Wakanda is under attack.
The fictitious African country is, of course, the setting of Black Panther, a phenomenally successful film that is currently being dismissed, misconstrued, and re-contextualized by far-right misfits hell-bent on parade-raining. It’s a campaign that’s gone on since at least last June, according to a must-read report in the Washington Post, featuring interviews with researchers at a think tank that studied extremist conversations around the film.
As most people who have seen Black Panther would attest, its politics are ambitiously complex and radical, not just for a Marvel movie but for any wide release. The central conflict revolves around whether Wakandan King T’Challa (a/k/a the titular superhero) should share the country’s hidden wealth and technology with the outside world, or remain prosperous in relative isolation. Rather than engage in good faith with the thorny moral questions the film asks, the white supremacist right instead has focused on ways to discredit and undermine Black Panther–likely because it was neither created by white people nor does it cater to them. (One of the few white American characters in the film is memorably addressed as “Colonizer” at one point.)
Here are some of the actions of the alt-right to either take down the movie or use it for nefarious means:
- Spread Twitter hashtags, like #Wakandaisntreal. (Or in the case of alt-right-adjacent Ben Shapiro, make a video with that title.)
- Encourage people to call black Americans “Wakandans” through alt-right podcasts and neo-Nazi blogs.
- Call out the Jewish people involved in the film, as part of the white-nationalist argument that Jews control the media.
- Deride the film as “anti-white” because its sprawling pan-African cast and crew is light on Caucasians. (The fact that a movie can be notable for mostly excluding white people should say enough about every other movie ever to kill this argument.)
- Create a campaign to “downvote” Black Panther on Rotten Tomatoes, perhaps the reason why the Audience Score on the site is at 79%, compared to the 97% on its Tomatometer, which is comprised of critics’ ratings.
Perhaps most insidious of all, however, the alt-right is also embracing Black Panther, framing the film’s debate about isolationism as a photo-negative version of their push for a white ethnostate. They’ve appropriated the character, putting him in posters wearing a “Make Wakanda Great Again” hat. Rather than distance themselves from Black Panther, they’re imprinting their own ideology on it, and touting the film as a cynical calculated recruitment tool. It’s like the old adage, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”–except in their deluded logic, joining ’em counts as beating ’em.
As the Post reports, “A YouTube personality who the researchers say often espouses ‘ethnonationalist views’ uploaded a video titled, ‘Black Panther: A Hero the #AltRight Deserves?’ It says, ‘The alt-right should not only consider supporting the Black Panther movie; they should meme it all over social media and attend screenings en masse, proudly showing their solidarity with him and his values. If not only just for the giggle factor, it would definitely confuse, disorient, and discombobulate those on the far-left.'”
This is what trolls do. Rather than seek enjoyment for themselves, they go to great lengths to taint or ruin experiences for others. Popular entertainment generally is not concerned with these people–with few exceptions–so this is how they entertain themselves. The key ingredient in entertainment is often empathy, and trolls–specifically those of alt-right ilk–appear to be devoid of empathy. Movies and shows that do cater to an alt-right audience, like Adult Swim’s now-canceled Million Dollar Extreme, are destined to fail because they have no heart and they only punch down. Empathy is as essential for making movies and TV series as it is for enjoying them.
The alt-right wages campaigns against other films because they are jealous that hate-fueled cinema tends not to get funding and they’re not creative enough to make movies on their own. (They’re also very bad at rapping.) These guys are sore losers, but losers they are. Black Panther has made well over a billion dollars worldwide, and (hopefully!) paved the way for many more large-scale productions with majority-nonwhite casts and crews. The alt-right’s campaign to take it down has failed. If they somehow manage to recruit more white nationalists to the great cause of hate by twisting Black Panther into a Trumpian hood ornament, well, those people were probably going to flip anyway. Black Panther 2 doesn’t need them.