Episode 503: The Killmonger Doctrine

On the Overhtinking It Podcast, we tackle “Black Panther,” a striking and unique entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s string of blockbusters.

Peter Fenzel and Matthew Wrather are joined by the actual people they saw Black Panther with: In LA, Matt and Josh, and in Boston, Shiyan. They overthink the film’s aesthetic, its politics, the benefits and drawbacks to the Wakandan system of government, and why Killmonger’s plan was actually so elaborate. Oh, and Pete talks about the cars.

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12 Comments on “Episode 503: The Killmonger Doctrine”

  1. Margo #

    So does Wakanda export its Vibranium without anyone noticing how advanced the Wakandans are? Does the rest of the World assume this is a Nigerians Oil situation? Or does is all the Vibranium outside of Wakanda stolen? If it’s the later, then how is Wakanda so wealthy?

    A few nitpicks aside, one of the many reasons this film is so exciting is that it feels like the birth of a brand new genre. aesthetically and thematically this film is an important as Star Wars, Blade Runner, and Mad Max: The Road Warrior.

    I’m a Caucasian Canadian watching an American film about a fictional African nation. As such, I see a film partly about a smart, wise, compassionate (but not perfect) black leader who surrounds himself with powerful women. Sound like any leaders you Americans once knew? A former President perhaps? America may be longing for such a person, and that longing may have worked it’s way into this film. Hope I’m not overthinking this too much, it’s just so interesting that this film came out now.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      “So does Wakanda export its Vibranium without anyone noticing how advanced the Wakandans are?”

      No. Wakanda does not export its vibranium. Captain America’s shield is I think the total supply of it found outside Wakanda.

      “Does the rest of the World assume this is a Nigerians Oil situation? Or does is all the Vibranium outside of Wakanda stolen?”

      All of the Vibranium other than Captain America’s shield is stolen. It is possible Captain America’s shield is also stolen, or gifted, or that Howard Stark bought it for millions of dollars back in the 1930s or 40s, which is also possible.

      We know from Age of Ultron that 500 pounds of vibranium is worth billions of dollars. Extend that to mean one pound of vibranium is worth at least ten million dollars – so, more than 100 times more valuable than platinum or gold.

      This either means that:

      A) There is at least some vibranium out there in the world, in order for there to be a price for it.

      B) The price of “billions” is sort of made-up, as it’s so rare as to be effectively pricess, and this is the most anybody could feasibly pay for it.

      Of course there’s also the axe in the museum. Killmonger suggests this was purchased, but not for a fair price. So there’s probably _some_ vibranium out there (I guess there’s some in the bodies of dead Wakandans if the tattoos are with vibranium ink), but it seems like it might not be much. People who read the comics could correct me.

      > If it’s the later, then how is Wakanda so wealthy?

      The world does not think Wakanda is wealthy – the world thinks Wakanda is impoverished. So, the things we see inside Wakanda suggest its advanced infrastructure, construction and manufacturing capability is driven by its productivity advantages from cheap energy and available advanced technology. Maybe there is trade among the tribes that creates cash flows to incentivize innovation? Maybe it’s just a manorial monarchy that is cash-poor and runs through taxes in kind.

      The two questions are – how does Wakanda get imported goods? Buying a $100,000 Lexus is probably not that hard to justify for an African head of state, but do they have other imports from the outside world? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they just have a ton of natural resources and factories and stuff and make stuff domestically.

      And then, how does Wakanda get cash to finance its missions around the world? Do they issue a currency? It seems like the Wakandan dollar is a thing – or rather it needs to be in order for Wakanda to continue its ruse of being an impoverished low-tech, lightly-inhabited country to the rest of the world.

      But the Wakandan dollar probably trades against other currencies based on the feigned economic conditions of poor Wakanda – meaning it is probably not used within the advanced economy of Wakanda at the same value – or, if the Wakandan economy opens, the Wakandan dollar will start out severely undervalued and will shoot up in value relative to other currencies when people find out what you can buy with them. This would in turn hurt Wakandan exporters, maybe lead to deflation – almost certainly a giant economic disruption and a call to restore economic isolation by some of the tribes.

      Maybe they can hedge against this by running up a massive synthetic current account deficit in swap contracts on the Latverian Franc.

      Or did DOOM join the Euro?


      • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

        Actually, what if we assume this…

        Just for the sake of fun, let’s assume the price of vibranium is relatively stable in U.S. dollar terms.

        This Wired aritcle estimates the weight of Captain America’s shield at about 44 pounds: https://www.wired.com/2014/03/whats-mass-captain-americas-shield/

        If we go with vibranium selling now at $10,000,000 a pound, using an inflation calculator, we can calculate that vibranium might have sold in 1940 at about $575,000 a pound.

