The History of Wakanda

A historian explores the historical inspiration for Wakanda.


The Black Panther was among the first of my favorite comic heroes. The first comic book I had featuring T'Challa of Wakanda was Avengers #126. Given this I was understandably excited to take my daughter to the movie this weekend (and, like Kurt Loder, thought it was both an important film, and quite good).

In anticipation of the film, I reacquainted myself with some of the old storylines—particularly those developed by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. It's well-known how anxieties about nuclear radiation inspired much of the early Marvel pantheon, from Spider Man to the X-Men to the Hulk. What I had not realized, however, was the role such concerns—and associated geopolitical concerns—provided the inspiration for the Black Panther's homeland of Wakanda, including the idea that it was the source of a rare and important mineral resource. This is one of the things I learned from Ohio State University history professor Thomas McDow's essay on the African roots of the Wakanda story. Another was that the Black Panther first appeared (in the pages of The Fantastic Four) jsut a few months before the creation of the Black Panther Party in 1966. For those who want to know more about the history of the Black Panther's mythical home, McDow's short piece is worth a read.

NEXT: Should We Expect More from Our Elected Officials?

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I first encountered BP in Christopher Priest’s incredible run. The current Coates run isn’t as gripping (not much in modern comics is) but it’s really really good.

    1. Coogler has pulled off a cultural expropriation coup. The Black Pather swipes the elemental plot of a 1936 horror film , The Invisible Ray, in which Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi harrow darkest Africa for a ancient meteorite containing an alien element with superpowers of healing and destruction.

      The southwest Belgian Congo was the foremost source of radium at the time and Marvel’s scropt merely rechristens Katanga’s “Radium X” as Wakanda’s “Vibranium “.

      1. All that’s from the original comics, so….

  2. I really enjoyed BP when I was reading comics, although, to be fair, he was more of a secondary character for me when I was more active reading comics.

    That said, I saw the movie yesterday with my son, and it was AMAZING. Really good. It’s not Citizen Kane or anything, but I would definitely rank it as one of the best Marvel movies, right there with Winter Soldier.

    1. Having enjoyed Power Man and Iron Fist, I read a bunch of past BP comics through the year a few years ago. I found most of the past Black Panthers amusingly jingoistic, as might be expected for dealing with racial issues in the 1960s. Updates through the 1990s did not really help things.

      But modern updates of previously cringeworthy black heroes scratch my itch something fierce. Probably something about the underdog story being so manifest. Or maybe it’s that us libs hate our own whiteness.

      I’m pretty excited about seeing the movie tomorrow.

  3. Black superheroes, yes.

    Black colleagues, no.…..gicalNegro

  4. All these comic books can be found, in full original color and including the covers and ad-pages (!), here:

  5. Too funny:

    “Wakanda is ruled by King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is also known as the Black Panther. T’Challa is big on border security, believes Wakanda and Wakandans should come first, and fiercely protects his country’s culture from outsiders, including refugees. If this is all starting to sound familiar, it should. Also like President Donald Trump, T’Challa’s beliefs are not based on race. This is not a “black thing.” This is a culture/survival thing.

    . . . Killmonger (such a great name) is a man with mad killing skills and a burning grudge against Wakanda. T’Challa might be the Black Panther, but Killmonger is a Black Panther in the Huey Newton-Bobby Seale 1960 black nationalist sense. Like the Black Panther Party, Killmonger was born in Oakland, California, and to him everything is a “black thing.” He wants the vibranium exported in the form of weapons to overthrow white people.

    Still, Black Panther is not a movie about race, it is a movie about ideas and ideals, about our shared humanity. Our hero is not in favor of protecting ethno-nationalism, but rather a healthy form of nationalism.

    If T’Challa is Trump, Killmonger is Black Lives Matter.”

    1. Hollywood Elite Triggered By Breitbart’s Positive ‘Black Panther’ Review

    2. Breaking news- M.L. relies on secondary sources that support what he wants to believe is true(tm), as opposed to actually forming his own opinions after watching the material in question.

      1. No, mostly the kerfuffle is just highly amusing. The review/interpretation certainly seems plausible, but only superficially as I haven’t seen the movie yet.

        1. “The review/interpretation certainly seems plausible, but only superficially as I haven’t seen the movie yet.”

          I don’t want to given anything away, if you’re planning on seeing it, but the review isn’t remotely plausible for a simple reason.

          You can’t say the two following things-
          1. T’Challa is totally Trump at point A.
          2. T’Challa is totally Trump at point B.

