Saturday, February 24, 2018

Black Panther Adoption Movie Review (Spoilers)

The Kingdom of Wakanda thrives technologically, building upon the powerful vibranium that arrived in a meteorite. Posing as a third-world country, Wakanda has avoided the attention of the outside world. However, Wakanda has not been inattentive to the outside world. A Wakandan prince, N’Jobu has been living undercover in Oakland, California. (Spoilers ahead). N’Jobu has become distressed at the worldwide plight of people of African descent, and intended to share Wakandan technology with them to help them overthrow their oppressors. King T’Chaka hears of this, and travels to Oakland to prevent N’Jobu from doing this. N’Jobu attacks a friend by whom he feels betrayed, and to defend the friend, King T’Chaka must kill N’Jobu. This leaves N’Jobu’s nine-year-old son Erik alone, and King T’Chaka orders that Erik not learn the truth of his situation.


The Adoption Connection

Erik grows up to be a powerful soldier, and he takes the name “Killmonger” on himself. He reveals that he has killed hundreds in the line of duty, but his life’s purpose has been to take revenge on the people who killed his father. Erik returns to Wakanda, the country of his ancestry, and asserts a claim to the throne. Erik intends to carry on his father’s legacy of freeing the oppressed, and Erik expresses it to a further degree; he intends to ensure that people of African descent have the technology they need to kill their oppressors, the families of their oppressors, and anyone who might think about aiding the oppressors.

Strong Points

T’Challa is crowned King after his father passes; he is wise, courageous, and good-hearted. He accepts legitimate challenges to his throne, and consistently attempts to show mercy even to those who oppose him.

In a vision, T’Challa receives helpful guidance from his departed father. T’Challa worries that he is 
not ready to rule without his father; his father assures him that preparing T’Challa to reign was part of his duties as a father – and he has not failed in that duty!

T’Challa is able to acknowledge his father’s strengths – but is also able to acknowledge the areas in which his father erred – including his treatment of Erik. Even though Erik has become T’Challa’s adversary, T’Challa sees the way in which Erik was injured by the decisions made about him by the adults in charge. T’Challa’s wise compassion would be helpful for all people involved with children who have experienced loss, neglect, or abuse.

T’Challa asks to be told the truth. His servant responds, “Some truths are too much to bear.” T’Challa responds, “That is not your choice.” Understanding the truth of what happened to Erik and Erik’s father helps T’Challa understand the situation more fully, and it appears to enable T’Challa to view Erik with compassion.

T’Challa is distressed by his father’s mistakes, but another character assures him, “You can’t let your father’s mistakes define who you are. You get to decide what kind of king you will be.”

I’ve found meaning in the Aristotelean concept of “The Golden Mean,” which more or less suggests that a virtue is between two vices. In this film, T’Challa finds a virtue – responding to the needs of people in distress – and avoids vices on either side of that virtue. He rejects Wakanda’s historical unresponsiveness to the plight others, but also rejects the vice on the other side – Erik’s intention to respond violently and vengefully. Instead, he leads Wakanda in beginning to reach out to those in need with Wakanda’s advanced knowledge and resources.


King T’Chaka ordered that Erik’s true history be kept from him. So often, secrecy with regard to history causes pain. I wonder if knowing his history might have helped Erik avoid becoming Killmonger. Instead, as one character recounts, “We left the child (behind) because we had to maintain the lie.” Another character captures the decision in a heartbreaking way, “The boy was the truth I chose to omit.”

Kids who have come from violent homes could have a difficult time with the fact that Erik’s uncle killed his father, and that later, Erik attempts to kill his cousin – and ultimately dies in a fight against his cousin.

Some frightening scenes, including gun violence and murders, could push this one out of bounds for some younger or sensitive viewers.

Eric remembers seeing his father die. He doesn’t cry, though, instead reflecting on the cruel reality of his city, “Everybody dies. That’s just life around here.”


Black Panther is a thoughtful and engaging film. There’s a lot of material for conversation – both in terms of ethics, and in terms of the interplay between secrecy and personal history, which is certainly relevant to many touched by adoption. Some themes of parental loss, and scenes of violence could make this film ill-suited to very young or very sensitive viewers, but it should be good for most teens ages 13 and up.

Questions for Discussion

Why did T’Chaka order Erik to be left behind? How did that impact Erik? How could T’Chaka have handled this differently?

When have you, like T’Challa, found a virtue between two vices?

How did your parents prepare you to function independently? What were the most important things they imparted to you? What are you hoping to impart to your children?

In some ways, Erik seems to have considered Wakanda home, even though he had never seen it. Which places do you consider “home?”

Other Ideas

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