        So, let’s assume that T’Chaka’s father made a one-time sale to Howard Stark of 45 pounds of vibranium (what Stark calls “all we’ve got”).

        That would be $25.9 million in 1940 dollars.

        If you just put that money in Dow Jones companies with dividends reinvested, that would give the Wakandan royal family $91.5 billion by 2018 – not one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds, but putting them about on par with Jeff Bezos of Amazon.

        Certainly with their advanced technology and education, the Wakandans could find things to do with their money that would deliver more of a return than that – and well enough to finance their operations.

        So it would be cool if the reason Wakanda has foreign currency to finance its operation without exporting most of its economic might is that on the verge of World War II, it made a one-time sale of vibranium to Tony Stark’s dad and invested the proceeds.


        • clayschuldt #

          I like the idea of Wakanda’s economy being based off the one time sale of the vibranium to Stark.
          My thought was some of the spies stationed in other countries might have used advanced tech, the non-weapon kind, to start businesses or industries. Maybe an early investor in Stark Industries was Wakandan, but back off once he started making weapons. Maybe they only gave him vibranium on the condition it be used for defense purposes, hence the shield.


      • Three Act Destructure #

        In the comics, Wakanda has been out in the open for quite a while. I believe since Black Panther’s first appearance, actually. This also means that we have decades of stories about how Wakandans interact with the rest of the global market.

        Also, relevant: during Priest’s run, Killmonger was allowed to create a city inside of Wakanda’s borders (per the civil rights afforded his followers by Wakanda’s constitution, so long as they didn’t attack other cities) that was hyper-capitalist and propped up by Western corporations. His plan in large part had to do with attacking the nation’s economy which T’Challa countered by dissolving parliament and nationalizing all companies inside of Wakanda, most of which had major stakeholders around the world. This immediately threatened to sink the world into a depression while Black Panther and Killmonger beat the hell out of each other on top of a waterfall for, I believe, the third time.


      • Will Twiner #

        “Captain America’s shield is I think the total supply of it found outside Wakanda.”

        Wasn’t Bucky (Winter Soldier)’s arm vibranium too?


        • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

          I believe the movies make this a little ambiguous, but not really true.

          When Bucky punches Cap’s shield, it suggests the two tools are comparable, and obviously there are symbolic and practical connections between the two.

          But if Bucky’s arm were vibranium, I don’t think Iron Man would have been able to blow it up.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      “Hope I’m not overthinking this too much”

      Don’t ever say that! :-D


  2. Jay #

    I enjoyed this film a lot. My attention was drawn online to two moments where the dialogue foreshadows the main conflict. When T’Challa first returns to Wakanda:

    SHURI: The EMP beads. I’ve developed an update.

    T’CHALLA: Update? It worked perfectly.

    SHURI: How many times do I have to teach you? Just because something works doesn’t mean that it cannot be improved”

    And when Shuri shows T’Challa her new suit designs, one is brash and gold, while the other is a simpler silver:

    SHURI: Do you like [the gold] one?

    T’CHALLA: Tempting, but the idea is to not be noticed.

    The fact that T’Challa does not embrace change in his equipment speaks to the film’s theme of Tradition vs Innovation. In regards to Wakanda, it can be seen that T’Challa does not want to fix what isn’t broken, and does not want the world’s attention to be brought to the nation. This fact is reflected in his hesitance to improve his gadgetry and reluctance to choosing a more flashy and noticeable Black Panther suit. The film’s ideological conflict is foreshadowed within the first act. Contrast with when Killmonger picks the gold suit, paralleling his agenda of putting Wakanda in the global spotlight


  3. Three Act Destructure #

    Since the comics were mentioned, I wanted to share a couple of differences that I think are relevant to how Coogler sees this property vs. how Marvel and other writers have historically seen this property:

    1. In the comics, Wakanda is outed pretty early on. At least by the 70s, if not earlier. (Although, with Marvel’s sliding timescale this moment is more like perpetually ten years before whatever you’re currently reading rather than during the actual 70s)

    2. There are waaaaaay more than five tribes in the comics so no, we don’t know much about them all and how they actually interact there. Most likely they are not as restrictive about who performs which tasks based on which tribe they come from but some tribes definitely have specific attitudes. M’Baku and his people are basically the Amish which is probably why he has a line in the movie about how irresponsible it is to let Shuri build a bunch of technology.

    3. Wakanda is not nearly as utopian in the comics either. There are constantly uprisings or refugee crises from neighboring countries or challenges to the throne, along with at least one Skrull invasion that I can remember. It’s idealistic in that it’s about an African nation capable of both upholding its own traditions and being a major player on the world stage but it’s not nearly as Star Trek as the movie seems to be.

