Black Panther as Pedagogy
by: Tanya Cook
As a community college professor, I’m continually looking for ways to keep students interested and help them apply what they’re learning in class to their own lives. After eight years of teaching, I’m working more than ever to integrate popular culture content and stories more directly into my lectures and pedagogy. Sometimes, it’s through fictional stories we most see the truth of our lived experiences reflected.
At the beginning of class, I frequently ask what I call “attendance questions.” These might be anything from “What’s your favorite season?” to “Do you think humans are basically good or basically evil?” Students share a short answer to this question in lieu of saying ‘here’ when I call their name for attendance. Over the years, I’ve added a few questions to my repertoire. When I asked students their favorite superhero and their favorite movie this year, the answer to both was frequently an enthusiastic “Black Panther!”
Based on this response and The Harry Potter Alliance’s excellent Fandom Forward Toolkit, I wrote some Black Panther extra credit. I’m strongly considering integrating this into my courses as the official written assignments next semester. Feel free to take ideas you see here (give The HPA’s Fandom Forward group and me credit, please) and I’ll report back on how it goes when I get some student work.
Note: These assignments are written for students in 100 and 200 level sociology classes. They could, however, be adapted to fit other disciplinary outcomes and or upper grade high school students.
- Students will be able to analyze the importance of culture in the fictitious country of Wakanda including how culture affects human interaction.
- Students will be able to identify and explain how social structures such as institutions, roles and groups shape human behavior.
-Shows deep engagement with / consideration of the topic/theme
-Demonstrates critical analysis
-Answers questions outlined in prompt
-Explains and makes clear connection to sociological content
- How does the film Black Panther showcase Black excellence without exploiting or tokenizing the Black experience? In particular Black Panther connects Black immigration and social justice issues. When films include diverse characters, typically representation is limited to one character who is asked to stand in or represent an entire group as a “token” minority figure. Black Panther overcomes this trope. Discuss how and why this is important and significant.
2. Women of Wakanda. Explore the women characters featured in the film. Is Wakanda more feminist than the U.S. and other countries? If so, how? Compare and contrast gender roles in Wakanda and the U.S.
3. Research Afrofuturism. Describe the history of this term. Read at least one book that features Afrofuturism and write a review of it. How is Afrofuturism similar or different from other science fiction? How does it help us to imagine an alternate timeline for countries that were historically oppressed by colonization?
4. Straight-Washing: As wonderful as the film adaptation of Black Panther was, some fans were disappointed not to see a same-sex relationship that has been featured in the comics. In some comics storylines members of the Dora Milaje are in relationships with each other. Why do you think this was omitted from the film? Why is it important to include queer characters of color in popular media?
5. T’Challa’s Non-Toxic Masculinity. T’Challa openly shows emotion at various points in the film. He is not threatened by the strong women around him. Describe how T’Challa demonstrates non-toxic masculinity throughout the film and in particular through his relationship with other characters.
6. Killmonger. Erik Killmonger is a complex villain. Using your sociological imagination, show how Killmonger was shaped not only by his personal experience (biography) of losing his father at a young age but also by broader social consequences including the history of slavery and segregation in the U.S. Although Killmonger was not incarcerated or arrested as a consequence of the War on Drugs, I would like to see consideration of the consequences of mass incarceration in your analysis if you choose this topic.
7. Explore Wakanda’s institutions. What is Wakanda’s economy like? What about their religious beliefs? You may need to refer to the comic book series and canon representation for this topic. Why is Wakanda historically closed off from the rest of the world? At the end of the film, T’Challa indicates he will open the country. What kind of policy decisions will Wakanda have to consider if they become a player on the international stage?
8. Other topic of your own choosing with instructor approval.
1. Identity Collage — Make an identity collage for one of the main characters either using poster board or Powerpoint. Create a digital or physical representation of the main social identities and personality of the character you choose. For example, what is important to this character? What is their position in Wakandan society?
2. Fanfiction — Write a fanfiction story about one of the character’s lived experience BEFORE the events that occur in Black Panther and featuring one of the themes above. Keep it rated PG-13 in terms of violence and sexuality please. Your finished story should be edited for grammar and should be at least three double-spaced pages long.
3. Music Video: Choose a song that you think represents the film — preferably not one that was featured in the film. Edit clips from the film or other sources that represent your topic from list one.
4. Comic Book Panel(s): Write a one-page script for a comic book page that features some social commentary using Black Panther characters and topics. What I’m looking for here is a bit of a mash up between a New Yorker-style political cartoon and a comic book page. The draw at least four panels to accompany the script so that the finished product is a one-page graphic novel story.
5. Playlist or Videography: Create a 10 song playlist (not from the movie soundtrack) or Videography of documentary films, youtube videos, tv show episodes, or other media. Your playlist/videography should center around your topic from the first list. Include a full citation for each source in APA citation format and a detailed paragraph about why each source connects to your topic or represents your topic.
Fandom Forward Medium Blog from The Harry Potter Alliance
The Souls of Black Folk By: WEB DuBois
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness By: Michelle Alexander
Binti By: Nnedi Okorafor
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood By: Trevor Noah