          The reason you can’t do that is because those two points represent diametrically opposed viewpoints (the hero’s journey if you will). That’s just one of many issues with a review that comes from bad (and ideological) standpoint as opposed to an artistic one.

          So, either the Breitbart reviewer made a good-faith, if misbegotten, attempt to review the film, and ended up with argle-bargle because of their ideological bona fides didn’t let them understand what was going on, or the Breitbart reviewer thought it would be funny to just troll people with an incorrect review (and people, naturally, responded to the inaccuracies, as people tend to do).


          1. Thanks. Points taken, and I’ll consider that when I see for myself. If you click the link, below the **SPOILER ALERTS** it appears the reviewer does address “shifts from a total isolationist to a more reasonable position,” arguing that this ultimately still fits with his take on the “movie’s overall nuance and depth.”

            1. I was basing that on the link.

              Look, the movie does obliquely address current politics (as well as past politics). But, having just seen the movie, I am more than-reasonably confident that the reviewer isn’t just wrong, but way out in left (right) field in the observations – and was likely trying to be provocative rather than correct. But hey- tell me what you think after you’ve seen it. 🙂

              There is a lot going on in the movie (well, a lot for a Marvel movie), and simplifying the themes … yeah, that doesn’t work.

              1. I think it’s pretty funny that anyone thinks that in drawing parallels between Trump and T’Challa, Trump’s somehow going to somehow come off well.

    3. T’Challa is not Trump. If Killmonger ever got to be the head of Wakanda, he would be Trump.

  6. Talk about cultural appropriation– Marvel has swiped the elemental plot of a 1936 horror film , The Invisible Ray, in which Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi harrow darkest Africa in search of an ancient meteorite containing an unknown alien element with superpowers of both healing and destruction.

    At the time , the Belgian Congo was the foremost source of radium , and Coogler has merely rechristened Katanga’s “Radium X” as Wakanda’s “Vibranium “.

    1. This is good. One Hollywood film set in Africa is guilty of ‘culturally appropriating’ from another Hollywood film set in Africa.

      1. Hey, white people can culturally appropriate other white people. I think.

        1. It’s Hollywood, so it’s all the same culture, really.

  7. The audience for the ‘Black Panther actually owns the libs’ message seems to be people who aren’t going to see the movie anyway, but are sorta discomfited by the popularity of something that’s not for them.

  8. NERD!

    More seriously, if you’re a fan of those Avengers and Fantastic Four stories, you should check out The Panther’s Rage by Don McGregor.

  9. If EXACTLY the same movie were written and produced by White men, progressives would be outraged. But since it was written and produced by Black men, it’s praiseworthy.

    What rubbish! This movie could have been written by H. Rider Haggard. It’s still showing Africa through the filter of an Anglo-European perspective. The write and producer may be black, but they are no more African than I am European. The movie throws the whole continent into a blender and treats the resulting mess as some kind of Kumbayaland.

    Okay, snowy Alpine peaks I can deal with. It’s is a fictional place after all. Domesticated rhinos? Maybe if I shove my suspension of disbelief out the airlock. But the “evil” Black tribe chanting like gorillas? Sorry, but that crosses the line no matter what the skin color of the writer and producer.

    1. Wow. Sarcastro was right. I’m guessing you are regurgitating something you read, as opposed to watching the movie?

      FWIW, you don’t want to discuss the “write[r] [sic] and producer[,]” when you mean the writer(s) and director. The producers (well, the main ones) aren’t black.

      The “evil” tribe isn’t evil, and doesn’t chant like gorillas. Also? It’s a fantasy movie that is playing with certain tropes- but I appreciate you getting all outrage and umbraged on behalf of others.

      Now, please, go find your own safe space and let the adults and nerds talk. 🙂

      1. “”Wow. Sarcastro was right. I’m guessing you are regurgitating something you read, as opposed to watching the movie?””

        Nope. This article is the first review-ish type thing I’ve read except Loder’s quickie review. I saw the movie opening day on Friday, and except for a quickie comment at HnR over the weekend, have kept my opinion to myself for fear of being on the wrong side of history yet again. Come Monday I’m a bit surprised that the Left is praising this movie despite it’s culturalism.

        Actually, the “evil” tribe (Jabari) did chant like gorillas. Twice. They weren’t necessarily “evil”, which is why I put the “evil” in quotes. But they still chanted like gorillas, and that’s a stereotype with some very bad connotations.

    2. I still get mad thinking about how if a bunch of black people had written and directed Hogwarts it would have been totally seen as outrageous.

Please to post comments