Why Wakanda Matters
What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication
by Dr. Sheena C. Howard
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Pub Date 02 Feb 2021 | Archive Date 01 Mar 2022
BenBella Books, Smart Pop
In 2018, the Marvel Cinematic Universe finally delivered on something fans had long been waiting for: a feature film with a solo Black superhero.
Black Panther introduced viewers to the stunning world of Wakanda, a fictional African country with incredible technological advancements, and to T'Challa, a young man stepping into his role as king and taking up the mantle of the Black Panther title from his late father.
The unforgettable story, coupled with the film's mega-success, has undoubtedly shaped the future of superhero cinema, in addition to genuinely changing viewers' lives. Why Wakanda Matters gives this iconic film the in-depth analysis it deserves under the lens of the latest psychological concepts-as well as delving into the lasting cultural impact of this unforgettable story.
Edited by Sheena C. Howard, an award-winning author, filmmaker, and scholar, Why Wakanda Matters: What Black Panther Reveals About Psychology, Identity, and Communication features a collection of essays from leading experts in a variety of fields who offer insightful perspectives on topics such as:Cognitive dissonance: The important messages within T'Challa's nuanced identity and eventual shift from nationalism to globalism.
Intergenerational trauma and resistance: How N'Jadaka (aka Erik/Killmonger) identifies with the trauma that his ancestors have suffered. Social identity: How Nakia, Shuri, Okoye, and Ramonda—all empowered, intelligent, and assertive women of color—can make a lasting impression on women and girls.
Collective identity: How Black Panther has created a shared fantasy for Black audience members—and why this is groundbreaking.
Cultural and racial identity: What we can learn from Black Panther's portrayal of a culture virtually untouched by white supremacy.
Fans of the movie and those interested in deeper discussions about the film will revel in this thought-provoking examination of all aspects of Black Panther and the power of psychology.
Average rating from 31 members
Full disclosure: I was given a free ARC for my review on Net Gallery Shelf. Below is my honest and spoiler free review.
Comic book fans have always known that this was a visual medium that could be a as much as a social commentary of the world as it is, as it is a form of entertainment. However, both comic books and superhero films by Marvel and DC have been denigrated by some directors, and the world at large, as “popcorn films” – allegedly empty of artistic license or things to say. Dr Howard’s Why Wakanda Matters is another nail in the coffin of that way of thinking.
This is a selection of essays created by academics and experts from multiple fields (communication, psychology, and education) who use Black Panther as a vehicle to explore concepts of race, identity, representation, perception and trauma. They all come with different approaches and models for the reader’s consideration. This helps not only provide academic justification for Black Panthers’ legions of fans, but also a meaningful stick to push back naysayers with renewed rigour.
It could help those who don’t experience life as a Black person an insight behind the why there was such a visceral and emotional response to the film worldwide. It deconstructs complex ideas in a digestible way, and ensures that through shared life experiences and the through the lens of those who often don’t get to tell their stories, their way – authentically. It’s why #WakandaForever resonates. This book explains the reasons behind the actors’ Boseman and Jordan active decision-making to refuse to act in films that reinforced negative Black stereotypes and to avoid perpetuating the notion that all Black stories are the same. This collection of essays push back the curtain to show the "how" and the "why" behind the idea that representation matters - because without wider narratives that show different stories to the mainstream story – the one story is all that is left. That it too perpetuates more violence and trauma.
If you are not Black but enjoyed the film but you don’t want feel white guilt for being born who you are and lucky enough to not experience systemic racism, active discrimination and oppression due to the colour of your skin…This could be your way of dipping your toe in the water.
It is also brave enough to show the flip side. In Chapter 9, it explores how it could be argued that the film also can be damaging to the very cause it tried to fight by analysing the manifestation of Erik Killmonger. Chapter 14 explores how interpretive dissonance plays into how change may still be slow to come to fruition despite its juggernaut financial success.
This book is needed in the same way that Black Panther was needed. Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians have paved the way for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Only time will tell whether the latter will have anywhere near the impact of Wakanda.
First things first. I'm not black. No, I'm not white too. I'm brown. But I've shouted "Wakanda Forever" with all my heart in the movie theatre and even at my television set. I cried the day Chadwick Boseman died. (No, please don't take this as cultural appropriation. It is just a sign of how much Black Panther made all of us minorities proud of being represented on screen on any way, even if we weren't blacks.) Is it any wonder then that I opted for this ARC?
