In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Wakanda is a poor, third-world country in Africa populated by peasant farmers. At least, that’s what the world thinks. In reality, Wakanda is a thriving, topographically diverse kingdom with such advanced tech, Wakandans practically live in the future. That’s accurate to how Wakanda is seen in the comics, except for one thing: It’s not a secret, and hasn’t been for years.
Aside from the resonant, thematic idea that Wakanda was an African nation that defied colonization, keeping Wakanda a secret allowed the continuity of the MCU to stay in place. It also afforded T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) a meaningful arc that lets him grow just in time for the big fight of Avengers: Infinity War.
In Black Panther, Wakanda thrives thanks to its near-infinite supply and exclusive control over vibranium. It’s thanks to vibranium that Wakanda has the technology to disguise itself as a poor nation, in order to keep all its resources for itself and colonizers to keep moving. But it’s also for that reason that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) seeks to take Wakanda, so he can use the technology to arm African diaspora around the world in a new revolution.
In the MCU, Wakanda is a secret. In the comics, it only used to be. When Jack Kirby and Stan Lee introduced readers to Wakanda and the Black Panther in Fantastic Four #52, in 1966, the country was unheard of; even the genius Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mister Fantastic, didn’t know it existed until T’Challa sent a ship for the Fantastic Four to pay a visit.
More than a decade later, in 1978 — after even Don McGregor’s epic storyline “Panther’s Rage” in Jungle Action — Wakanda opened itself to the Marvel Universe. In Black Panther #14 by Ed Hannigan, T’Challa makes a splash as he opens global trade. The Avengers are also invited to the new Wakandan Consulate in New York, where Captain America remarks that it’s even nicer than Avengers Mansion.
In the meeting, T’Challa admits he doesn’t even know why he’s opening Wakanda, only that he feels he should. “It’s time for Wakanda to join the rest of humanity,” he tells the Avengers.
Since Hannigan’s Black Panther, Wakanda is well-known as a wealthy country in Africa. In fact, during Christopher Priest’s run on Black Panther that started in the late Nineties — and undeniably influenced major parts of the film, like Killmonger’s coup — T’Challa makes a strategic, risky move against Killmonger by nationalizing Wakanda’s assets, which tanked the Wakandan dollar and sent the global economy into a free fall.
Furthermore, revealing Wakanda made the country a target: It’s been invaded by the Skrulls (2009’s Secret Invasion), secretly sabotaged by Doctor Doom (2010’s Doomwar), and even flooded by Namor (2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men). It was because of these events that Wakandans started rebelling against T’Challa, in 2016’s Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
But in the MCU, keeping Wakanda a secret until now just makes sense. For one thing, it would have made Stark Industries and everything the Avengers are armed with look like a middle school science project. Tony Stark’s inventions, going back to the original Iron Man, would have not been impressive if Wakandan technology was also easily available.
Second, from a story perspective, it affords T’Challa a character arc to grow; T’Challa can only learn the value of diplomacy and good allyship — hint hint, being an Avenger — when he sees how isolationism nearly cost his people everything.
Unfortunately, now that the world knows Wakanda exists in the MCU, so will Thanos. Based on the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War, Wakanda will have endure the fight of the millennium when Thanos invades with his army. Seems like the only thing T’Challa can do is join up with the Avengers.
Avengers: Infinity War will be released on May 4. Black Panther is in theaters now.