SPOILER ALERT: The Black Panther's main villain is Erik Killmonger. He was born and raised on the wrong side of town—the projects of Oakland. But he survived the streets, and became a militant and woke black American with the goal of liberating all oppressed people with the secret black technology developed in his father's homeland, the East African country of Wakanda. Some argue that Killmonger is not really a villain but the film's real hero because, as Afropunk critic Erin White puts it, he refused to "assimilate into an elitist blackness that leaves many [blacks] behind." Killmonger is like those fully resolved Afro-robots in Cybotron's "Clear."
Killmonger wants to clear everything. Reset the entire social structure. Restart it on a new basis—one that has completely broken with the past. This is the meaning of "Clear," the most important track by the founders of Detroit techno. The directive to clear (or delete) is what makes Killmonger a villain and makes his enemy and the leader of Wakanda—and his first cousin, T'Challa/Black Panther—a reformist. In the end, T'Challa makes a comprise: He will not clear the world but attempt to reform it with what the British proto-Afrofuturist Guy Called Gerald once called "black secret technology." This reformist (Obama-like) compromise has upset a number of critics. For example, Azad Essa, a journalist who covers Southern Africa for Al Jazeera, called it "an African neo-liberal fantasy parading as a 'woke Af'... about revolution and decolonisation."
These are important debates, and one should not be quick to take any side absolutely. All of Black Panther must be processed and synthesized into new or deepened theory of post-colonial blackness. What black intellectuals around the world are realizing at this moment is that, by way of a Disney film (of all bloody things), pan-Africanism has returned with a vengeance after years of dormancy, after Wole Soyinka, an English-speaking black African writer, pretty much blunted it's intellectual spearhead—the black French-speaking world's Negritude program—with the tigritude insult in 1962. And if you have that attack of French-speaking pan-Africanism by an English-speaking pan-Africanist, you will not fail to notice and be troubled by the near silence or limited contributions of Black Panther's one representative of the French-speaking Africa, the great Isaach De Bankolé (his mouth was tied up by that plate thing).
Black Panther is really about connecting black America with English-speaking black Africa.
But for this post, I want to draw your attention to Killmonger's dying words: "Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, 'cause they knew death was better than bondage.” Anyone who is familiar with the canonical works of the Afrofuturist movement, which matured in the early 1990s, will immediately hear echos in this villain's closing statement. That echo is Drexciya's "Bubble Metropolis."
Drexciya died with when the weak heart of its co-founder, Detroit-born James Stinson, permanently stopped in 2002. The duo created a mythology that indeed concerned black African ancestors who, true, did not jump from ships but, instead, were thrown from them. Some were pregnant women. Some of their babies somehow survived and began a whole new race, an aquatic black race.
Shawn O'Sullivan writes:
Drexciya's nautical fixation is not only evinced sonically, but linguistically as well. Track titles like "Digital Tsunami" or "Jazzy Fluids" are accurate descriptions of their liquefied electronic frenzy. "Temple of Dos De Agua" (1999), "Bubble Metropolis" (1993), and "Vampire Island" (1997) serve as a map of the Atlantean aquatic society that Drexciya's James Stinson and Gerald Donald created. The mythology is deep and confounding, revealing itself through song titles and liner notes over the course of many years. The name "Drexciya" itself refers to a country; its inhabitants, the "Drexciyans", are the offspring of pregnant slaves cast overboard in transit from Africa. Part sci-fi wet dream (Drexciya's members once appeared in Star Trek costumes during an interview!), part militant political statement, this aquatic utopia is technologically advanced and in possession of such powers as "Quantum Hydrodynamics" (1999) and "Antivapor Waves" (1994).
Can you hear that dub? Can you feel it. Drexiya sounds a lot like Wakanda.