The Black Panther at his lab in Wakanda. Disney/Marvel Studios

Everything you wanted to know about Wakanda and urbanism, but were afraid to ask.

If you haven’t seen the Marvel superhero movie Black Panther yet, you must be at least a tiny bit mystified about all of the chatter and story-sharing happening on your timelines, particularly the ones about something called “Wakanda.” If you have seen Black Panther, perhaps the only thing that mystifies you about Wakanda is why we don’t have anything like it today.

The palatial Wakanda serves as the backdrop of the movie and you can get a small taste of its majesty in the movie poster, where its skyline, decked in hieroglyphic graffiti, serves as a scaffold for the cast above it.

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

As the story goes, Wakanda is the most technologically advanced nation in the world thanks to its heavily-protected stock of vibranium—a metal that’s stronger than steel and can manipulate energy to near-supernatural ends. Designers have been wowed by Wakanda’s mechanical marvels of hyperloop rapid transit, maglev trains, dragonfly-shaped spaceships, hoverbikes, skyscrapers orchestrated from chords of stone, wood, and metal, and other innovative spectacles.

There’s not enough time in Black Panther’s two-hour run to explain how each building and mode of transportation was constructed. However, Wakanda’s mysteries present an opportunity to address a number of issues dear to urbanists’ hearts: What the ideal model for equitable development looks like; how to preserve the traditions and culture of a place while embracing innovation and technology; how transit can co-mingle with walkability; and the role of design in facilitating spaces that protect vulnerable populations from oppressive forces.

The Wakandan metropolis also provides a platform for exploring how a city might engage with other cities and nations that may not have its best interests in mind. Fortunately a bevy of explainers have been made available not only from Marvel fanboys and fangirls, but also journalists, academics, and urban practitioners who’ve long been tracking the intersection between graphic novels, urban design, architecture, and Afro-futurism.

Citylab has pulled together a Wakanda Reader, or online bibliography of sorts, to indulge those who are interested in the larger questions around urbanism implicated in Black Panther. We would call it a syllabus, but there are already several syllabi available—this #WakandaSyllabus from Walter Greason, an economic history professor at Monmouth University and founder of the International Center of Metropolitan Growth, is particularly good. This Wakanda curriculum for middle school grades from school teacher Tess Raker has also been making the rounds.

As for what else has been circulating, here’s an exhaustive, still-living-and-growing list of articles that build upon the Wakandan mystique:

For the urbanist nerds

Wakanda is where every urbanist wants to live”—Alissa Walker, Curbed

No Cars in Black Panther's Fictional African City—And, Yes, the Film Is a Lot of FunCharles Mudede, The Stranger   

This is what makes the city so unfamiliar. It's big but has no suburbs. There is only the city and the country. If you are not downtown, you are in the rural area. If you are not living in a hut, you are living in a downtown apartment. It's one or the other, and either is fine. This is a radical urbanism concept indeed. If this black African capital has anything to share with the world, it's its city planning. — Charles Mudede

What’s up with Wakanda’s trains? On public transport in Black Panther”— Stephen Jorgenson-Murray, City Metric

Our Invisible Wakandas: A Black Planning Scholar’s Reflections on Black Panther & Saving Historic Black Places”— Andrea Roberts, Medium

The Attainable Wonders of Wakandan Transit”— Laura Bliss, Citylab

Wakanda, The Chocolatest City”— Brentin Mock, Citylab

“Wauconda, not to be confused with Wakanda, has an accidental association with 'Black Panther'”— Dan Moran, Chicago Tribune

Wauconda forever? 'Black Panther' fan tease small Illinois village”— Ashley May/KTHV-TV, USA Today

Black Panther’s Wakanda is a transportation utopia with a dash of reality”— Andrew J. Hawkins, The Verge

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

Imagining Wakanda

The RevolutionaryPower Of Black Panther”— Jamil Smith, TIME

Black Panther — on and off-camera — is a woke superhero fantasy set in today’s reality”— Kelley L. Carter, The Undefeated

The Blackest Place On (Marvel) Earth”— Bryan C. Lee, Medium

It is a step towards envisioning a world where a radical black future has an opportunity to become as normalized as Will Smith lounging in a mansion in Bel Air. — Bryan C. Lee

Building the World of Wakanda” and “Wakanda and the Black Imagination”— Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic

