Acton Institute Powerblog

Isolationism and internationalism in Black Panther

I finally got around to seeing Black Panther last night, and my early reaction echoes so much of the overwhelmingly positive response to the film. As so many superhero tales do, Black Panther weaves together complex ideas within the often deceptively fantastical trappings of science fiction and fantasy.

A few themes among the many immediately leap out, especially the dynamics of isolationism and internationalism that face Wakanda throughout its history. The isolationist attitude is embodied by Wakanda’s past and especially its most recent leader, T’Chaka. Black Panther picks up with the transition to a new sovereign, T’Challa.

The new Wakandan King T’Challa faces immediate challenges

And with that transition new internationalist attitudes come to the fore. The first is represented by Nakia, T’Challa’s love interest. Nakia represents a call to a humanitarian vision of international solidarity. Wakanda possesses gifts to offer the world, and Nakia cannot rest while those who could benefit from these gifts suffer.

The second version of internationalism is represented by Erik Killmonger, whose goal is to bring Wakanda out of isolation in order to establish a militaristic, global Wakandan empire, one on whose possessions the sun will never set (echoing the great claims of the nineteenth century global empires).

Navigating these alternatives, and indeed seeking a way to authentically respond to the legitimate claims of national identity, cosmopolitan community, and global solidarity, is T’Challa’s great challenge and one well worth reflecting upon as it mirrors the challenges we face on the world stage in real life today.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.