    4. The Dora Milaje (“adored ones”) are quite a bit younger in the comics and are intended as potential brides as well as bodyguards. T’Challa reinstated the tradition as a way of keeping peace between the tribes. In theory, each one of them has the potential to have the king’s ear in a very significant way which works as a form of diplomacy.

    5. That last point is super important for Nakia who in the comics is not a War Dog but instead a Dora who obsesses over T’Challa and eventually tries to kill his girlfriend (Monica Lynne, an American jazz singer) before falling in with Killmonger and becoming the supervillain Malice. The movie winks at that by having her begrudgingly dress up as a Dora for the big fight at the end.

    6. The War Dogs are also very much different in the comics. Rather than being simple spies, they’re more of a black ops unit that specialize in torture and assassinations. The comics are purposefully ambiguous about how much of this T’Chaka was really aware of but they’re disbanded quickly by T’Challa when he becomes king. They were also run by T’Challa’s adopted white brother Hunter. Oh, also, Hunter went by the name White Wolf which is what the kids during the last post-credits scene were calling Bucky. I have no idea what that could mean beyond a fun reference to the comics.

    7. Shuri doesn’t really function as Black Panther’s version of Q in the comics. She’s actually, briefly, a Black Panther herself while T’Challa is off being the King of the Dead and blowing up parallel universes (it’s a long story, as usual). Which is why it’s so interesting to me that when Ramonda is telling Nakia that she should eat the heart-shaped herb instead of giving it to M’Baku, Shuri is in the background of the shot while Ross is not. Also, it’s Shuri who was holding on to the BP suit while her brother was incapacitated.

    8. In the comics, it’s Ulysses Klaw who kills T’Chaka, not Baron Zemo. I’m wondering how long ago they had drafts for this film and if that scene of Black Panther accusing Klaw of being a murderer and nearly killing him in public are left over from an earlier version of the story.

    9. Oh, also, in the comics Forrest Whitaker’s character Zuri is a massive fella with a personality more like Thor’s. So there’s that.

    By the way, for the record, I’m pretty happy with all of these changes. I think they all make sense within the context of the story that Coogler is telling and do a better job of speaking to this cultural moment than a stricter (and messier) adaptation would have. Marvel’s been probably good at keeping the core of a character, their world and their themes intact and this movie is no exception. Couldn’t have asked for better and happy to finally see Wakanda on the big screen.


  4. David Hampton #

    I thought it was an incredibly impressive plot with characters who are driven by understandable and empathized motives. All of the supporting cast was given roles with a large impact and no one was denigrated in the dialog that wasn’t already established as having a character conflict. In a surprising twist I actually felt that the “super hero” parts of the film were the most distracting. The actual plot was incredibly moving and set in a very believable cultural conflict. I can not recommend it strongly enough.

    Unfortunately the science and infrastructure described felt very much like the writers trying to justify the special effects budget. But they were not consistent or practical. All of this doesn’t change the fact that it was an amazing plot with a really neat premise that explores a Utopian African with good geopolitical relevance. It’s just annoying for all the impracticality it introduces. Grounding that utopia on the endless energy and science fiction technological capacities of Vibranium, and suggesting that it’s a resource which may have no limit is very bad for plausibility.

    I don’t like that the effort gone to make the other hero’s abilities and support networks have consistent limitations was just flat out dropped for Black Panther. Because of the nonsense infrastructure the nation of Wakanda wasn’t as believable as it could have been. I’m really glad that other people are trying to find ways to make it more realized and better detailed. Because otherwise the part of the Infinity Stone arc set in Wakanda may be much less important than it could be.

    That the hero’s win is the usual given, but how they do it should matter. Where they do it should matter. The franchise did such a good job of incorporating the damage done in the second Avengers film I’m surprised they went to such lengths to not have a similar impact on Wakanda. There wasn’t any lasting damage to the mine or the Vibranium or the nation.

    With the implications that Wakanda has a massive source of this magic rock – unless the Infinity Stone arc is set within a few weeks of the Black Panther film – I’ll be confounded as to how the other characters don’t have a massively improved arsenal. From the trailer of the next Avengers film I don’t expect that to be the case, but I’m going to be very disappointed if the plot is; the Avengers lose and retreat to Wakanda, where they all get upgraded weapons and armor like it’s a bloody video game. Because it’ll underscore the impact of the possibility of a Utopian African nation as a predicable plot way point instead of a fully realization nation that fits into the larger MCU. Instead of being a place you could imagine was possible to realize in our own universe.


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