Since the release of Marvel’s Black Panther in theaters, fans everywhere have crossed their arms in honor of Wakanda. Now, with the film available on Blu-ray and Digital HD, director Ryan Coogler reveals the multiple meanings he imbued in the gesture.
In the director’s commentary on the Black Panther Blu-ray, available now, Coogler unpacks his blockbuster with production designer Hannah Beachler. Towards the reunion with T’Challa (Boseman) and his father in the Ancestral Plane, Coogler reveals that the “Wakanda Forever!” salute comes from two different sources: Egyptian pharaohs and sculptures from West Africa, as well as the words “love” and “hug” in American Sign Language (ASL).
“We bury him, we wanted him to experience death, and you see he gets buried kind of similar to a lot of poses that you’ll see from statues from the continent,” Coogler explains. “We kinda got it from the pharaohs and the West African sculptures that you’ll see, with the arms folded over like that. It also means a ‘hug’ or ‘love’ in ASL, American Sign Language.”
“That’s where we got the ‘Wakanda Forever’ salute from,” Coogler adds.
Both the Egyptian and ASL origins have extra meanings when you consider the mythology of Black Panther in the Marvel Universe. While all citizens of Wakanda salute freely, the crossed-arms in Egyptian burials usually denoted male royalty in the New Kingdom of ancient Egypt. But the true meaning the Egyptians had of the arms remain unknown. In the 2015 book Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom, authors Adela Oppenheim, Dorothea Arnold, Dieter Arnold, and Kei Yamamoto posit that the crossed arms signify the loss of control of one’s body in death, “an idea expressed” in the Egyptian god Osiris who was slain by his brother and chopped up in pieces.
As for American Sign Language, Coogler explained that brotherhood and love is prominent in Wakandan culture. In fact, Coogler aruged that T’Challa’s “weak point” is his family, evidenced by his reaction when he learns that Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) is related to him by blood.
Before Black Panther, crossed arms used to mean, well, anything. When CM Punk was in the WWE, he did it to show off his Straight Edge lifestyle. In Wonder Woman, Diana does it to activate her Amazonian bracelets. And in Deadpool 2, which filmed around the same time as Black Panther, Deadpool does it to christen his X-Force. But now, the gesture is so closely associated with Black Panther that it’s hard to see it being used for anything else.
No one knows this better than Chadwick Boseman, whose fatigue over the gesture has inspired a handful of new memes.
Black Panther is now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.