I think it is amazing that a “superhero movie” — Marvel’s Black Panther — has so much to say to real life and real hearts in a number of ways. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer wrote a wonderful essay highlighting and limning together text and subtext. Moreover, the sets, costumes, acting, music, and more all combined together to provide more than a couple hours of fun; it was more intense. Yet me and my quirky brain are wondering about stuff that wasn’t in the scope of the narrative. Now I am delving into “movie midrash”, the way I do scripture, wondering what is off the page, what is happening just out of sight, or just deeper, or next. Thus, if I understand Wakanda, they have always been hidden and safe from the outside world. So presumably this included being “safe” from the good news of Jesus Christ.
What gospel might travel now to Wakanda? Would a cacophony of missionaries — protestant, Catholic, pentecostal, evangelical, etc. — head straight on over? What might they say? What might the Wakandan’s hear? Can this be separated from colonialism or be different from exploitation? Or, since at least Shuri seems to know about the outside world’s “stuff”, perhaps Wakandans already have heard the message of Christ and created their own church and will be sending that into the world, and redeeming our flagging faith? I can imagine so many things.
The whole idea that is rather fundamental to Christianity is that God so loved the world, he sent his son to save it, not to condemn it. To heal the whole world by opening God’s love and grace and covenant to everybody and not just a select few. Yes? And our Savior did that by dying. On a Cross. Suffering. And then he comes back to life after being really most sincerely dead. Christianity, at some basic fundamental level, wins by losing. Saves by giving it all away. Converts by loving each other. Most people in Jesus’s day and the days of the early church saw this whole mess as “foolishness”. Count me a fool for Christ, said Paul.
Wakanda might see it just as foolishness too. After all their government doesn’t have elections but fights. Their king is then imbued with the spirit of their god, the Black Panther. (Did I misunderstand? I really am new to this story. But otherwise where else does the Black Panther’s powers come from?) How would a people who literally believe that their king is divine, and have clear and physical proof of that, feel about the message of a Savior who died and rose again?
Perhaps rather like the Romans. They believed (I am told) that Caesar was a God/divine — or at least paid lip service to this. We’ve been here before, eh?
By the end of the movie Wakanda has agreed to be their brother’s keeper and is taking actions to help the world. They are very afraid — and Lord knows they have every right to be afraid — will their country be a target? Will their country lose its freedom and independence? Will being their brother’s keeper end up costing them too much? Everything?
Here’s my hope, my prayer for Wakanda — may Christ’s love strengthen your will to help mend the deeply broken places of the world, in ways no superhero can, in ways that only human hands and human hearts can do. May your science and tech and beautiful uniqueness combine with grace and mercy and love to enlighten the world.
The stories we tell have power.