The Marvel of Imperialism: All Kingdoms that Glitter Aren’t Gold

What unifies Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War?

{Excerpt — Black Panther, 2018}

Erik Killmonger: Now, tell me about this one.

Museum Curator: Also from Benin, 7th century, Fula tribe…I believe.

Erik Killmonger: Nah.

Museum Curator:I beg your pardon.

Erik Killmonger: It was taken by British soldiers in Benin, but it’s from Wakanda. And it’s made out of Vibranium. *chuckles* Don’t trip, I’m a take it off your hands for you.

Museum Curator: These items aren’t for sale.

Erik Killmonger: How do you think your ancestors got these? You think they paid a fair price? Or did they take it, like they took everything else?

{Excertpt — Thor: Ragnarok, 2017}

Hela: Does no one remember me? Has no one been taught our history? Look at these lies. Goblets and garden parties? Peace treaties? Odin, proud to have it. Ashamed of how he got it!

*~*~*~**~*~*~**~*~*~**~*~*~*

Grandmaster: I just, I gotta say I’m proud of you all. This revolution has been a huge success. Yay, us! Pat, pat, pat on the back. No? Me too, because I’ve been a big part of it. Can’t have a revolution without somebody to overthrow. So, uh…you’re welcome…and…uh…it’s a tie.

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Let’s start examining some of our favorite pop culture, shall we?

Let’s talk about film trilogies. Film trilogies are a fantastic way to create overarching narratives that can’t always be packaged neatly into one singular film. Most of these films can come to a tidy close as soon as the credits start rolling, but what’s inventive about film trilogies is that the story has so much more to tell, so much more to give the characters, and so much more to pull the audience. So, if we go down memory lane and think about a few famous movie trilogies we have: Star Wars, The Christopher Nolan Batman movies {which are very trying for me to sit through, love the villains-don’t care for the Batman}, {the reboot/reimagined} Planet of the Apes, etc. etc. These are movie examples that are best viewed in sequence and are oftentimes utilized by tv networks to fill weekend air time or some type of anniversary event. The reason why I wanted to discuss film trilogies today is because there have been three Marvel/Disney movies that at first glance may appear to be very disparate films, but I would like to assert otherwise. The beginning of the film trilogy starts with Thor: Ragnarok, continues with Black Panther, and concludes with Avengers: Infinity War.

I’ve also been fascinated by the power of threes throughout this film trilogy — and herein — I’ll try to explain exactly what I mean. Each film’s central narrative discusses three central themes: {number one} imperialism, {number two} fault and accountability, and {number three} consequences of inaction. Likewise, there are three men and three women each that the central narrative surrounds, or at minimum there are three male and/or female characters constantly in conversation or conflict. Hmmm…this is going to be a lot of characters so here’s some handy flowcharts to keep things coherent.

Let’s start with the first installment, Thor Ragnarok. The female characters of Hela and Valkyrie are connected or reflected by the male characters of Loki, Thor, and Odin; conversely, the male characters of Loki and Thor are given similar association via Hela, Valkyrie, and Odin. What all of these characters and the characters in the Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War movies have in common are their connections to empire. They are all cast as willing or unwilling cogs in the machine of empire. The aforementioned connections and reflections of male and female character are also done with Nakia, Okoye, T’Challa/T’Chaka, and Killmonger. And lastly, with Gamora, Nebula, and Thanos (including or excluding his other stolen child soldiers).

Each film has an empire that has either been earned, stolen, or levied by communal or violent means. In Thor: Ragnarok, we are told explicitly that Asgard has garnered its empire by conquest.

{Excerpt — Thor: Ragnarok, 2017}

Hela: I am Hela, Odin’s firstborn, commander of the first legions of Asgard…the rightful heir to the throne and the goddess of death. My Father is dead, as are the princes. You’re welcome. We were once the seat of absolute power in the cosmos. Our supremacy was unchallenged. Yet, Odin stopped at nine realms. Our destiny is to rule over all others and I am here to restore that power. Kneel before me and rise into the ranks of my great conquest!

Hela is an important character that reflects the fictional and historic methodology of imperialism and in turn the grandiosely ugly production achieved by empire. Taiki Waititi was very adept at this unpacking of character and history as director of Thor: Ragnarok — moreso, as an indigenous or first nations person of Aotearoa or New Zealand. As a director, he brought to the film a very particular lens and worldview in which to magnify the danger and the ugliness of imperialism as a Maori person that has seen firsthand the grossness and grandiose nature of empire. Similarly, the director Ryan Coogler who directed Black Panther brought his very own perspective of empire-imperialism and what that represents as a Black person in the United States of America and across the diaspora of African peoples that have been directly targeted and assimilated by the imperial.

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Hela and the Asgardian Empire.

Continuing on with the second theme of fault and accountability, it acts as a swirling nexus around all of the characters in Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War. Each of the characters are composed along a spectrum of accountability of fault and likewise, the movies attempt to unpack what it means to hold each of these characters or their empires accountable for the havoc wrought as a consequence of their very existence.

Each of the character’s experiences conflict within themselves or with other characters trying to navigate the overarching presence of the imperial. In the case of Thor: Ragnarok, the nation of Asgard has been the direct antagonist of many worlds that have been assimilated or taxed or levied against by the realm of Asgard. Fault and accountability are presented in Black Panther differently as T’Chaka and his previous ancestors have each done great harm and innumerable disservice of being passive characters that have allowed the horrific ugliness and danger and violence outside of Wakanda to continue when they have had great resources and power to help the rest of their African brothers and sisters around the globe.