However, I was a bit disappointed that this is not a graphic novel, unlike NetGalley led me to believe. Then again, I may not have opted for the ARC if it had been put up as a collection of essays, and in doing so, I would have missed out on a pretty interesting experience.
Why Wakanda Matters is a rich collection of essays by various academics around the huge phenomenon named Black Panther. Most of the essays are written in an interesting manner, and give you great insights into the beloved movie and its characters. I appreciated how one essay even looked at the flip side of the matter. I loved all the write-ups focussing on Shuri, Okoye and Nakia, the three female trendsetters of Wakanda. Surprisingly to me, Erik Killmonger gets his fair share of analysis too, even more than T'challa. I guess we all have more to learn from the villains than the heroes. Some of my favourite essays in the collection were "The Symbolic, the Real, and the Ladies of Wakanda" by Claudia Bucciferro, "The Oreo, the King, and the Wakandan Salute: What Black Panther Shows Us About Why Representation Matters" by Mercedes Samudio and "Representation, Identification, and Pride Teaching with (and Through) Black Panther" by Evan Jones.
Overall, it's an insightful and thought-provoking book to read, as long as you know what to expect from it. Black Panther was a very start in the right direction, but ultimately, it's just a movie. It's upto the citizens to imbibe the values it aims to propagate.
An excellent look at the psychology of Black Panther and Wakanda. As a high school film teacher, I’ve been teaching Black Panther for the last few years, I am also currently doing an MA in School Counseling so I was able to make clear connections on the psychology and identification models that were discussed in the essays. It was a great read with a wide range of essays using different theories and theorists to analyze Black Panther and it’s impact on audiences.
Dr. Sheena C. Howard assembles a variety of qualified voice to unearth the inner workings of the world of Black Panther and Wakanda. This text is useful for the presentation of many perspectives, is ready for citation in continuing work, and well worth adding to course syllabi focused on representation, visual literacy, and cultural exploration in popular media.
I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley, and I'm so glad it was available. As a huge fan of the Black Panther film (I'm not Black, but I am a person of color), I was eager to dive into the discourse surrounding it-less from the cinematic perspective, and more from the cultural and social impact that the film had.
Sheena C. Howard edited this anthology of essays, and also contributed an essay of her own. I knew this book was going to be something special when I read the foreword by Black Panther art director, Phillip Boutté Jr.
I, sometimes, find forewords to be intrusive and self-glorifying, but Boutté Jr.'s writing is evocative and a rallying cry. He understood why the film is important, but also how it's important. And that's a perfect segue into the rest of the essays.
I won't go into each one in-depth as each reader should take away their own impressions from the collection. What I will say is that I was fascinated by Howard's bold move to include differing-but not disparate-views of the film in this collection.
Each author dissects the film in their own way to analyze the creation of the characters and the fictional world of Wakanda, while also explaining which psycho-socio-political reason made these elements resonate with so many Black people, and people of color, around the world.
From intergenerational trauma to the psychological effects of systemic racism, one gets a clear understanding of exactly why this film, of all the superhero comic book adaptations that have come before it, made waves.
I'll briefly mention some of the essays that stood out to me. Mercedes Samudio's essay really resonated with me because she was an African-American child who often loved 'white' entertainment. Her essay was cathartic to read as it assuaged some of the guilt I've always felt for disparaging local media, while explaining why something like Black Panther feels so all-encompassing to fans.
Howard's final essay is a clinical look at T'Challa's evolution during the film, and it's not only a testament to the fantastic writing in this film but of how much nuance is needed for us to love and respect a character so different from us (because he's royalty, and a superhero).
Evan Jones' entry is almost a checklist of parenting while Black. I hope, however, that anyone reading this-irrespective of race-chooses to follow the author's guide so that race becomes less of an issue in the future.
There are several essays evaluating the psychology behind Erik Killmonger's characterization, as well as fans' love for this character. I am not surprised by how heavily the film's villain features in this essay. One essayist, Olísa Yaa Tolókun, refers to him solely by his given name, N'Jadaka, almost as if to disconnect him from his villainy.
I appreciate how much more I've learnt about being Black in America, and what more Black culture is when not told through the narrow viewpoint of other communities. There are cultural examples that I've never even heard of, but which, I'm assuming, is probably a part of daily discourse among many Black families.
I can't recall a genre film capturing the imagination of scholars and academics outside the film sphere quite like Black Panther has. And with good reason as we see in this book.
For any fan of Black Panther, of discourse around entertainment media and representation in film, this book is a must-read (and a must-keep).
