'Black Panther' and Wakanda: A Guide to Marvel's Fictional African Nation

Emily Gaudette

The world is about to discover Marvel's fictional, secret African nation, and it's a complicated place.

Marvel Studios released a full-length Black Panther trailer on Monday, teasing more about superhero T'Challa's home nation, Wakanda. Here's your spoiler-free guide to the kingdom Marvel will introduce in 2018's Black Panther, from its warring tribes to the Afro-futurism introduced in the comics and made real by director Ryan Coogler.

Why does no one in the MCU know what Wakanda is?

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Black Panther's troop ship, inspired by bird skeletal structures, enters the protective barrier surrounding Wakanda. Marvel Studios

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In both the Black Panther teaser and trailer, we hear CIA operative Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) ask incredulous questions about Wakanda, mystified by the kingdom's technology. How is an American intelligence officer completely baffled by the existence of an entire nation?

There's a protective, illusory web around Wakanda that keeps the kingdom's gigantic vibranium mines (crucial for weaponry) and advanced technology hidden from outsiders. To the United Nations, where T'Challa saw his father murdered, Wakanda looks like any other African nation: rich in culture and dependent on technology from elsewhere in the world. But that's not true.

Wakandan technology is so far advanced, in fact, that the only comparable work being done in weaponry and AI is happening in Stark Tower. The Wakandan version of Tony Stark is T'Challa's sister Shuri; Stark gives every American superhero the technology they need to kick ass, and Shuri does the same for Wakandan heroes. Here's where they might differ, though: Stark is knowingly using vibranium, Marvel's made-up super-metal, because his father used it during WWII to make Captain America's shield and other weapons. Shuri lives in the economy most directly affected by vibranium mining, so she's got direct access to the raw material and knows what happens when Western forces make demands. 

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Angela Bassett as Ramonda, Queen of Wakanda and mother to T'Challa, aka Black Panther. Marvel Studios

So, who are the Wakandans?

Wakanda is a benevolent aristocracy. The royal family lives in Birnin Zana, the capital of the small nation. King T'Chaka was murdered at the United Nations in Captain America: Civil War, leaving his leadership position to T'Challa, his eldest son. The royal family also includes Ramonda, T'Challa's mother (Angela Bassett), and Shuri, T'Challa's sister (Letitia Wright).

T'Challa inherits the king's personal army of bodyguards, the Dora Milaje, whom we saw briefly in Civil War. The Dora Milaje are an all-female task force of combatants (like a more badass Secret Service) who are nominated from each of Wakanda's many tribes. Each tribe is represented by its top female assassin, which helps to keep the peace as long as there's balance in the ranks. So far, we've met Nakia (Lupita N'yong'o) and Okoye (The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira), though the new trailer debuts a bevy of new faces among the Dora Milaje. Also present in trailers is Zuri (Forest Whitaker), a well-respected Wakandan shaman who carries out the traditional crowning of T'Challa, W'Kabi (Get Out's Daniel Kaluuya), a loyal adviser to T'Challa, and several antagonists.

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Members of the Dora Milaje greet T'Challa as he lands on Wakandan soil. Marvel Studios

Why would anyone want to hurt T'Challa?

As with any nation, Wakanda has its share of social unrest. T'Challa is not the only meta-human (superhero with unusual abilities) in Wakanda, but because his lineage has been in power for so long, he's made king by default when his father dies in the United States. Several Wakandan men respond to being snubbed for the crown in different ways.

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N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) studies a collection of Wakandan art just before Klaw (Andy Serkis) approaches. Marvel Studios

N'Jadaka (Michael B. Jordan) works with Civil War villain Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), the man who killed T'Chaka, to develop synthetic technology and a rival Black Panther suit. Some of the Wakandans who challenge T'Challa aren't happy with the Panther lineage at all. M’Baku (Winston Duke) appears in the trailer wearing fur on his armor and screaming into the horizon; in the comics, he belongs to a Wakandan mountain tribe that glorifies the White Gorilla instead of the Black Panther. We don't know yet whether Black Panther will keep M'Baku's uncomfortable supervillain title, Man-Ape, or whether the film will put him in one of the other Wakandan tribes. In addition to the White Gorilla cult, other Wakandans follow the Hyena, the Crocodile or the Lion. If he's going to keep his title as King, T'Challa will have to find a way to convince all these uneasy tribes to trust him.

Black Panther hits theaters February 16, 2018.

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