{Excerpt — Black Panther, 2017}

N’Jobu: I observed for as long as I could. Their leaders have been assassinated, communities flooded with drugs and weapons. They are overly policed and incarcerated. All over the planet, our people suffer because they don’t have the tools to fight back. With Vibranium weapons, they could overthrow every country and Wakanda could rule them all…the right way.

Lastly, within Avengers Infinity War wherein Nebula and Gamora are shown to have been swallowed up by empire and in turn shows them dealing with the faults of being used as child soldiers and the shirking of accountability by Thanos as he fashioned his conquest across the galaxy. The consequences of inaction are devastatingly high across these three films. In Thor: Ragnarok, the character Hela, alongside the conquests that she was steeped and glorified within are papered over and sanitized for the citizens of Asgard by her Father Odin, and the illusion of peace is spread across their world and the other nations which act as contemporary commonwealth countries — keeping all of the wealth and accepting none of the consequences.

The current citizens of Asgard have been spoon-fed lies thus making them targets and unwitting accomplices in the devastation of other colonized nations. The niggling concern that I had with Thor: Ragnarok is that the film did not go deep enough with the reckoning that Thor was supposed to grapple with as the new King of the Asgardians. He {or should I say the writers} never took the character to a logical and life-altering conclusion that his entire identity and legacy has been a lie or at the very least built upon a foundation of lies and bloodshed.

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King T’Challa, sitting upon the throne of Wakanda.

Contrasting the speed within which Thor: Ragnarok doesn’t perform any narrative equivalents of justice or introspection…Black Panther lets T’Challa and the audience go to the very depths of anger and sorrow that a leader should experience when a great crime or irreparable injustice has been committed. The citizens of Wakanda literally live inside a bubble of safety and ignorance to the outside plight of their fellow Africans within the diaspora; the primary character that actually tackles these injustices head-on is Nakia who constantly leaves the nation of Wakanda and performs reconnaissance, spy operations, and rescue missions that actively try to undo the damage that their inaction has caused across the globe. There are two fantastic articles from Wear Your Voice magazine and bitchmedia that champions Nakia and calls her the real hero of Black Panther or the hero that Wakanda deserves. The writers Clarkisha Kent and Evette Dionne add a lot more nuance and introspection into the film that I think should be read and considered when making more superhero films or at the very least Black Panther 2.

Oh spoiler alert, if you haven’t seen Avengers: Infinity War yet there are major plot-point spoilers ahead — okay — you’ve been thusly warned.

{Excerpt — Avengers: Infinity War, 2018}

Gamora: The entire time I knew him — he had one goal — to wipe out half the universe. If he gets all of the Infinity Stones, he could do it with the snap of his fingers. Just like that.

Tony Stark: Tell me his name again?

Gamora: Thanos.

The film trilogy has led up to this doomsday conclusion where each of the characters that hold possession of an Infinity Stone {that is imbued with innumerable powers of intergalactic proportions} must make a choice. Kill Thanos who is unrepentantly and ceaselessly pursuing every single one of the stones or let their friends and family die to keep their code of morality. The character Gamora however, is willing to die so that the Infinity Gauntlet that houses all of the stones cannot be completed, but her friends and loved ones are not willing to make the sacrifice or see the bigger picture that “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…” “Or the one.” (The Wrath of Khan, 1982) Thank you Spock and Captain Kirk! Thanos is operating with the inverse of this logic and none of the characters are taking Thanos’ pursuit of the Infinity Stones seriously enough until its far too late and half of the cosmos’s inhabitants begin to wink out of existence.

The directors of this film trilogy work for the largest entertainment company on the globe; They control a vast multimedia empire that has also received countless scrutiny for its tone deaf stories, cultural appropriation, and reluctance to explore narratives that aren’t exclusively white or heterosexual. I’ve broached the discussion surrounding the Marvel of Imperialism because, well, I’m always pontificating about something abstract made tangible, but as a Black person that has directly experienced the legacy of empire…it permeates my daily life in very direct or insidious ways.

I currently reside in the empire of the United States of America the beautiful, with its ancillary colonized nations and home of the brave with its countless homeless veterans. There’s a guilt or unease that comes with condemning the United States or any variant of global empire, such as the British, the French, the Dutch, or the Spanish. This feeling stems from the very dichotomous nature of empire — benevolent for some yet malevolent for others — civilized at face value yet performing barbarism in even measure. The weight of being a good citizen within these empires is challenging especially when you take into account history that has yet to be rectified and reparations that have yet to be meted out. We live in kingdoms that glitter but with whose gold?

{Excerpt — Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, 2017}

Gamora: Nebula! I was a child like you. I was concerned with staying alive until the next day, every day, and I never considered what Thanos was doing to you. I’m trying to make it right. There are little girls like you across the Universe who are in danger. You can stay with us and help them.

Nebula: I will help them by killing Thanos.

Gamora: I don’t know if that’s possible. **grabs Nebula and pulls her in for a hug** You will always be my sister.

Editor: We Are Horror Magazine. Writer: An Injustice, Fanfare, Gayly Dreadful, Haw Creek Horror, Rely on Horror, Something Ghoulish, and SUPERJUMP.

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