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The Black Panther: A Course in Social Justice | Bigger on the Inside

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The latest installment of Marvel Comic movies, “Black Panther,” is timely, beautiful and an important commentary on our responsibility toward one another — particularly those who aren’t directly related to us. Go see it. Bring your teens. Bring your youth group.


by Jen Schlameuss-Perry

Next week, our first reading will include this verse from the Book of Exodus, “… inflicting punishment for their fathers’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Disney’s “Black Panther,” whether intentionally or not, is all about this passage — reminding us that the sins we commit will come back to bite us, and the good we do will echo beyond our hopes.

The question of “what is my responsibility to my brother?” is a constant companion in this movie, each main character struggling with it in their own way. It challenges our use of the resources that we control, and how protecting our own freedom and stability to the exclusion and detriment of others is faulty policy; both morally and practically. Women and people of color are depicted in relationships of equality, respect and dignity that could serve as a model for us any day. If you’re looking for a way to introduce Catholic social teaching to young people, I strongly recommend using this movie as a catalyst for conversation.


This image shows the intricate structure of part of the Seagull Nebula, known more formally as IC 2177. These wisps of gas and dust are known as Sharpless 2-296 (officially Sh 2-296) and form part of the “wings” of the celestial bird. This region of the sky is a fascinating muddle of intriguing astronomical objects — a mix of dark and glowing red clouds, weaving amongst bright stars. This new view was captured by the Wide Field Imager on the MPG/ESO 2.2-metre telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Jen Schlameuss-Perry connects faith and pop culture every so often with her Bigger on the Inside column.

Is it appropriate for your kids?

This might be one of the more action-packed, riveting movies in the Marvel franchise. There was very little bad language, and no sexual content. I often found myself fairly tense during the fight and action scenes, and although they were intense, they fit what any reasonable person would expect from a superhero movie. I think this movie is very appropriate for tweens and up. Some of the other reviewers disagree.

For other opinions on this, check out what Common Sense Media has to say, or Catholic News Service’s review.

Preview the movie with this trailer.

Plot overview

Caution: Contains spoilers.

In “Captain America: Civil War,” we were introduced to the Black Panther. Prince T’Challa is thrown onto the throne of Wakanda when his father, King T’Chaka is killed in a terrorist attack on the United Nations. Wakanda is a hidden nation made up of five tribes. This nation is rich in vibranium, the strongest metal on the planet, and source of amazing technology. They live in peace and prosperity while having the world believe that they are a third world country. “Black Panther” picks up with the installation of T’Challa as king, after representatives from the five tribes of Wakanda are given the chance to challenge his reign through one-on-one comabat between T’Challa and the other tribe’s warrior.

In the meantime, Ulysses Klaue, notorious bad guy from other Marvel movies, has arranged with the cooperation of Erik Killmonger, to steal and sell on the black market, some vibranium that was misidentified and placed in a museum. In fact, Erik was playing Klaue the whole time, trying to make his way to Wakanda in order to challenge T’Challa and take over the kingdom. Erik appears to win, and is given the powers of the Black Panther. He’s awful, though, and is bent on destroying the Wakandan way of life, and  forcing his rule on the world using their extreme tech.

T’Challa returns, and with the help from some friends, restores his rightful place on the throne, and changes the relationship between Wakanda and the world, offering to share their riches in technology and other treasures.


