When Black Panther *finally* hits theaters this weekend, Chadwick Boseman, Lupita Nyong’o, Michael B. Jordan, Letitia Wright, Daniel Kaluuya, Danai Gurira, Angela Bassett, and the rest of the badass cast will dominate the big screen. But the movie has another show-stopping star worth admiring as well: Its setting, the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda. Director Ryan Coogler and the rest of the creative team brought the majestic Wakanda from the Black Panther comic books to eye-popping life for the live-action version, and — spoiler alert — it’s a place like nowhere we’ve ever seen before.
So where exactly is Wakanda? There are a few different interpretations. According to Marvel’s page, the small nation can be found somewhere in Equatorial Africa “surrounded by the nations of Narobia, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.” Black Panther, the character, first showed up in the pages of the Fantastic Four series in 1966, but when Atlantic writer and best-selling author Ta-Nehisi Coates took over writing the comic book version of the superhero last year — 50 years after the character’s groundbreaking debut — he reimagined some things:
Boseman, who plays T’Challa (aka the Black Panther himself) in the movie, told a slightly different origin story to The New York Times. Wakanda, Boseman said, is a twist on the real-life “Mutapa empire of 15th-century Zimbabwe.” The actual Mutapa empire, which flourished from about the 1400s through the late 1700s, stretched from Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique to what is now South Africa. The empire, like Wakanda, was ruled by a king, and divided into a capital city, provinces, and small villages. The two also share a deep respect for ancient tradition alongside economic systems that were fiercely modern and innovative.
Wakanda takes that juxtaposition of old and new up several powerful notches, however. It’s a place framed by old-school ruling structures (chieftains, kings, warriors, etc.) but also one of the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nations in the world. Because of its access to the valuable ore Vibranium, Wakanda is a thriving country in the comic books and the movie.
It also sets itself apart as it shows an African nation and its people untouched by colonialism and the traditional storytelling restraints of mainstream white Hollywood. As artist Stacey Robinson told The Root, the kingdom Black Panther envisions will give audiences a way to think and talk about blackness that they didn’t really have before. “The way I think about black utopian spaces in my speculative work is we get out of colonialism to begin the conversation about who we are. Outside of colonialism, we can be all things that we want to be. Wakanda is a visualization of that,” Robinson said.
It may not technically exist, but Wakanda sounds like a pretty magical place, and we can’t wait for Black Panther to transport us there.