhero has nothing to do with race.

Cheong’s interprets the speech to be, Black Panther is about “strife” in general, not racism. He sees Killmonger as the sympathetic but dangerously self-righteous “social justice warrior.” Meanwhile, T’Challa’s United Nations speech is #AllLivesMatter enough that the alt-right can enjoy the movie, if they can squint hard enough to erase all that pesky black skin onscreen.

“It’s easy to see where Killmonger’s worldviews come from,” writes Cheong. “He was undoubtedly shaped by his rough upbringing as an orphan in Oakland, followed by years of intense military training and experience as a modern-day warrior in some of the world’s most oppressive shitholes.”

Skipping over the loaded term “shithole,” this character description conspicuously omits Killmonger’s race. You probably know he’s black. But his blackness is more than a politically neutral skin tone. He wasn’t “undoubtedly shaped” by the vague trauma of growing up in Oakland or as an orphan, but by growing up as a black orphan in Oakland. It’s significant that he joined the military as a black man with father issues, not just a man with father issues. That he wants to rule said “shithole” is meaningful on a multitude of levels that Cheong ignores.

So too does Paul Bois over at alt-right haven, The Daily Wire. T’Challa, Bois writes, “represents EVERYONE.” He celebrates T’Challa’s victory over Killmonger—whose murder spree Bois crassly equates with Black Lives Matter—because “By the end of the film, T’Challa is neither just a king to Wakanda or black people; he is a king for all”. Bois loved the movie about the first black superhero but only because to him, it’s not actually for or about black people.

Interestingly, people on the opposite end of the political spectrum agree with this #AllLivesMatter interpretation of the film, but come to vastly different conclusions. Trevor Beaulieu, host of the left-leaning culture, politics, and race podcast Champagne Sharks, agrees that the Black Panther’s UN speech caps off a fairly centrist movie in a very #AllLivesMatter way (“as if we were one single tribe”).

“Post-racial, there’s only one race—that’s what I got [from the speech],” says Beaulieu. He’s not the only one who thinks the movie isn’t revolutionary enough. Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation that could have disrupted or even halted the transatlantic slave trade but chose not to. Killmonger himself was left to die in the American foster system by his Wakandan uncle, a literal king. Critics are divided on Killmonger as a hero or villain, or some combination of both but most on both sides can sympathize with his personal history, if not his methods for liberation.

Near the end of the movie, T’Challa reveals he bought several buildings in Killmonger’s old neighborhood to create the first Wakandan embassy and ostensibly to help non-Wakandan black people. But Beaulieu calls bullshit. “He’s creating some sort of Clinton Foundation, a tax write-off. But he’s going to give world powers advanced technology, something that’s actually going to help widen the gap between the oppressed and the oppressors.”

Unlike Cheong or Bois, Beaulieu doesn’t ignore race. He recognizes that Black Panther is about black people grappling with what the world owes black people and what black people owe each other.

Meanwhile, alt-righters are determined to make this story about them by casting themselves as victims, tweeting photos of battered white people supposedly attacked by black moviegoers.

https://twitter.com/trapafasa/status/964364855065985024

Needless to say, the attacks never happened. The photos were lifted from old news stories, mostly of domestic abuse victims. Police have reported no racially motivated attacks on white people at Black Panther screenings. But the plan worked, in a way. They straw-manned the conversation away from the movie to accusations of white oppression.

This white response to Black Panther smells like last summer, when men cried reverse sexism when theaters offered women-only Wonder Woman screening.

Cheong, Bois, and their cronies can’t handle a story that isn’t about them. So they’re willing to fake their own victimhood to snatch back the spotlight.

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