Marvel superhero movies have always included incredible action, but Ryan Coogler, director of Black Panther, coupled that action with incredible thematic presence to blow the entire world away, myself included. In Black Panther, King T’Challa rules the technologically advanced, isolated nation of Wakanda. During its initial development, Wakandan tribes discovered a metal with nearly infinite technological applications that would soon propel this society to levels of affluence never reached by the outside world. In order to preserve their nation’s fortunes, they cut themselves off from the rest of the world, never sharing any of their wealth or technology with their less fortunate neighbors. Decades later, T’Challa becomes aware of the suffering world around him and struggles to face the morally crushing dilemma of foreign policy. The question of giving up the nation’s security in order to help those in need seems to plague T’Challa’s mind. In fact, viewers cannot help but feel guilty themselves. In a fictional movie dedicated to overcoming the selfish nature of isolationism and self-preservation, these issues seem very real in modern America. Ryan Coogler uses guilt to incite the need for change across its viewers, and the United States, by describing privilege as something to be shared with the world, rather than kept to oneself.
Personally, Black Panther provoked guilt surrounding my own privilege, and drove me to question how much I have done to help those in need. I remember walking out of the theater shocked after my first viewing of Marvel’s critically acclaimed masterpiece, Black Panther. The action amazed me, the visual effects: stunning, but something about this movie caught me off guard. The way Black Panther portrayed the role of the fortunate made me feel initially confused. After hours of thought, disappointment with myself and my country rushed through my brain. I have always thought of myself as culturally sensitive and aware of other people’s problems, but Black Panther shot me with a dose of reality: I have done nothing to help solve these problems that I never had to deal with. I have not chosen to use my fortunate position in life to help others. I don’t actively travel the world to help those who can’t afford things so trivial to me, like water and food. I choose to spend money on a new iPhone each year, instead of helping those who weren’t fortunate enough to be born into a family that could serve them the way mine has. The only difference between myself and those living in hunger-stricken poverty is my luck. Hatred of my undeserved position in life boiled in my brain the night after that movie, and all I could feel was shame. Still, one week later, I legitimately felt mortified when I dried my hands with three paper towels, instead of the adequate amount of one. That small action brought on feelings of being part of the problem. My friends and family tell me that I think too much about other people, and that their problems should not bother me, but I can’t stand being a passive bystander any longer.
Shame drove me to write this article, shame drove me to question my position in life, and shame caused me to feel inadequate and discontent with the world today, and I know my friends and family have felt the same reaction. THAT is how Black Panther achieves its goal. Those feelings of inadequacy are what drives people to make change. The way Ryan Coogler intertwines shame into the cultural phenomenon that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe allows him to send a hard-hitting message across the world that will incite change for good.