Why Wakanda Matters” — Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

Afro-futurism

Behind the Scenes of Black Panther’s Afro-Futurism”— Angela Watercutter, Wired

Space is the Place: The architecture of Afrofuturism”— Patrick Sisson, Curbed

The Interpretive Matrix of Wakanda (Deeper Still the Mothership Connection)”— Lawrence Brown, Medium

When the Royal Talon descends on the basketball courts of Oakland at the end of the movie, I saw the Mothership descending — that is, I witnessed George Clinton’s Mothership LITERALLY landing in the ghetto in a powerful way. In fact, according to George Clinton, the title of Parliament’s seminal funk opera album Mothership Connection was originally Landing in the Ghetto! — Lawrence Brown  

Also, check out these videos from Harvard Graduate School of Design’s Black in Design conference, where they explored issues of “design futuring.” There the architects and creators Mabel O. Wilson, Ingrid LaFleur, and K. Wying Garrett talked to the audience about the real Wakandas African Americans are creating in their communities today.

African and African-American analogues

’Black Panther’ and the Invention of ‘Africa’”— William Jelani Cobb, The New Yorker

Why ‘Black Panther’ Is a Defining Moment for Black America”— Carvel Wallace, The New York Times

How 'Black Panther' Taps Into 500 Years of History”— Nathan D. B. Connolly, Curbed

Dreams of a place like Wakanda began sometime around 1512 in the Caribbean mountains and forested hills above the mines and fields of Spain’s colony, Santo Domingo. Then and there, Africans in the Americas first broke away from slavery to form their own societies with indigenous island people. They did it again in the maroon enclaves of Dutch Surinam and British Jamaica. In villages, town and cities, too, beyond the reach of slave-catchers in the eventual United States, black people carved out spaces and hoped-for futures of their own. — Nathan D. B. Connolly

Black Panther's Mythical Home May Not Be So Mythical After All”— Winona Dimeo-Ediger, NPR.

From King To Comic: The Story Behind The Real Black Panther, Mansa Musa”— Xavier Hamilton, VIBE

Black Panther and the Search for Home”— Zito Madu, GQ

Wakanda and the Un-Hoteping of Pan-Africanism” — Cherae Robinson, Medium

Africa’s real Wakanda and the struggle to stay uncolonized”— Paul Schemm, The Washington Post

Black Panther’s Wakanda has historical roots in nuclear-age Congo”— Thomas F. McDow, Quartz

‘Black Panther’ and the Real, Lost Wakandas”— Clive Irving, The Daily Beast

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

Wakandan politics

The Liberating Visions of Black Panther”— Jonathan W. Gray, The New Republic

Black Panther: Why Not Queen Shuri?”— Salamishah Tillet, The Hollywood Reporter

How do You Solve a Problem Like Wakanda?”— Justin Charity and Micah Peters, The Ringer:

Charity: Wakanda seems to stockpile weapons as if it were the United States. This, despite Wakanda’s extreme isolation and passive interest in global affairs. At the very least, Wakanda means to keep pace with—or rather, stay ahead of—the war-making capabilities of its biggest potential rivals abroad, as a matter of defense. But otherwise, what’s the point of Wakanda’s weapons tech, which the country produces in overabundance? Who is Shuri finna harm with those panther-print Mega Man arms?

Peters: They’re ideally defensive, I’d say. IF YOU DON’T KEEP A POLE HOW YOU READY WHEN IT’S BEEF, CHARITY?

Charity: Wakanda is an isolationist nation of pacifists whose core commercial innovations, outside of medicine, are in warfare and air travel. HOW, SWAY?

Peters: If your country is literally built on mounds of the world’s most powerful and valuable resource, wouldn’t you be prepared to defend it from anyone who would try to take it? What happens when the mad Titan shows up and starts eating anti-tank missiles like graham crackers? I’d bet you’d want those Mega Man arms then.

In Defense of Erik Killmonger and the Forgotten Children of Wakanda”— Brooke Obie, Shadow and Act

Black Panther is Not the Movie We Deserve” — Christopher Lebron, Boston Review

The Tragedy of Erik Killmonger” — Adam Serwer, The Atlantic

The Provocation and Power of Black Panther” —Vann Newkirk, The Atlantic

What Black Panther can teach us about international relations”— Zack Beauchamp, Vox

Are Black Americans Allowed in Wakanda?”— Jolie A. Doggett, Huffington Post

A Simple Question About ‘Black Panther’: How Does The Wakanda Ruse Work?”— Brian Grubb, UPROXX

(Disney/Marvel Studios)

Books

There are also several books worth reading to learn more about how writers are thinking about the positions and standings of people of color in the future:

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