In 2016, Dr. Walter Greason, chair of the history department, developed the “Wakanda Syllabus.” That was two years before the first Black Panther film set numerous box office records. Anticipating a film version of the Black Panther multiverse, Dr. Greason wanted there to be an official place where people could access much of the art, music, literature and philosophical thought that informed the fictional civilization. Ahead of the premiere of the sequel, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Dr. Greason shares why he’s been so drawn to the story and the movements that inspired it.
As a scholar, what interests you most about the Black Panther films and the world they create?
For me, the idea of an African country that survives and escapes the legacy of slavery and colonialism is a fascinating hook. That’s what the world wants to see: If there hadn’t been this trauma over the last five centuries with the massive destruction of human life, what kind of world could we have today? That’s the piece that always makes me the most excited in talking about the Black Panther story, particularly the story of Wakanda. That this fictional country could show the world what we can do if we don’t have a society based on extractive methods, of taking from each other and not really investing in each other.
What were your goals in creating the Wakanda Syllabus?
I have spent about a decade talking about the alternative ways of understanding our history and contemporary issues. There were so many writers and artists putting out work that spoke to these different visions that I wanted to show what was possible. The Wakanda Syllabus has somewhere around 30 or 40 different resources, but it spins out into thousands of different ways to teach, to write, and to create new art and music. These forms of expression have now flowered into the millions, where people are changing public policy based on some of the core principles we put into the Wakanda Syllabus. It has vastly exceeded even my best goals.
What are the core principles you mention?
Balance and sustainability. I would broadly put it under the umbrella of “the pre-modern”. What we see with the advent of industrial capitalism is this sense that we can live without limits. Unsustainable consumption dominates our lives. Instead, the idea of Wakanda is people living within their means and whatever they need is provided. They live lives of cooperation. It is not aggressive competition in every form, in every way, at all times. It’s very much in line with what Dr. Martin Luther King called the “beloved community,” where we first look to give to each other before we take for ourselves. This shift in principle is what Wakanda explores.
How does Black Panther’s world fit within the larger movements of Afrofuturism and the Black Speculative Arts?
Wow, that’s a huge question. My immediate response to that is, first and foremost, the film is the way that many people were introduced to Afrofuturism as an idea. There were momentary breakthroughs in other media platforms, but the film gave global audiences a sense of what the artists and intellectuals of the African diaspora had to offer – whether they were in music, art, politics or literature.
With the story of Wakanda, whether it’s the Black Panther movie, its sequels or any of the derivative offshoots within the Marvel Universe (or outside of it), you now have hundreds of thousands of new artistic creations, streaming services, and new shows like the Game of Thrones prequel that are positing the idea of an African presence in what was formerly considered an entirely European-constructed sense of fantasy. The films Everything Everywhere All at Once and Three Thousand Years of Longing also show the importance of these new genres.
All of these stories are impossible without the success of the Black Panther film. Black Panther, as a story, demonstrated to the major investors in mass media that a story driven by fantasy and science fiction in the African diaspora is viable and profitable. The leading writers in these communities of Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Arts have been making this point for years. If you can make something brilliant, then everyone will be amazed at its success. These projects have become a tradition that will define this century.
What do you hope people who watch the Black Panther films take away?
This sequel is a challenge because it is framed by the grief around star Chadwick Boseman’s death. Coming out of this film, I hope people take away a sense of resilience, that despite the worst events that can happen in our lives, we can come together. That’s overall the message of the Black Panther mythology, that no matter what the setback, no matter the injury that is suffered, there is a way to heal, recover and come back stronger.
Why are stories like Black Panther so important to tell?
When we see the folks who are resistant to embrace stories like Black Panther and Wakanda, it is often those who have the lowest expectations for themselves and for the people around them. On the other hand, when there are people—whether you look at Eminem or Elvis or Josh Shapiro (who is running for governor in Pennsylvania)—who reach out across differences with admiration and emulate some parts of the cultures of the African diaspora, it helps everyone grow. It makes you grow in ways that are helpful immediately, but, over a lifetime, they are transformative.
Wherever you belong, when you see someone who doesn’t fit and you admire something about them and connect with it, you end up becoming the new trendsetter, the trailblazer, the person who transforms the world around you. To me, that’s what Macalester does so well as an institution. It embraces differences, and in doing so, it becomes a wonder, a marvel, something that has never existed before.
November 8 2022Back to top