Diaspora

Black Panther Wakanda Forever Is a Love Letter to Haiti – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Haiti and Wakanda couldn’t be more distinct, but Black Panther 2 leans into historical elements that show the unfulfilled destiny of a proud nation.
The following contains major spoilers for Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, still playing in select theaters.
When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee conceived of Black Panther, they were obviously working from a position of subversion. In July of 1966, Black people were experiencing a renaissance in collective cultural confidence and embracing their African roots in defiance of the stereotypes perpetuated by the blaxploitation era of filmmaking, not to mention the generations of toxic stereotypes that were rooted in the remnants of slavery and codified in Jim Crow. Black Panther was a heroic intellectual, more than a match for the first family of Marvel Comics and the king of an advanced African dynasty.
Wakanda in many ways serves as the pinnacle of humanity's achievements and was meant to stand in direct opposition to the barbaric and uncultured defamation of Black people that persists to this day. In this way, Haiti is a real-world analog of Wakanda, and Ryan Coogler designed the narrative of the Marvel Cinematic Universe's latest installment to capture the lost nobility and dignity of an island nation with a unique place in Black history.
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Haiti was once the most important French colony, responsible for supplying the bulk of Europe's sugar and coffee on the backs of their mercantile chattel. African slaves made up 90 percent of the island's population and were treated brutally to keep up with increasing demand. Slaves who were killed in the process of maintaining that supply chain were simply replaced with other captured men, women, and children from West Africa.
Shortly after the French secured their own revolution, slaves in Haiti ignited their own uprising, accomplishing something that no African slaves had ever achieved before or since, and threw off the yoke of their masters. In 1804, they built the first Black Republic on the ashes of plantations they razed to the ground. As a result of their success, Haiti was deemed to be essentially a terrorist state. No country would engage in economic discourse in the hopes that financial starvation would serve as a reminder to other Blacks across the Diaspora of the pyrrhic victory intrinsic to armed revolution over the powers representing unchallenged white supremacy.
In 1825, French emissaries arrived in Haiti with an ultimatum. Either they pay reparations to their slaveholders for their lost income, comprised of acreage and human beings, or the nation of France would declare war on the island. The fine for their freedom was $150 million francs to be paid over the course of five years. For reasons that remain obscured by history, the president of Haiti agreed to this incomprehensible sum. Knowing that the Haitians would be unable to pay anything remotely close to this tribute, they were mandated to take out a loan from a coalition of French banks. This usury became known as the Independence Debt, or "double debt." The nascent Haitian sovereignty was not only obligated to pay the individual French colonizers and slave stakeholders but also these varied financial institutions.
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Haiti emptied its treasury to make the first payment and then defaulted on the following notes. Eventually, it attempted to tax its populace in an effort to generate the necessary funds, and when that failed, it imposed hefty taxes on its chief import, coffee, and shipped the vast majority of that tariff to the French to cover the loans. Unlike how typical loans are structured with a nod toward investment, Haiti received nothing for this cynical use of nihilistic French diplomacy. It wasn't until the late 1950s that Haiti was able to pay off the deficit after paying $560 million dollars, the equivalent of more than $21 billion today. If that money had stayed in Haiti, economists believe it would have amounted to $115 billion dollars of blood flow in its economic circulatory system.
Haiti's youth as a nation was crippled for daring to dream of the freedom their European counterparts had fought so desperately against. The merchant class who profited off of Black free labor continued to profit off of their immoral debt, further enriching wealthy families who survived the class purge. This absentee colonialism strangled Haiti's prospects in the womb and became a financial model for other European banking institutions going forward. Instead of divesting their wealth in schools, roads, healthcare and other vital infrastructure, the freed slaves were forced into a modern version of the depraved institution.
Ryan Coogler, a visionary director who continues his ascension, is explicit in demonstrating the psychological importance of Haiti to the structure of the film in a variety of ways. At the outset, when Wakandan outposts are marked for theft, it is interesting that the soldiers perpetrating the crime are French. Not only do they speak the language during their raid, but it is also made clear in the subsequent meeting of global leaders that the French government is behind the attack. It begins a subtle set of references that emphasize France's direct relationship to Haiti specifically and the colonial attitude of entitlement toward an independent nation's resources regardless of treaty or propriety.
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When Nakia is eventually introduced, embodied in an authentically emotional performance by Lupita Nyong'o, she is seen as a citizen of Haiti where she has used her expertise as a catalyst for education and empowerment. The scenes are not the brutal tableaus of poverty that are typically connected to the island country but ones of colorful pride and resourcefulness. The embattled Queen Ramonda is not visiting, as monarchs often do, under the auspices of charity but in the role of a secret royal who is impressed with the beauty of her surroundings. The portrayals throughout are devoid of pity, patronization or condescension but are instead meted out with vibrancy and elegance.
During the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever's powerful post-credit scene, where T'Challa's namesake is introduced, it is cemented that not only does his son bear the name of Haiti's Toussaint Louverture, the general who transformed the fledgling revolt into a revolution, but it is also the seat wherein the prince of Wakanda is being raised. Haiti is his home and will forever be a part of his identity. This marriage of the fictional African empire and the real-world nation where Black independence was won creates a powerful symbolic avatar in the form of this young boy. Wakanda thrived in self-isolation while Haiti was banished from the socio-economic tapestry as punishment for the crime of self-actualization. Coogler's ode to this resonant dichotomy plays out beautifully on screen, shedding light on a shadowed history of oppression by reveling in the pride of a historically maligned people. Denied their place in history, Haitians, in all the promise of Wakanda, are now taking their place as the heirs of kings and queens in their own right. A place long their due, if only on the silver screen.
To see Haiti displayed in a rare prominent role in cinema, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever is playing in theaters.
Creator/writer of The Hidden Scribes and COVID39 podcasts. Film screener for the Austin Film Festival and holder of passionate opinions e.g. M>DC+(Wars-Sequels~GOAT)/( Game(Breaking(The Wire)Bad)of Thrones-2 last seasons)=FACTS. Raised by Dungeons and Dragons, judges people who liked “Signs”, and solidly chicken on the which came first ideological spectrum.

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