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Klaue & Ross: 2 Sides of the Same Colonizer Coin

Black Panther is more than a superhero movie; it's a commentary on a multitude of intersecting historical, social, & cultural issues.

Of all the many themes explored in Black Panther, one that was specifically potent to me was the compare and contrast of perspectives between the only two White characters of some importance in the film: villainous thief and arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), and CIA official Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman). After an arms-deal sting gone wrong results in Klaue being taken into CIA custody after an octane-filled car chase, Agent Ross interrogates Klaue, and their conversation illuminates the dynamic of two kinds of White people in the world:

the Imperialist (Klaue) and the White Savior (Ross).

Klaue: The Imperialist

When we're introduced to Klaue back in Avengers: Age of Ultron, he lives and works in a ship off the coast of South Africa, a country still suffering the repercussions of colonization and apartheid, a country where he, even as a criminal, would have more privilege as a White South African man than Black South Africans. His act of stealing vibranium, the major mineral resource of Wakanda, is analogous to the colonization of the African continent for its natural resources by European countries. His calling Wakandans "savages" who are non-deserving of the resources on their own land reflects the same sentiments and beliefs European colonizers held for African peoples and used to rationalize their actions. It's even more telling Klaue would insult Wakandans in such a way, given that they've never been colonized by Europeans, and were able to utilize vibranium to make their nation the most technologically advanced one in the world.

It's even more telling how deep Klaue's imperialist roots go when looking at what he uses vibranium for versus how Wakandans utilize vibranium. Wakandans use vibranium in most things they use for everyday life: from clothes and modes of transportation, to their city structures and digital communication, as well as for weaponery. Klaue's only interest in vibranium is using it to create more deadly weapons to sell. Klaue is the true face of the "White Man's Burden".

Ross: The White Savior

Ross, on the other hand, expresses cynicism and disbelief when Klaue reveals Wakanda isn't the poor, third-world African country he assumes it is. He, like most White Americans, grew up viewing Africa as a continent full of people who are poor, starving, and needing to be saved from greedy and corrupt warlords. Because the Wakandan monarchy and council pushed non-interventionism and used their technology to hide in plain sight from the world, when Klaue tells Ross that Wakanda is like "El Dorado", naturally, Ross is quite skeptical. But being a CIA agent, he does begin to suspect there's more to T'Challa and his country than he lets on, especially after witnessing some of Okoye's prowess in battle and the power of her vibranium spear.

Ross was so sure of his role of intervening on behalf of the "poor Africans' plight" that it showed not just in his interrogating Klaue; before he went into the interrogation room, he assumed he was doing T'Challa a favor by allowing him and the Dora Milaje inside his hideout, and he assumed Okoye didn't speak English because of her choice to speak to her king in their own language. It's only after having to be helped by T'Challa and his people, being among them and learning that the peoples of this unconquered nation don't defer to White people as some other non-White countries might do, nor have they ever needed or wanted White people to insert themselves into Wakandan affairs, that Ross starts to subvert the "White Savior" trope, allowing him to learn his place, and to be a bit more than a self-serving, performative ally when Shuri gives him a task to help her.

How long Ross continues to follow the better path, we can only wait and see in the next "Black Panther" film. I'm sure that if he ever forgets and slips back into the White Savior mode, M'Baku will be more than happy to help him remember his place.

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