Some Themes for Discussion

  • Sometimes we won’t act on evil until it shows up on our doorstep. The king of Wakanda didn’t address a 30-year-old injustice that he perpetrated, leaving it for the next generation to deal with and it almost destroyed everything he was looking to protect. He killed his brother in self-defense, but left his defenseless nephew alone in the world instead of taking him home with him. This sin was ignored until the boy grew into a very dangerous man, Erik Killmonger, and threatened the kingdom and the world. Have we ignored orphans, helpless children, displaced victims of war? What injustices has our society ignored that have come back to threaten us? What can we do to address them as a society? What can you do? What might Erik have become if he had been given justice as a child? What effects might treating all children with justice have on our society?
  • When Agent Ross was mortally wounded, King T’Challa and his crew debated about leaving him there, rather than taking him to Wakanda where they knew they could heal him. They were afraid that if an outsider saw what they had, they would lose their way of life. They chose to bring him back because he saved Nakia’s life, and he would die otherwise. This was a very different response than T’Chaka’s treatment of young Eric. How was T’Challa’s response rooted in justice different than T’Chaka’s rooted in fear? Why did they have different outcomes? What implications does this have in the way we make decisions?
  • The people of Wakanda struggled to keep their treasure and their way of life hidden when they could have done much good for the world. What do we hoard (resources, freedom, education) for fear of losing our way of life? As a society? As individuals?
  • Some people of Wakanda wanted to reach out and address the suffering in the world. They were prophetic voices — they said much of what the prophets of Israel said about God’s justice (see: Am 5:7-15, Jer 22:3-5, Is 58:6-8 ). Who are our modern-day prophets calling for change — calling for us to reach out to the suffering? What prevents us from accepting their vision? What prevents us from acting when we see injustice?
  • When Erik Killmonger took the heart-shaped herb, he found his dad in the apartment where he died —not the paradise that T’Challa went to when he took it. T’Challa found his father and other ancestors; Erik’s dad was alone and crying. What do you think that represented, and why do you think he wound up there?
  • Do you think the Wakandans were right to keep their resources to themselves to preserve their way of life? How did it help the world? How did it hurt? What are some ways that our society tries to preserve our way of life to the harm of others?
  • When Erik wanted to “help” the world find order through military force, the Wakandans were very disturbed. What do you think about regulating peace by using force? What are some areas in our society where that is happening? Where are people trying to establish such practices? Do you think that’s right? What are some other possible solutions to these issues that don’t depend on violence?
  • The tribes of Wakanda were not entirely united — the Jabari didn’t like the governmental arrangement, and chose not to be a part of it, and isolated themselves from the rest of the tribes. They became more alienated when no diplomatic attempts were made on the side of the other tribes. How much should we engage people in dialogue even when they don’t agree with us? What difference can reaching out make?
  • The Jabari wound up saving T’Challa’s life, and turned the tide of the battle when the kingdom was threatened by Erik. In the end, they were reconciled with the other tribes and were represented at the court. What changed in their relationship that made that possible?
  • Many groups in this movie were on the margins: the Jabari, the poor in Oakland, Erik, and for a time, the royal family. What separated each group from the rest of society? Who are the marginalized in our society? What separates “them” from “us”? How do we reach out to them? How should we?
  • W’Kabi from the Border Tribe was all about keeping the Wakandan resources to themselves until Erik came with the deceased Klaue. Why do you think W’Kabi turned on T’Challa? What does his unfaithfulness to his friend, and Okoye who he supposedly loved, and his country, say about his character? How does his selfishness politically play out in his personal relationships?
  • The Dora Milaje, the royal guard and the general of that guard are some very powerful women warriors. Was it surprising to see women in that role? Do you think that women can be as effective as men in positions of power like that? Why, or why not?
  • Nakia wasn’t willing to become the queen of Wakanda or T’Challa’s wife until she was sure that she’d be  able to live her vocation to justice within that relationship. Do you think it’s important that both partners in a marriage are given the freedom to pursue God’s call to them?
  • In the end of the movie, T’Challa came to the conclusion that what Wakanda had should be offered to the world in order to promote peace and prosperity to all people, especially the poor. What is our responsibility to the “have nots” when we have something of value?
  • These questions, by no means, touched all of the issues raised in this movie. What social justice theme did you see? What did they mean to you?
Follow Jerry Windley-Daoust:

Publisher, Gracewatch Media

Jerry Windley-Daoust is a writer, editor, and father of five. He writes essays and stories at Windhovering and is the show-runner for Gracewatch Media, a small Catholic publisher. You can follow his latest publishing projects at gracewatch.org.

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