Black Panther was recently released onto DVD and Blu-Ray, and if its box office numbers are any indicator, those DVDs and Blu-Rays are sure to be flying off of store shelves.
To date, Black Panther has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Not only has it become the second-highest-grossing movie of the year, but also the highest grossing solo superhero movie of all time, as well as the third-highest-grossing film in America and ninth-highest-grossing film of all time.
So the clear message to take away from the film is that there is indeed a high demand for greater and better representation of people-of-color within cinema, and that Hollywood should follow suit in supplying that demand.
But there is one message from Black Panther that proves even more important. While the movie takes place within the fictional African country of Wakanda, its fictional setting very well reflects the political and economic realities within our own country, especially under President Donald Trump.
As such, America would be wise to follow the example of Wakanda and learn from its leader who wants to build bridges, as opposed to our own leader who wants to burn bridges and build walls.
To learn what lessons America can learn from Wakanda, click READ MORE:
Part 1: Examining Trump's America
Chances are I don’t need to tell you who Donald Trump is, but for the sake of this essay, I’ll provide a brief summary.
To answer the question, “How the hell did a billionaire reality TV show star without any political experience manage to attain the highest office in America?”, the simple answer is that he managed to convince enough of the American electorate that he would “Make America Great America.”
What exactly does he mean by that? If we’re to trust him by his words, it means that he wants to revitalize the American economy by repealing the economic policies that have allegedly made America not-so-great.
Specifically, he believes that the American economy has been hurt due to American jobs being taken by immigrants and American businesses being outsourced to other countries.
As such, Trump intends to reverse these economic trends by implementing protectionist policies through restrictions on trade and immigration, with the expectation that these restrictions would promote economic growth through domestic job creation.
While many Americans were attracted to his policies due to their so-called “economic anxiety”, a small segment of the population known as the alt-right, led by white nationalists like Richard Spencer, were more motivated by racism.
Fearing the white race had lost "its rightful place" in society due to a projected decline in demographics (a decline which they attribute to "white genocide"), the alt-right views Trump's rise in power as a re-confirmation of their white supremacists beliefs, and they hope that his policies will help reverse such cultural and racial trends by transforming America into a white ethnostate, essentially making America “great” again by making it “white.”
|Know Your Meme|
One would assume that such unabashed white supremacists would not be attracted to a black superhero from an African country, but ironically enough, they have.
In fact, the alt-right has attempted to claim Black Panther as their own, arguing that his home country of Wakanda exemplifies their vision of an "isolationist ethnostate", albeit with black people rather than white people like themselves.
As twisted as that interpretation may seem, it’s not entirely inaccurate. Wakanda is indeed an isolated nation consisting of one ethnicity, black Wakandans, who keep to themselves while keeping out foreigners and restricting trade with other nations.
Of course, even if Wakanda were an accurate representation of an isolationist ethnostate, that wouldn’t even matter because—spoilers!—at the end of the movie, all of the country’s isolationist protectionist policies are repealed in an effort to open up Wakanda to the rest of the world.
Not only are such decisions to embrace the global community and economy contrary to the decisions being made by Trump and championed by his alt-right supporters, but they will inevitably benefit Wakanda in the long run, as it would also benefit America if it were to follow such an example.
Part 2: Wakanda's Paradox Of Plenty
Wakanda is the most scientifically and technologically advanced country on Earth within the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Its technological prosperity, and in turn, its economic prosperity, is attributed to the country owning a monopoly on Vibranium, a rare metal derived from a meteorite that crashed into the land thousands of years ago.
While the country's rare supply of Vibranium has allowed it to prosper, as with most other countries with economies built upon scarce natural resources, such prosperity creates a paradox--a paradox of plenty, if you will.
The paradox of plenty, or resource curse, is an economic principle that states that countries with plentiful natural resources, rather that create economic prosperity for all, as Wikipedia describes, "tend to have less economic growth, less democracy, and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources."
This paradox exists because, while a country's economy may be prospering in one area due to a natural resource, other areas do not prosper likewise because that one area of the economy receives a disproportionate amount of resources.
Such economic disparity ends up concentrating power and wealth toward the government and ruling class, who in turn end up prospering while everyone else does not. The result is more wealth and power for the wealthy and less democracy and more poverty for the lower classes.
One example of this paradox is Venezuela, a country whose abundance of oil allowed its economy to prosper to the point where it served as an exemplar of a "socialist paradise"--that is until the oil crisis, after which it's now "not real socialism, now shut up!"
Even with 90 percent of Venezuela's economy revolving around government-owned oil, not everyone within the country enjoyed such prosperity. Even before the oil crisis, the country suffered high levels of poverty with a laundry list of human rights violations.
And then oil prices increased, along with competition from other countries, and the country that was once praised as an economic miracle soon experienced shortages of everything, forcing its citizens to go as far as to hunt zoo animals for food.
While Wakanda is by no means suffering from the same Mad Max fallout scenario as Venezuela, its own economy shares many of the same problems created by the paradox of plenty.
