Black Panther will be our final leap forward in the MCU before Infinity War arrives, but aside from providing our lead-in to that monumental story, it’s also expanding this shared universe in some fascinating ways.
Home to the Black Panther himself, Wakanda is region of the world that we’ve only gotten glimpses at previously. While it isn’t the first original country to be introduced into the MCU (that would be Sokovia), it’s truly unlike anything we’ve seen before in this universe.
With Black Panther arriving in theaters today, I wanted to take a moment to explore some of this fascinating worldbuilding.
Spoiler Warning: While all of the information below was available before the film was released, if you want to go in completely fresh, this may spoil the reveal of certain worldbuilding aspects.
The Kingdom of Wakanda is a nation located in central Africa. Its existence in the MCU was first hinted at in Iron Man 2, where a computer screen revealed that it was under S.H.I.E.L.D. surveillance. Its precise location was subsequently revealed in Captain America: Civil War, placing it close to the real-life site of Lake Turkana, bordering on Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
While in our world, this region is mostly desert, much of what we’ve seen of Wakanda is lush and dense with vegetation. At least some of it is mountainous though; in particular the Jabari Land, a region that has remained fairly isolated from the rest of the country.
Other important locations in Wakanda include Warrior Falls, where the tribal council convenes, and Mount Bashenga, beneath which is the world’s only vibranium mine.
Wakanda’s capital is Birnin Zana, the “Golden City.” The city is divided into several districts, including Steppe Town (pictured below), a more residential area. Beneath the Golden City lies the the City of the Dead, a sprawling necropolis where deceased Wakandans are buried.
In Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa and his father T’Chaka speak in their native tongue: the real-life language of Xhosa.Their written language however is original, and was based on real-life Nigerian pictographs from the fourth and fifth centuries. Most citizens in Wakanda also speak English though, especially those who deal with the outside world.
Wakanda is an extremely technology advanced nation, described as about “20 or 25 years ahead” of the rest of the world. Much of this is due to the Wakandan Design Group, a scientific enclave led by Princess Shuri. The Design Group is responsible for the bulk of Wakanda’s advanced weaponry, and Shuri herself is said to be an engineering genius rivaling, or perhaps even surpassing, the likes of Tony Stark and Hank Pym.
Wakanda has also greatly benefited from their access to vibranium, a metal that was brought to Earth thousands of years ago within a meteor. Vibranium is nearly indestructible, and acts as a versatile material in the design of a wide array of technologies.
Over the years, some of it has been successfully smuggled out of the country, including a quantity that was used by Howard Stark to forge Steve Rogers’ shield in the 1940’s. A particularly large stockpile was stolen by Ulysses Klaue several decades later, valued in the billions of dollars.
The vast majority of it, however, has been kept within Wakanda’s borders, and is used in the construction of everything from weapons and armor (such as the Black Panther suit), to more mundane applications like the streetcars used in the Golden City (for faster transit, the city also has a hyperloop system).
Vibranium was also used in the design and construction of Wakanda’s air force, comprised of maneuverable Talon Fighters, and helicopter-like Dragon Flyers. The royal family travels on a unique version of a Talon Fighter, which features a larger, more luxurious interior.
Wakanda is a fiercely isolationist nation, rarely engaging with the outside world. The country has even gone as far as to use advanced technology to mask their cities from surveillance, purposely giving themselves the appearance of a third world nation in order to hide their true capabilities. That being said, in more recent years, Wakanda has begun to become more involved in international affairs, even signing the Sokovia Accords during the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The nation is governed by a monarchy, with one familial dynasty (the Golden Tribe) having remained in power since Wakanda’s founding. This ruler, while more or less wielding total governing power, is advised by a council comprised of representatives from Wakanda’s various tribes. This ruler is traditionally granted the title of Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector, which is passed down when one of their own children comes of age.
Within the Wakandan military are an all-female, elite special forces unit called the Dora Milaje, who also serve as bodyguards for the royal family. The Dora Milaje wear beaded body armor that is often passed down through families, and protective neck rings that also signify their rank in the organization.
The Golden City is highly developed, with many towering skyscrapers. However, it’s a city that has not forgotten its cultural heritage, and these modern buildings often sit side-by-side with monuments and temples that have been there for centuries.
The design of Wakandan architecture was inspired in large part by the work of Zaha Hadid, known for her flowing, experimental designs, as well as the metropolitan aesthetics of a wide variety of current day African nations, including Senegal and Nigeria.
Black Panther will hit theaters on February 16, with select Thursday screenings later tonight.