Why Wakanda Matters is a collection of essays by several different contributors on the psychology and cultural impact of Black Panther edited by Dr. Sheena C. Howard. Due out 2nd Feb 2021 from BenBella Books, it's 288 pages (print edition) and will be available in paperback, audio, and ebook formats.
I've been a comics/speculative fiction/SF/fantasy nerd my whole life (literally, my dad was also a comics fan, and my grandfather taught himself English by reading comics). I've enjoyed seeing the massive commercial success of many comics franchises in film and television and the serious consideration of comics and graphic novels as valid vehicles for profound and relevant storytelling. That is one reason this collection really appealed to me. These essays are from recognized professionals analyzing the psychology and cultural relevance of Black Panther and how it dovetails with the modern African American diaspora.
The essays are grouped roughly thematically: collective identity and connectedness, racial identity, intergenerational trauma and resistance, and cognition and identification. The essays themselves are written in layman accessible language with an academic slant. I often found myself challenged and moved while reading. It certainly gave me a lot to think about. The chapters are extensively annotated and the referenced materials will give keen readers a lot of directions for further reading.
Five stars, I think this is an *important* and relevant book. This would be a superlative choice for classroom use/lecture/ or support material for race/gender studies, sociology, media, psychology, communication, film/literature, and allied subjects. It would also be a great choice for library acquisition, home library, or gifting. Well written.
Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.
I really enjoyed this collection of essays about the impact of Black Panther. I loved the ties between pop culture, history, psychology, and current events. Definitely eye-opening!
I received an ARC of this book from netgalley in exchange for a review.
Comic books have always been iswd as a medium to discuss social and political issues and Black Panther is no different. Sheena C. Howard has put together a fantastic collection of essays that deal with topics such as cognitive dissonance, social identity, and cultural and racial identity. This book is powerful, insightful, and incredibly relevant in a time when these topics need to be discussed by all members of society and the community. An amazing read that will make you look at the world of Wakanda (and hopefully the world in general!) differently the next time you watch Black Panther.
One movie can change the world. This book speaks about the different ways that Wakanda has enhanced and brought about notice on how people live. The author uses parts of the movie to discuss how people have been affected by how they look. If you liked or lived this movie, this book would even enhance your love for it.
A very deep and scholarly look at the impact that the Black Panther and the world of Wakanda had on millions. From the vis-a-vis that so many need to realize their potential to the paradigm shift in racial relations, the better book examines from multiple perspectives the message that Wakanda represents that is both imaginative and grounded at the same time.
“A place where Black people can create and sustain their own; a place where when Black people put their hands up, nobody says shoot; a place where Black people can breathe; a place where the strength and beauty of a Black woman is the norm…”
These are just some of the reasons provided by Felicia Stewart in her essay “Cross My Heart and Hope to Die in Wakanda” as to why Wakanda matters outside of the realm of the MCU. This collection of essays edited by Sheena C. Howard highlight how impactful the fictional country has been on the African diaspora as well as on non-Black fans. These essays do a fantastic job of analyzing Black Panther’s impact with different psychological and literary theories in a way that is accessible to all readers. I particularly loved Claudia Bucciferro’s essay, “The Symbolic, the Real, and the Ladies of Wakanda” which discusses the importance of young women having fictional role models that look like them to look up to.
The collection is not merely a celebration of Wakanda though. Charles Athanasopoulos’s essay “Black Radical Thought as Pathology in Black Panther” in critique of the film’s portrayal of Black radicalism provides thought-provoking commentary on some of the negative affects of the film and its fictional city as well.
In the introduction, Howard writes that she hopes the book leaves you “with a sense of the cultural-historical impact of Black Panther.” This collection certainly does that. Each essay makes a compelling case as to how Wakanda’s impact goes far beyond entertained Marvel fans leaving the theatre. Any fan of the Black Panther comic books or films would gain a lot from reading this collection.
Thank you to BenBella Books and NetGalley for proving me this ARC in exchange for an unbiased review.
Quite honestly, this book isn't what I expected. That isn't a bad thing. I typically read quickly, but took my time with this book as if I were studying it for school. I was engaged! This collection of essays expressed a lot of what I felt beyond the entertainment value of the movie and some of the topics my friends and I discussed after seeing it. I appreciated the setup of this book as it provided essays on themes found within Black Panther and how they related to topics including Racial Identity, intergenerational trauma, and most importantly for me the women of Wakanda. Each chapter presented by a different author was able to provide how the movie and its themes relate not only to the US but other parts of the world. I think anyone who has seen the movie could appreciate this collection of essays.