As with Venezuela, Wakanda's economy relies on one major natural resource, Vibranium, whose means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by the state, specifically the royal family and army. This makes Wakanda's economy essentially as socialist as Venezuela's.
Yet despite being the most scientifically and technologically advanced civilization in the world, its government remains primitive and archaic, being ruled by a monarch selected, not by democratic election, but by a combination of birthright and trial by combat. Wakanda is many things, but a democracy it isn't.
And while the futuristic skyline of towering skyscrapers and flying spacecraft makes Wakanda appear prosperous, a closer look shows that, like Venezuela, such prosperity is not shared equally by all.
The capital city of Wakanda looks impressive enough, but then, so do all cities, especially capital cities. Even the worst third world countries have the most beautiful cities and capitals, but a short travel outside of them will reveal shanty towns inhabited with the poor and impoverished.
As exhibited within the scenes of the marketplace and border tribe, even amidst Wakanda's towering skyscrapers exist ghettos and rural areas where people reside in impoverished living conditions. While the elite live in skyscrapers and palaces, other citizens live in thatch and mud huts similar to those in less prosperous and less advanced African countries.
So while Wakanda has yet to devolve into a "socialist hellscape" like Venezuela, it certainly has the potential of becoming one if it continues to maintain its socialism, isolationism, and protectionism.
As Matthew Patrick explained in his Film Theory video on Black Panther, by creating false scarcity for Vibranium through its monopoly on the resource, Wakanda is creating a demand for black markets and alternatives, which in turn places the country at risk of experiencing a similar economic crisis as Venezuela and other countries with the paradox of plenty.
As he explains: "The rulers of Wakanda [may soon] have to compete on an international level with other substances as good, if not better, than their Vibranium, and their monopoly gets busted...An entire population that's been totally isolated [will have] to fend for itself when the country can't support them anymore."
Fortunately, by the end of the movie, T'Challa makes the right choice. Seeing that the rest of the world is catching up to Wakanda both economically and technologically, he decides to open up his country to the global community and economy rather than keep it isolated.
So how can a fictional country like Wakanda turn away from protectionist and isolationist policies while real world countries like America insist on embracing economic protectionism?
Part 3: Wakanda's Lesson For America
Trump and other economic protectionists defend their policies by claiming they serve the "national interest" by protecting American jobs, workers, and businesses from being "taken away" through immigration and outsourcing.
Conversely, they argue that any economic policy opposed to protectionism is part of a "globalist" conspiracy to establish a "one world government" by undermining America's "national sovereignty" and transforming its "free market" economic system into something more "communist" or "socialist."
But economic policies like open immigration and free trade aren't anathema to free-market capitalism. If anything, allowing businesses and individuals to participate in voluntary trade and labor with other businesses and individuals from other countries would be an extension of the free market.
In fact, the father of capitalism himself, Adam Smith, in his most famous treatise, The Wealth of Nations, mentioned how protectionism was counter-productive to the free market:
"To give the monopoly of the home-market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is in some measure to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, and must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation. If the produce of domestic can be bought there as cheap as that of foreign industry, the regulation is evidently useless. If it cannot, it must generally be hurtful.Nearly 300 years later, and his words still remain true, as both immigration and free trade have proven to be economic drivers rather than destroyers.
While immigrants are often scapegoated for stealing jobs and lowering wages, studies have proven the opposite to be true: immigrants create more jobs and more businesses than natives, and even have higher labor force participation rates.
Similarly, free trade policies, rather than allow jobs to be shipped overseas, actually help produce more higher per-capita incomes and faster rates of economic growth in their own countries. These facts are not left-wing "Soros propaganda." In fact, they're all confirmed by right-wing think tanks.
The Heritage Foundation's Economic Freedom Index reveals that countries with higher rates of economic freedom created through policies that promote open immigration, free trade, and free markets have greater living standards and higher rates of economic growth.
Interestingly enough, some of the least economically-free countries exist within Africa. How ironic that Trump has called these countries "s***holes" while promoting the very protectionism that caused them to become "s***holes" in the first place--and considering how his own protectionist policies are inciting trade wars and provoking foreign tensions, it's only a matter of time until they turn our own country into a "s***hole"!
Fortunately, unlike our own leader, T'Challa decided to take his country in the opposite direction. Rather than allow it to remain closed to the world through isolationism, protectionism, and socialism, he instead opened it up to the global economy through free trade, open immigration, and free-market capitalism.
As he mentioned in his speech at the end of the movie: "We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe."
Will America learn the lesson of Wakanda by building bridges rather than barriers, or will it doom itself through its continued embrace of protectionism? Only time will tell--and hopefully, that time will be 2020!
This essay is most likely going to be derided as a controversial radical opinion, but essentially, that opinion is merely that immigration and trade are good for an economy. That's not a radical or controversial opinion. It's basic economics supported by most economists left, right, and center.
The only people who don't believe such facts are economic illiterates who in-ironically use scare words like "globalist" or "neoliberal." That or Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters. (But I repeat myself!)