Is the ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ film anti-French?

By Jeanne le Bihan

Posted on Friday, 17 February 2023 10:41
From left to right: Lupita Nyong'o (as Nakia), the late Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), and Danai Gurira (Okoye), in Black Panther (2018). © Marvel Studios

In a page taken straight out of the far-right, French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, has found his next military campaign: the alleged propaganda offered to the world by the blockbuster Marvel Studios film 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'.

Headlines abound, as the case between France and a small African state located north of Lake Turkana, bordering Ethiopia and Kenya, intensifies.

It is a kingdom with highly advanced technological infrastructure, centred around its capital, Birnin Zana, rarely at the heart of the international news community, and for good reason: it’s not real. It doesn’t exist in our physical world. It is a fictional country, ruled by King T’Challa, the hero of the famed Marvel Comics franchise Black Panther.

Released in theatres in November 2022, the second chapter of the Black Panther saga, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, depicts the ongoing adventures of the Wakandan people – namely Princess Shuri (played by Letitia Wright), Okoye (pictured), Nakia (pictured), and Queen Ramonda (played by Angela Bassett) – and in particular their role on the world diplomatic scene, too withdrawn in the eyes of major world powers like the United States and France.

In the film, the African kingdom is subjected to recurring attacks from some of those foreign powers. The presence of a new kingdom set to make itself known for the first time must, moreover, face recurring attacks from foreign mercenaries eager for precious minerals, while balancing an ongoing political crisis brought on by a tragic loss within the royal family.

Several months after the release of the Ryan Coogler-directed blockbuster, it is this moment that caused controversy. Reacting to a scene set early on in the film, Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister for the Armed Forces, issued a public condemnation of what he called a misleading representation of the French Armed Forces, referring to the 58 men who lost their lives during Operation Serval and Barkhane, deployed between 2013 and 2022 in Mali.

French mercenaries

In a video widely shared on Twitter, Queen Ramonda is seen participating in a United Nations meeting and engaging in a fierce condemnation of a French incursion into a Wakandan military base located in Ansongo, a very real place relative to the fictional Wakanda, located south of Gao, Mali.

After sending proof of Paris’ involvement to the diplomatic delegation present before her, the elaborately-dressed sovereign ordered the failed usurpers to march into the meeting room, made to kneel before her, and issued a solemn warning towards the French secretary of state (played by Gigi Bermingham), that further action may be taken in the event that this offence was to be repeated.

Translation: I strongly condemn this misleading and deceptive representation of our Armed Forces. My thoughts go out to the 58 French soldiers who died defending Mali (at Mali’s request) against Islamist terrorist groups.

If the situation is indeed fictitious – the ore sought is vibranium, an extra-terrestrial metal capable of absorbing sound waves and granting superhuman powers to anyone in close contact with it – some internet users have taken very seriously the more-than-implicit allusions to Western covetousness on the riches of the African continent.

It began with Jean Bexon, author of the tweet thread since commented upon by Minister Lecornu: the thread-maker spent a good deal of time analysing the scene in question, noting moments he deemed propagandistic and “a serious attack upon the credibility of the French military presence in Mali,” reaching TikTok users in particular.

Bexon then made an attempt to establish evidence of this in the location of the Wakandan base, not far from the French military camp of Gao, evacuated by Barkhane’s forces in August 2022. The Twitter personality made clear his belief that the American production went a step too far by representing the mercenaries dressed in outfits resembling those worn by the soldiers of Operation Barkhane.

The extreme right in action

After all, Bexon knows this subject well: as a former communications officer with the Légion étrangère, the newly-minted Black Panther film detective also trained as an infantry soldier in the Garde nationale.

After some time with Valeurs Actuelles and Boulevard Voltaire, Bexon has worked since January at the Journal de l’île de La Réunion, whose editorial director is the journalist and essayist Jacques Tillier. The articles of this well-known Twitter user are regularly quoted in the identity press review Fdesouche.

According to Bexon, who welcomed the reaction of the Minister of the Armed Forces, the allegedly biased character depicted in the clip was not well-noticed either by the French media or political community, but this would change when the French far-right’s attention was piqued, beginning with a Bexon-authored article in Boulevard Voltaire, titled La France en Afrique dans le viseur des studios Marvel, published in December 2022.

Another ping would occur, this time by L’incorrect, a media outlet founded in particular by Jacques de Guillebon, a close friend of long-time far-right political figure Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, titled Black Panther, Wakanda Forever : une arme de désinformation massive contre la France? (translation: Black Panther, Wakanda Forever: A weapon of massive misinformation against France?)

The movie shows a vibrant array of African cultural traditions, from Wakanda’s official language – Xhosa, a Bantu language spoken throughout the southern regions of Africa, primarily in South Africa – to the writing of this language with Nsibidi text – a text with origins in what is now known as Nigeria. As for vibranium, Coogler explained that he was inspired by coltan, a very popular mining resource, of which at least 60% of the world’s reserves are located in the DRC.

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