Philosophy of Technology

Class Blog

Blog Posts 2 Magic and Technology in Wakanda

Name: Leah (Wenhan) Dou

Date: March 11th

Marvel’s new movie “Black Panther” was just released in mainland China on March 9th. The movie created an imagined country “Wakanda” located in Africa. The country is highly-developed with the new and high level of technology advanced in the world (even more advanced than the US) with strong local culture and local mysterious belief and religion. Wakandan is abundant of a kind of rare mental called “Vibranium”. The Vibranium is considered as the hardest mental in the world with special features that help Wakandan to use this resource as basic material to build almost everything they use, including houses, transports weapons and even clothes so that Wakandan can get their achievement in technology. Meanwhile, they raise a special herb called “heart-shaped herb”, which can lead the person to a spiritual place where they can have communications with their dead ancestors.

The combination of magic and science in the Black Panther shows an interesting view. As Josephson-Storm mentioned in Conclusion of “Myth of Modernity”, scholars agree that modernity is the period of time that people no longer believe in magic and sprites. While Josephson-Storm argued that there is no strict evidence to provide that the magic and spirits have totally gone away. In my opinion, I agree with Josephson-Storm’s idea, that people are not abounding the magic during the process of modernity, instead, they are trying to make magic and technology co-exist with each other peacefully. The imagined Wakanda is an example of this attempting.

As a utopia like a paradise, Wakanda’s advanced achievement appeals both to its technology and its “magic”. From the technology perspective, technology appeared in the movie is extremely convenient but powerful.They seem to have the fully positive image in the movie. Most of the technology is quite “humanized”. For instance, Black Partner’s sister used a pair of gloves which can shoot super sound wave as a gun. Black Panther’s suit is hidden in his necklace and is tightly suit in his body. Those technologies essentially is a kind of extension of human’s body part, extending human’s ability, like strength or speed.  By extending human’s ability, technology improves quality of life and challenge human’s limitation. But there are no direct communications between human and machines and there are no highly developed AI devices unlike those in other Marvel movies (like Jarvis or Ultron) that will possibly bring troubles. So bringing all these good effects without causing bad results, technology will only serve as positive resources and audience can focus on conflicts between human characters. 

(Shuri wearing the mechanical gloves)

From magic perspective though, technology in Wakanda seems so ideal that, as we discussed during class, would be considered as magic. The movie didn’t give the full scientific explanation of Wakanda’s technology despite “it is because of Vibranium”, audience believe it is technically only because of some symbol scene of advanced labs and machines. Although there are side resources of secrets of Black Technology by other media and fans, the movie didn’t directly show how those technologies were made or giving any scientific explanation. However, the move emphasizes its magical origin as well. The ancestors of Wakanda started to use Vibranium with “ enlightenment from the goddess of the Black Panther”, giving the technology a magical origin. Designers of the Black Panther also claimed that “technology comes from nature. The logic here is similar to Newton’s example we talked about during class, that we are shown the technology, but we are not able to give the full scientific explanation to the technology, which creates the scientific myth.  In reality, the strict distinguish between magic and technology do exist, but the director has to convince the audience that these two aspects can cooperate well in the movie’s world. Giving the technology a magical origin helps to persuade the audience with the world of magic and technology.

(Black Panther in the spiritual space with help of magical flower)

In all, technology and magic in Wakanda do have the same origin, that is the imagination. The only differences are that people in modern time don’t only appeal their imagination to devices and world that they can’t achieve and fully understand to magic and myth, technology takes place in the system of myth as well. Just like Josephson-Storm suggests, magic doesn’t disappear in modernity but became another kind of myth.


« »

Philosophy of Technology at NYU Shanghai, a course by Anna Greenspan and Brad Weslake.